Teams That Thrive and the Obstacles That Hinder Them

“Sure, efficiency is often useful, but great teams aren’t necessarily efficient. Rather, they are effective.”

Software Upgrade or New Operating System?

Each option above, except the last one, contains one or more fatal flaws to a high-performance, healthy, thriving team. Good teaming is far more than a pair or loose group learning to work more efficiently. Sure, efficiency is often useful, but great teams aren’t necessarily efficient. Rather, they are effective. And great teams are unwilling to sacrifice effectiveness on the altar of efficiency. To become more effective, your team might need not merely a software upgrade but a whole new operating system. For some, that will mean setting up a new team, while for others it will mean doing serious repairs to modify an existing one. Then, even when your team is truly thriving, you’ll need tools to know how to keep tweaking it to stay current with issues triggered by growth and change.

We appreciate the spirit of one team we interviewed who told us, “One of our values is that of incessant tinkering. That shows up in our programming, our approach to caring for our volunteers, and the way we keep improving our executive team.”

A true team hitting on all cylinders will exhibit a number of specific qualities. These are measurable and achievable for every church. They can apply whether you’re a church of 50, 500, 5,000 or even 50,000. They apply whether your church is new or long-established, denominational or not, urban or rural, monoethnic or multiethnic, traditional or contemporary.

We call those qualities the five disciplines of collaborative church leadership. They are:

1. Focus on purpose, the invisible leader of your team.
2. Leverage differences in team membership.
3. Rely on inspiration more than control to lead.
4. Intentionally structure your decision-making process.
5. Build a culture of continuous collaboration.

The Ripple Effect of Your Leadership Team

Whatever you call it and whoever composes it, many important issues ride on the strength of your church’s leadership group. You need an outstanding team because it sets the pace for almost everything in the life of your church. For good or bad, leadership teams shape the culture, direct the mission, establish the vision and model the values of your church.

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If that group is haphazard, unfocused, imbalanced or dysfunctional, the ripple effect will show up at every level of your church. By contrast, if your team is thriving, there’s a good likelihood that the rest of the church will as well.

When leadership teams fail to reach their potential, their churches follow suit. In short, poorly functioning leadership teams don’t bode well for the health and vitality of a church. Instead, churches need vibrant, healthy, effective teams to lead the congregation toward greater Christlikeness. We hope you’ll see why collaborative leadership makes sense and be willing to do what it takes to become extraordinary.

Mark Johnston pastors The Journey, Newark, Del., one of the churches we visited as we wrote Teams that Thrive. He’s convinced that his directional team’s role is to figure out what’s in the way of Jesus growing his church—and then get it out of the way. “God will never be saying, ‘I really want my church to grow, but I’m not just quite sure how to do it,’” Mark said. “If anything is ever in the way of our church growing, it will always be us.”

After eight years of leading his church as an entrepreneurial, driving pastor, Mark realized that his approach to leading the church had to get out of the way. He had to become more of a vision-caster and team-builder. Now he’s leading a great team that’s leading a “real church for real people” that’s making a big difference across Delaware. Figuring out what was in the way of what God wants to do was a key step in that process.

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We pray you’ll get to echo what Mark Johnston recently exclaimed: “I used to lead our church. … Now I lead our team and they lead our church.” And you’ll get to say with him, “I’m loving it.”

Adapted with permission from Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. »