The mission of Jesus can’t be accomplished by a single individual or one charismatic leader.
Throughout 2020, Exponential will continue the mobilization conversation as we focus on the critical importance of working together for kingdom multiplication in the pursuit of the mission of Christ. In previous articles, Dave Ferguson, who leads Exponential’s annual conference, has talked about the Great Collaboration: how God relates in togetherness, how we should relate with him, and how we should relate with family. In this article, Dave explains how the Great Collaboration also consists of teams of people with unique gifts and callings, and he encourages us to not go it alone but to work together with our team.
We weren’t meant to free solo.
I just watched the Free Solo documentary about professional rock climber Alex Honnold and his attempts to conquer the first completely free solo climb of famed El Capitan’s almost 3,000-foot vertical rock face at Yosemite National Park. With no carabiners, no ropes and no harness, he climbed straight up El Capitan with no tools. Just one mistake or slip, and he would have fallen to his death.
The documentary is breathtaking. It’s also freaky scary. The most fascinating part of Free Solo comes when doctors do an MRI of Alex Honnold’s brain. They explain a strange discovery: Honnold doesn’t experience fear like the rest of us. His brain literally doesn’t work quite right. Basically, it feels no fear; thus allowing him to do things the rest of us would never attempt to do.
I think many church planters and church leaders are like Alex Honnold—we dare to do things all on our own that we should be afraid of. We often attempt to go it alone and take solo risks where only one misstep or slipup could result in a fatal fall. I’m tired of seeing church planters and pastors fall. There’s a better way.
I’m excited about teams and believe this discussion will help us better accomplish the mission of Jesus—but it will also help save us from ourselves. Because those of us who have enough courage to start or lead a church usually have enough ego to also destroy ourselves in the process by trying to go it alone. I’m begging you not to do it. Don’t free solo.
MADE TO WORK TOGETHER
In our first conversation, we saw that from the beginning of time, the God of the universe has existed as a team. It’s not only God working as a team. He also calls his church to function collaboratively. The body of Christ is one of the most dominant metaphors used to describe the church in the New Testament. Paul instructs us: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). He also explains, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:3–7) as he challenges the church of Corinth to better accomplish the mission of Jesus.
In Scripture, one consistent pattern across all the leadership roles and references is the use of the plural form: not one apostle, but a team of apostles; not one deacon or elder, but elders and deacons. They are always referred to in the plural. I believe that if Paul were alive and wanted to express this same vision for the church today, he would use the word “team.”
I’m stating the obvious, but you are not Alex Honnold. I am not Alex Honnold. As church leaders, we were not meant to free solo. It might be breathtaking to watch, but the risk is too great and the mortality rate too high. I don’t want to fall. I don’t want you to fall. We were meant to work together as a team.
THREE COMMITMENTS OF GREAT TEAMS
Over the last three decades, I’ve been a part of some incredible teams that have done amazing work. Several of those teams at Community Christian Church have consistently grown and expanded almost every year since we started. The teams that have come from NewThing have been diverse and multicultural—some of the richest team experiences I’ve had. I’ve also been on teams with some amazing people through Exponential. The Exponential team is decentralized; we do most of our work together using technology. It’s crazy how much we can do together even though we’re not “together.”
As I look over my shoulder, I can see three cascading commitments consistent in every great team I’ve been a part of.
1. Great Teams Are More Committed to God Than They Are to the Cause.
Truly great teams are composed of individuals who are living together with God. While the cause coalesces great teams, the cause cannot be the team’s first loyalty. The first loyalty of every team member must be to Christ and to him alone. When the primary commitment is to the cause rather than to God, it will result in fatigue, burnout and priorities not aligned with God’s will. The best teams are made of leaders who, like Paul, are able to say with integrity, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:11)
2. Great Teams Are More Committed to the Cause Than They Are to Each Other.
I’m absolutely convinced that uncompromising loyalty to a clear cause is part of what creates a great team. Another way to put it: There is never a great team when the cause is not clear.
Why do so many people remember athletic teams or army platoons as the places where they experienced the most genuine community? Because there was a clear cause that created community. The cause of winning a game or a tournament created a team. The cause of defeating a common enemy created a team. Why is it so hard for athletes to retire? Listen to their stories, and it’s not the money they miss as much as the team.
The Acts 2 Church was also brought together by a clear cause—the cause of Christ brought about koinonia or community. That first great leadership team of apostles had a clear cause. And it was a cause they were willing to risk for, even die for.
The best teams are always crystal clear about the cause. And there is no great team that is not clear about the cause. Other things may get fuzzy, but the cause is always clear. At Community Christian Church, there’s a lot we don’t know—but what we do know is the cause. We are all about “helping people find their way back to God.”
My friend Ed Stetzer came to visit Community on a Sunday. Afterwards, we went out to lunch. I was surprised and confused by the first thing Ed said to me.
“Thirteen times!” he said.
“Thirteen times, what?” I asked.
“From the moment I pulled into the parking lot, walked into the café, into the auditorium and eventually got back to my car, I heard someone say the phrase, ‘helping people find their way back to God’ thirteen times!”
I loved that.
“Helping people find their way back to God.” That’s our mission, our cause. It is the very thing that we are trading our lives for. And I’m not using hyperbole. We are willing to let our hearts stop beating before we let them stop beating for the cause. The six of us who make up the team that leads Community Christian Church are willing to die for the cause of “helping people find their way back to God.”
3. Great Teams Are More Committed to Each Other Than They Are to Themselves.
Great teams are committed to God first, the cause second and third, to each other—all before themselves. This means that every individual team member comes with a clear understanding of who they are because of their commitment to Christ; a clear cause because they are committed to the Jesus mission; and finally a willingness to sacrifice for each other rather than pursue their own self-interest.
When a team has this commitment to each other, it fosters trust and a willingness to have hard conversations. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, best-selling author Patrick Lencioni says, “Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” Great teams can look each other in the eye, tell the truth and make tough calls because they know beyond a shadow of a doubt the commitment of each team member is to God, the cause and to each other.
When a team has this commitment to each other, they become hero makers to one another. Each does everything in their power to see their teammates become the hero in the unfolding story and not focused on making themselves the hero. Each team member looks at the other with the belief that “my fruit grows on other people’s trees”—one of the favorite things my friend and Halftime author Bob Buford used to say.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you not to take on El Capitan on your own. By God’s design, we were not meant to free solo. Instead, we commit ourselves to him, his mission and a team—and in that order. But if you still need convincing, check out 10 benefits of doing work as a team from the book Teams That Thrive by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird (I wrote the foreword for it). I think you’ll appreciate what they’ve uncovered. I’ve also included the 10 benefits in Together: The Great Collaboration.
The best organizations and teams understand the benefits of working as a team. It’s no wonder modern management practices, both inside and outside the church, have embraced team leadership.
When it comes to teamwork, we are better together!
The mission of Jesus is not something that can be accomplished by a single individual or one charismatic leader. We must come together as teams made up of unique gifts and callings to equip and mobilize God’s people for mission.
Where we will go next in this conversation is what I’ve been wanting to share with you since the very first article in this series. I want us to talk about networks. Not big, complex organizations that are sometimes called networks; but simple networks of four to five churches who come together to plant churches. I’m convinced that this is the missing piece of the Great Collaboration.
Exponential’s 2020 theme is Together: Pursuing the Great Collaboration. Throughout the year, Exponential will continue to unpack the theme of collaboration—and the biblical truth that we are better together. This post is based on the new book, Together: The Great Collaboration, by Dave Ferguson. To download your copy, visit exponential.org/ebooks. To learn more about Exponential 2020, visit exponential.org/events.