Fall 1989

Reformed Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 3


Nearly nine years ago, I received a speaking invitation from a group of pastors in south Florida. “What’s the subject?” I asked. “Teamwork,” they responded. “If we have one need anywhere, it’s in this area; particularly on how we, as pastors, team up with our elders.” I asked for some time to think about it, promising to get back to them in a few days. What I really wanted was time to get down to the local bookstore and see what kind of resources were available on the subject of team building to help me prepare for such a message. Much to my surprise, there were none.

In spite of my disappointing visit to the book store, I accepted the invitation and decided to use the intervening months to see what the Bible had to say about teamwork and cooperation. As I started I wasn’t optimistic, but I was in for a pleasant surprise – the Bible had plenty to say about teamwork.

Over the past few years, things have changed in the book store. Today, you can find any number of books about the need for team work in the corporate community. Lee Iacocca, Tom Peters, Peter Drucker — all agree team work is the key to success in business.

Why the change? On one hand, business is trying to make a profit in a non-inflationary environment. And this requires leaner, more cost-effective organizations. On another front, we are becoming a global community facing tremendous competition from overseas. The goals needed to succeed in the marketplace today are getting bigger and more difficult to achieve.

The net result of these two forces is that U.S. business is faced, for the first time, with the problem of getting more done with fewer people. They must get the most out of every person and leverage their human resources. They must experience much higher degrees of cooperation and teamwork than they have been able to engender in the past.

Although this may be a new situation in the business community, it is not new for the Church. The Church has always been confronted with large goals — “go, therefore, and make disciples in all the nations …” (Matthew 28:19) and invariably, “… the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37-38).

As I began to explore the patterns of God’s methods in the Bible, it became apparent that His goals and strategies demand that we not only team up with Him but with each other as well. In some respects, I believe that the Great Commission could be much better seen as the Great “Co-Mission.” It’s a task that demands a cooperative effort.

In preparation for my meeting with these pastors, I gained a new perspective on the need for teamwork. In the past when I had read this same material, I had focused on the individuals who held the spotlight for a given assignment. But now I saw that behind every key individual there was a supporting cast just off camera — a group of men whom God had provided to team up with this person to turn vision into verity.

Saul’s Team — “The valued men whose hearts God had touched” (1 Samuel 10:26).

David’s Team — “The mighty men whom David had, who gave him strong support in his kingdom” (1 Chronicles 11:10).

Paul’s Team — Luke, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Mark … “and all the brethren who are with me . . . ” (Galatians 1:2).

The Lord’s Team — The evidence is clear that Jesus was a man of prayer, and I’m sure that many times He would spend the entire night in prayer. But the only incidence where that is actually documented in the Scripture is in Luke 6:12-13 as He prepared to choose His “management team,” the twelve apostles.

In the work of the Church, the need for team work is both our strength and our weakness. The potential synergism and ministry impact that can be achieved through effective teamwork is cause for great hope, but often it becomes the chink in our armor. Too often our cooperative efforts break down under the load, as we expend our energy trying to maintain internal harmony rather than achieving the goals God has given us.

Structure follows strategy or method. The way we organize or structure ourselves is a reflection of the methods or strategy we choose to accomplish our goals. I know of very few passages in the New Testament that more eloquently describe the structure of the Church than 1 Corinthians 12. This passage draws the analogy between our structure and a body with each member playing a distinct and significant role. Ephesians 4:16 repeats that analogy: “…the whole body being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” If these passages accurately reflect the structure of the Church, then the strategy must be based on cooperation. No one member is capable of succeeding alone in this very unique structure designed to mandate team effort, “. . . that there should be no division in the body” ( 1 Cor. 12:25).

It’s not just the church as a whole that must team up. The role of the pastor demands a cooperative approach as well. Ephesians 4:11-13 is often used to define the role of the pastor, “…for the equipping of the Saints, for the work of servants, to the building up of the body of Christ…” This word “equip” is the key word in the passage. Bill Hull in his book, The Disciple Making Pastor, explores the word “equip.” It suggests a variety of possibilities — to set a broken bone, to furnish a house, to train an athlete. In Luke 6:40 it means to be fully taught. Broken bones might imply developing the gifts and skills needed to help broken people put their lives back together. Furnishing a house communicates the development of people; training an athlete means providing the necessary challenges to prepare someone to compete effectively on the front lines of ministry.

Equipping for service, then, means much more than just teaching people the Bible. It also becomes apparent that equipping is not a one-man job. One person cannot be skilled in all of these areas. Jethro had the right idea when he counseled his overly tired son-in-law in Exodus 18:18, “You will surely wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

Overall, the benefit of cooperation and teamwork is output. That’s the test of a team. Effective teams produce “exceptional” results. We team up because we desire to achieve goals which none of us can achieve individually, and this brings us to our definition of a team:

It’s only at the higher levels of cooperation where we find exceptional results. This is the phenomenon of synergism, an effect in which the output is greater than the sum of the input. We see a glimmer of such potential in Ecclesiastes 4:9 -12.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

S. D. Gordon observes, “Cooperation increases efficiency in amazing proportions. Two working together in perfect agreement have five-fold the efficiency of the same two working separately . . . a united church would be an unconquerable church. But the moment the cooperation is sacrificed as essential, real power is at the disappearing point.”

Gordon re-enforces our definition of a team first by his sense of pay-off for cooperation -“five-fold increase.” Surely such results must be “exceptional.” Note that he also says cooperation is “essential” to achieving such results.

With such possibilities, surely the band wagon for teamwork and cooperation must be full to the brim. But, in fact, most of us are hard pressed to describe our results as truly “exceptional.” When we see such output, it is a cause for celebration and possibly even merits a book. Effective teams are a rare commodity in the church today. Why are there so few good teams?

A number of barriers may hinder our efforts at teaming up. Some of the more common include unclear benefits as we grapple with the question: “Why should we?”

Other barriers include lack of trust among the team members; inappropriate strategies that don’t take advantage of cooperation or actually hinder it; lack of skill; and even competition — situations where personal agendas have gotten so far out of hand that cooperative efforts die an early death.

One of the biggest barriers to effective teamwork is found in our lack of understanding of what a good team really looks like. A team is like a human machine, and to most of us what makes it work is similar to our understanding of what lies under the hood of our car. Should we ever look, we are confronted with an indecipherable tangle of wires, tubes, pieces, and parts.

If we’re going to be able to build an effective team, fix a broken one, or start a stalled one, we must understand what’s under the hood. What are the characteristics of an effective team? Normally we take six hours in our seminar to develop and explore these issues, but time and space force us to focus. I’m going to take the risk that merely listing the qualities of a high-performance ministry team will be helpful. We’re going to move fast, so buckle your seat belts.

1.Common Purpose
This is the cornerstone of effective teamwork. It’s the “why” of the team. The qualities of purpose for an effective team are relevance, clarity, significance, and achievability. Paul does an excellent job of illustrating unity of purpose in ministry in Philippians 1:27 and 2:2.

2. Appropriate Division of Labor
This is the source of synergism. As we break the task down and match its component parts to the diverse skills, gifts, and strengths of our various team members, we can tap into the synergistic potential of our team. However, dividing the task introduces the issue of inter-dependence. Inter-dependence occurs when every team member’s contribution is needed, and, without that contribution, the purpose cannot be achieved. Thus, we are forced to cooperate. The remaining four characteristics of an effective team are needed for high levels of cooperation.

3. Accepted Leadership
Effective teams are characterized by clear, formal, strong leadership. Leadership provides the structure for cooperation.

4. Agreement On The Plan
Whereas purpose deals with the what and the why of the team, here we focus on the how. Our plans provide the process for cooperation.

5. Solid Relationships
Inter-personal conflicts on a team are like friction in a machine. Solid relationships are the lubricant between the people who make up our team. The objective is not to be best friends, because the differences and diversity that engender synergism often preclude that. Rather, our relationships should be characterized by trust, respect for each member’s unique contributions, acceptance of each other’s differences, and courtesy. Relationships provide the climate for cooperation.

6. Good Communication
Good communication provides the means for cooperation. It’s good in the sense that it is clear, open, and honest. Communication is the glue that will hold our team together.

I’ve seen lists of over a hundred characteristics defining effective teams, but these six are the irreducible minimum and, regardless of the length of more expanded lists, all of the items will fit under one of the above. If any one of these six is lacking, it’s certain that our human machine is out of tune. If two are weak, our team might be in the ditch on the side of the road.

The process of team development consists of any activity that helps your group move from one level of cooperation to a higher level in any of the six team characteristics. Team development needs to be planned specifically and needs to be viewed as a process, not a project. And, finally, the benefits of developing your team must be felt and visible. If you don’t see tangible, visible results over time, it’s unlikely that you will continue to invest the time and the effort to build a more effective team.

I believe that the primary difference between a team and a group will be found in the results. The group is additive in nature (1 + 1 = 2), whereas the team is synergistic (1 + 1 = 3, 4, or even 5!). The key to synergism will be our ability to team up with each other and with God to accomplish the tasks He has given us. Teamwork is hard work, but it’s the key to “exceptional” results. Will God settle for any less?

“Are there any limits to teams? Can we find any places or circumstances where team structure doesn’t make sense? No, as far as I can determine, that’s unequivocal, and it’s meant to be . . . the power of a team is so great that it is often wise to violate apparent common sense and force a team structure on almost anything.”
— Tom Peters
Thriving on Chaos

 

“Declaring people ‘a team’ does not automatically make them one . . . people bring different needs and interests into any kind of group from their location outside it, and these can serve as the origin of politics . . it is a simple psychic-economic calculation: Do the gains from dropping certain interests or goals, in the name of cooperation, outweigh the losses?”
— Rosabeth Moss Kanter
The Change Masters