The Body of Christ as Ministry Team

For some time, I have been thinking and talking about ministry teams as a current-day manifestation of the Body of Christ. Let's explore this analogy and see where it takes us.

To remember their last strong team experience, many people have to reach far back in the past to a sports team from their youth. It seems rare that people have experienced true collaboration in a work group setting.

Team is one of the most misused terms in the lexicon today. How many times have we seen church committees renamed teams, and nothing else changed? I have worked in groups, both at work and church, my whole adult life. The typical group output was a total not equal to the sum of the parts. Most groups operated somewhere between 40-90% of the potential of the individuals. Hence the expression, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

Teams, on the other hand, are about synergy. Look at the great sports teams. Everyone contributes out of their strengths. Everyone is clear about their role. They pursue team goals before their own agenda. Expectations are clear. Norms of behavior are important. It is a rare church committee that exhibits these traits.

I never experienced an effective team until my EMBA at Georgia State University. Our cohort of 50 had to self-organize into work teams that would stay together for the entire two years of the program. Team projects often made up the majority of the class grade. Through a very intentional process of developing a covenant, clear roles, expectations, consequences and norms, five of us bonded into a wonderful team.

Dialogue vs. Discussion

Our work projects emerged from dialogue among very diverse people on the team. Dialogue is equal parts inquiry and advocacy. More often in groups we use discussion, which comes from the same root as percussion. I beat you over the head with my ideas. While I’m talking, you’re not listening to me, but instead thinking about your rebuttal. As soon as I take a breath, you jump in and beat me over the head with your ideas. Rarely do we change each other’s minds. One of the great interventions when this is happening is to set a norm that you must first restate the other person's points before making your own.

Whole > Sum of the Parts

Inevitably, the product of our EMBA work team exceeded the sum of the parts. We created true synergy, where we compensated for each other’s blind sides and contributed to great work together. We came from opposite ends of the personality and conflict resolution spectrums, had to reconcile gender and cultural differences. What made it all possible was the development of trust and respect that allowed us to hear very different opinions and learn from each other. Relationship was a critical factor.

Most groups are focused on the tasks to be done. Managing relationships is secondary at best. In teams, you do the work, and then you examine how you are working together. If a lumberjack spends all the time sawing wood, and never stops to sharpen the saw, his productivity slows and slows. Caring for each other and developing trusting relationships is how we sharpen the saw in teams. Relationship creates the environment where synergy can develop. In ministry teams, we add prayer and study time to the mix, and we create the opportunity for the Body of Christ to emerge. For more on this, see the Core Theory of Success.

So, what does scripture have to say about this?

Rom 12:4-8. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

The natural tendency is to let differences among us divide us. Implicit in these verses is that we can find ways to overcome differences. As we see in John 17, we are called to complete unity:

John 17:21,23. Jesus prays for all believers that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Ephesians 4. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

So, we see that these gifts are to work together in concert so the Body of Christ can be built up. It’s as if God has composed a symphony, and we each have our own part. The symphony can only be realized when we can blend ourselves together under the Spirit's leadership. Team building methodology is all about blending diversity into a strong team where weaknesses become irrelevant because others on the team have strengths where we are weak. We overcome our differences and learn to trust those who can help us see our blind side. Building strong relationships helps us overcome defensiveness.

1 Cor 12:12-14, 24-27. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.... But God has so composed the body ... that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Permission-Giving Structure

There you have a great picture of team: different people coming together in unity around a noble purpose. So, when we anticipate the shift from committees to ministry teams, we must make the contrast between the two clear, and provide the coaching to make it possible.

In a healthy church community, people encounter the living God. As they begin to respond in gratitude for the grace God pours out, we seek to help people discern their gifts (See the post Discover Who You Are). Out of their gifts, through prayer and reflection, people can hear where God is calling them with their gifts. As the Holy Spirit plants seeds of mission and ministry, we offer encouragement. When people bring forth a missional idea, rooted in their gifts, we ask them three questions:

1. What does this do to move us towards our vision?
2. What does this do to get you involved in the accomplishment of our vision?
3. Are there two or three here who are willing to join you in a ministry team to make this happen?

If the Holy Spirit is not touching two or three hearts with a ministry idea, it is probably not what She is leading us to do at this place at this time. If the person can gather people around this initiative, we empower them as a ministry team, help them get started, and send them out to serve.

Now we are back to team-building methodology. A covenant is created to help develop synergy on the team. Several elements are essential to the covenant:

Clear roles
Clear expectations
Explicit norms of behavior
Measurable goals
A commitment to prayer, fellowship and study in addition to the focus on the ministry task

When I join a meeting and find people with very different culture and style preferences around the table, it mostly just aggravates me. Only with the very intentional work of covenanting to become a team can we truly begin to appreciate the diversity of the people. As we begin to trust and appreciate a diverse team, dialogue can emerge. Out of true dialogue, synergy can flow.

In group work with my company, I rarely found that meetings resulted in better ideas than I brought into the room. When I've worked with a strong team, the end product is inevitably better than the idea I brought to the team. When that team is intentionally making room for listening and discerning where the Spirit is leading, true Kingdom synergy can emerge. And the culture that is created can draw our individual sparks together to make a strong flame, one that is infectious and draws others towards Christ.