The following is reprinted with permission from Paraklesis, a publication of Baptist Bible Seminary. The article first appeared in the Winter ‘08 issue.
As we move into the spring months each year in the USA, we are keenly aware of a variety of athletic teams vying for championships and superior accomplishments. Winning teams are teams that understand, complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work well together to accomplish significant athletic feats.
Likewise, when pastors on a church staff or missionaries on a field together learn to work as a team, significant ministry results will be accomplished. In the early church, this concept was repeatedly demonstrated in the book of Acts and the God-given results are noted there. In the New Testament church, pastor/elder/bishops worked together to serve the Lord and His church.
God has given the church a plurality of gifted pastors/elders to provide training, motivation, example, and leadership. It is crucial that they be able to work together as a team. It is a poor testimony for a church staff to carry on a ministry while they are bickering, being jealous, or not modeling love for each other before the people.
Teamwork is vital in the USA church or in the mission field church. The Body of Christ is to be an object lesson of the benefits of team work. Here are some suggestions for building and celebrating the pastoral team:
- When forming a pastoral team, call only qualified men. People who are not called of God, spiritually qualified, or able to do the job will only disrupt and discourage the work. Paul exhorted Timothy in I Timothy 5:22 to “lay hands suddenly on no man.” Each member of a team must pull his share. This may raise questions about the way pastors are called to churches and missionaries are sent to the fields.
- We must give attention the process by which we prepare pastors and missionaries in order to produce more team-oriented men. For most, this will require more than academic courses. The potential pastor or missionary may need to spend an extended period of his life observing and participating with a successful team. One vehicle for this is the internship setting. Select men for the team who already know something about working together.
- Select pastors or missionaries for the team who have different spiritual gifts and abilities. The teaching of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes the benefits of diversity in the Body. This is applicable to the church staff. The ministry can then be divided in a manner that allows each to do their best and complement each other’s ministries. Leadership clones only shortchange the ministry and hinder creativity.
- Plan for long-term ministries together. The forming of a pastoral or missionary team should be much like a wedding. When people are wed, they must be committed to live with each other’s shortcomings. The pastoral team must be committed to live with each other’s “professional warts.” However, teams are often too much like modern marriages. Both parties wear parachutes so they can “bail out” when the going gets rough.
- Engage in regular and scheduled prayer and planning times. The location or time is not nearly as important as the attitudes expressed. Team meetings should be times of evaluation, weeping, and cheering. Ephesians 5:21 has good advice: “Submitting yourselves one to another.” Staff planning meetings are not the time for one claiming papal infallibility to “read the riot act.”
- Be sensitive to titles and territory. If one person on the team is referred to as “pastor,” this is appropriate for other members who share the work. Care should be exercised to allow each member of the pastoral team to attend deacon or board meetings, to have time on the platform, and to have opportunities for public sharing. This has implications for the salary and benefits of those on a team. Are they fairly distributed?
- Pastors should “cover” when a team member fails. A team is strengthened when each knows the others are working to glorify the Lord and want to help him do that as well. Galatians 6:1-2, 9-10 speak to the issue of helping those who falter. The point here is not suggesting sin should be excused, but rather, these non-moral areas of follow-through, workload, or judgment. A team person works to assure the success of the program or ministry of each one on the team.
- Team members must be careful to accept or at least consider suggestions concerning their own areas of ministry. James 3:16-18 is a powerful passage on this topic. One quality listed is “easy to be entreated.” If a fellow pastor or missionary cannot be enthused about an idea or program, how can it succeed with the congregation?
- Do not disagree or criticize other pastors publicly. This is not right before the Lord. Weakness or problems need to be shared privately so they can be dealt with in a context that allows improvement and does not damage the other’s credibility before the people.
- Try to see the good results of a ministry as being the results of the total team effort. A good job by an associate may be acknowledged publicly and honestly by the senior pastor. In 1 Corinthians 3:5-8, Paul clearly states that his ministry depended on the good work of others and the power of God. Compliments still bless the heart of a teammate and reinforce a team relationship.
- The lead pastor/elder is the key to developing a biblical pastoral team. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is commonly called “the love chapter.” If the lead pastor or missionary practice the principles of this passage, he will not need to worry about team members undercutting his ministry or making him look bad.
A spirit of teamwork is contagious. The people in the pew sense very clearly the feelings between staff members. Negative relationships cannot be hidden and a positive spirit of love and helpfulness provides a good, visible model for the people. Teamwork is important in creating a right and godly attitude in a congregation. It is time to celebrate the pastoral team.
A detailed study of the office and qualifications of pastor/elder/bishops may be found in the unpublished paper, “A Biblical Perspective Regarding Elder Rule” by Dr. Howard Bixby. For more information, contact him at .
Dr. Howard Bixby (Th.M., Ed.D.) is the Dean and Professor of Church Leadership and Growth at BBS. He has served for 19 years as a pastor and for 22 years in his current role.