How Do We Build Teams that Multiply?

For well over a decade now, one of my great pleasures has been learning the art and graft of team building, fussing with the question, “How do we build teams that multiply?”; overcoming significant obstacles such as huge geographical distances and massive cultural differences in the process.

It has also been, without question, my biggest challenge. While most people agree with the notion of team, our rugged individualism and notorious impatience means the reality of team alludes many. If I had my way, I too would have pulled the plug on it somewhere along the journey.

Everyone knows the statement: “There is no I in team”. But as one wit pointed out, “there is me if you look close enough”. Unfortunately, many noble quests for “team” have petered out on the altar of “me”.

Continue reading if you’re exploring team dynamics or this subject simply grabs your attention.

So, how do we build teams that multiply?

Gratefully, I haven’t been afforded this luxury. The vision God gave us nearly fourteen years ago – one of a decentralised, multiplying organic ministry – meant whether I liked it or not, we had to learn how to build team across the seas and across cultures, learning to cooperate with the Spirit of God as He poured us out again and again. It was a case of sink or swim; literally, for when God launched us out from the African continent to the nation of Japan on a hope and more than a few prayers, our fledgling efforts could easily have drowned somewhere in the Indian or Pacific seas.

Without any smart organisational system or stout denominational structures (perhaps because we didn’t have them), we gratefully learnt some of the components essential to walking as a functioning team … through the grace of God and our share of hard knocks. In this article I’d like to outline some of these core components but first let me clarify what I mean by team.

By team ministry I am not advocating the pseudo-team model that is alive and kicking today; I am not talking about an autocratic leader who hires or recruits (or cajoles) a team of “yes-men”. For me, this is not true team ministry. A definite shift in thinking is required to depart from this “big-head” problem as we dream of true team. Nor am I suggesting that we throw out the consistent, Biblical precedent of having a leader in the midst of the team. This would be to fly in the face of Scripture and to settle for a rudderless ship or a headless mess. This too, in my opinion, is not true team ministry.

A real-deal team, as we will unpack below, is a group of peers who are joined by the Spirit; who, through mutual respect and shared life, have discovered the beauty in each other and, while also accepting the limitations in each, work together to accomplish in God what they alone could never achieve. Secure in whom they are, each team member contributes and serves the others; willingly submitting to the leadership of the one best suited to lead in a given situation; humbly willing to lead should their gift-mix and experience require them to lead in the next.

The answer to everything is found in (1) Jesus and (2) team. Yes, the order is crucial but don’t miss the importance of this statement. No matter what problem ambushes you; you will always find an answer, if you’re anchored in Christ and armed with the resources of a team you trust. What do the following names have in common: Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Titus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Silas and Trophimus (Acts 20:4; Philippians 2:25-30)? Not only are they a list of unpronounceable names – thank goodness for Timothy, Silas and Titus – but they were all part of a team … the apostolic team Paul walked with. Can you imagine trying to load that lot into your mobile phone contacts?

Paul tells of a time when he arrived at Troas to, as always, “preach Christ’s gospel” (2 Corinthians 2:12). He reveals that “a door was opened to me by the Lord” (v. 12). Wow! Great! “Go for it Paul … jump in!” But no … he did not. He says, “I had no rest in my spirit because I did not find Titus my brother” (v. 13). So what did he do? “Taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia” (v. 13). Whoa!

Even though a door of opportunity arose, Paul realized that all the ingredients for effective ministry were not present. Most notably, Titus had not arrived and thus “team” was not possible. Recognizing his own limitations and the inbuilt weakness with Titus’ absence – and obviously concerned for Titus himself – Paul chose not to exploit the door that opened at that stage. How many of us would have done what he did? How many of us are very happy to fly solo, enjoy making unilateral decisions and are smugly content to exist as an island in ourselves?

Since community is the very essence of God’s nature, leadership and ministry must be fleshed out in the context of team. Even the Lone ranger had Tonto. The only one who flew solo was Superman! And we need to humbly acknowledge that we are not Supermen! The day of one-man ministry is over … and should never have seen the light of day in the first place.

The Biblical metaphors of the apostolic church – family, army, building and body – urge us to settle for nothing less. A child without a family is an orphan! A soldier without an army is AWOL. A brick without a building is rubble! And an arm without a body is … well, morbid and disgusting!

Okay, after that mouthful, let me now list the components I feel are non-negotiables for true team to function fluidly and fruitfully. And I have, in mind, two settings for team in this article: (1) an apostolic, resource team1 that serves a network or fellowship of churches and (2) the leadership team or parent-elders who serve a simple church community. How do we build teams that multiply?

  1. Cooperate with the Spirit
  2. Selflessly discover one another
  3. Clarify expectations upfront
  4. Reason from the whole to the part
  5. Build from relationship to structure
  6. Function as a team with a leader
  7. Build in review; reflect to move forward

Sounds simple? Suppose so. Sounds easy? You’ve got to be kidding!

Cooperate with the Spirit

This is more than just a statement of the obvious; it is a way of life. Paul penned these infamous words: “keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3)2. There is a crucial principle valid for unity embedded in this statement. We are to “keep” not create the “unity of the Spirit”.

We cannot manufacture unity; we cannot in ourselves produce true community (“unity” centred on a “common” element). We can only recognise when it happens. This is the first step; identifying what God is doing, where He is adding people together. We are to cooperate with the Spirit’s initiative, not attempt to collaborate and make it happen.

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Corinthians 12:18). He sets us into relationships as He pleases. His role is the setting; our role is to identify what He is doing. He creates unity; we are to keep the unity He inspires.

Community, and thus team, flows out of our cooperation with Him as we recognise a “common unity” with others; first, riveted in the centrality of Christ’s Kingship and second, in a common call or cause that stems from this union.

The second step then is to confirm what He is doing by acknowledging what we sense in our heart to one another. Of course, this involves a risk; perhaps the other party may not share our excitement, maybe they don’t witness it? This happens from time to time; either we misread the moment or perhaps the timing is a little off. If this is the case, entrust yourself to the Lord; knowing He is well able to perfect that which concerns us (Psalm 138:8).

But please don’t back off from this important step. Verbally acknowledging what God is doing is essential. The risk must be taken. Unless we affirm what God is doing we will always be left guessing and wondering; and tipping toeing around another is a sure way to tread on their toes.

This mutual witness is vital of course. Too often, in natural relationships, 1 + 1 = 1 as the stronger personality gobbles up the weaker one. However, when God truly adds; His addition leads to multiplication: 1 + 1 = 5. The sum of the parts becomes something more than the individuals parts together as God graces the relationship synergistically. When we recognise that God has joined us together and gratefully verbalise this, we invite the Spirit of God to shape and fashion the relationship into what He purposes for us collectively.

Many people start the pursuit of team looking in the wrong place. They look forward to new relationships that God may send to them. While this will almost certainly happen as God grows the team, the place to start is looking backward; discerning what relationships He has already given to you, relationships that you may have been blind to until now. God is faithful. You are more than likely the beneficiary of relationships that have already stood the test of time, friendships He will profile afresh if you let Him to; allowing you to re-engage with them in a fresh, dynamic way.

I have seen this time and time again. Once we purpose to cooperate with the Spirit in the formation of team, He opens our eyes to see our existing relationships in a new way. As He removes the familiarity and stuffiness from these friendships, we not only resolve to serve them afresh but sometimes it becomes the place of origins for team. Often I’ve heard people say something like: “Gee, I’ve never seen my friend in this light before. Yes, I now see the treasure God has placed in this relationship”.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? Identify who God is adding you to and express your hunch, trusting for God to confirm a mutual witness.

Selflessly discover one another

The paradox of salvation applies to community too (and all issues of faith for that matter). Jesus taught us to “deny” ourselves; explaining “whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24, 25). In losing our lives to Him, we find our true, beautiful ‘self’ in Him. Of course, at the time of being confronted with the awfulness of our sin and His demand upon us, the beauty we will become in Him is the furthest thing from our mind.

In gratitude words cannot describe, we fall on His mercy and pledge our allegiance to Him, completely willing to be His slave (whatever He requires). When, in kissing us, He instead calls us sons and invites us into friendship (Luke 15:20; John 4:23, 24; Romans 8:14-17; John 15:15), we start blossoming – humbly unaware of the profound change in us; our hearts and minds enraptured with the sublime wonder of salvation. Unless we feel the sting of repentance there can be no joy of salvation.

The paradox? Die to live; that is, really die to truly live. (There are no pretend deaths allowed; pretence only foments religion and religion of the ugly variety). The same applies to community. Certainly Jesus’ teaching on self-denial, mentioned above, runs off the back of His first use of the word “church” just a few verses earlier: “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). It is consistent with the context of this passage that Jesus implied this same paradox was vital to engaging in true community.

The kingdoms of this world teach us through a wide and effective variety of ways to look after number one … or no one else will! (Whoever came up with that line was clearly short of a few friends or two). Of course, as fallen and selfish creatures, we find this so easy to do and take this same “me first” attitude into our attempts to build friendships and community. In fact, our relationships are usually built on two questions:

  • How do I fit in?
  • How will I benefit?

Yes, these are innocent expressions of personal need. We are, mostly, sincere in our attempts to build relationships. We’re not deliberately trying to use and exploit others.

When we meet a new potential relationship or when we engage with a new possible team we instinctively ask these two questions. How do I fit here? And how will I benefit from my association with this person or group? The focus is on me and the relationship is weighed up against the benefits offered to me.

By default my attitude is to “use and get”. Unless I realise this, even if I have walked with God for many years, I will begin this friendship, or enter this new team, as a “consumer” and once I’ve had my fill, I will shop around somewhere else (or bemoan the poor service I’m getting).

True community, and team, done by the Spirit are paradoxical. When we re-plug into the Divine Community we no longer operate by default; now with a new design, we ask two alternative questions:

  • Where is God adding me?
  • What does God desire of us?

I am to start by asking for His guidance, “Where is God fusing my life into the life (or lives) of others?” Paul wrote, with the analogy of a human body in mind, that we are “members of one another(Romans 12:5) not members of an organisation. Thus, in community, we are parts of one body; we belong to one another. And the point is emphatic: God puts us together as parts of a body “as He pleases” (1 Corinthians 12:18). It has always been the Father’s delight and prerogative to “set the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:5, 6). As mentioned, my task is not to find a “team”; instead, it is to identify the people He is knitting me into team with. The focus is on Him as we follow His lead, planting our roots deep into one another.

Once I identify the relationships that He is weaving me into, I am to continue by asking this open question, “What does God desire of us?” First notice, we ought to ask, “What does God require of us?” not just “of me”. Second, notice I stressed that this is an “open” question because, as we begin the journey together in team, we are graciously shown just the next few steps; seldom (if ever) will God map out the entire ball game. The mystery of the journey fills every step with romance. We’re not after the last word on the matter, we’re following the Lord and nothing else matters.

Together in team our attitude is to “discover and give”. We’re pilgrims on an adventure together, discovering the beauty in each other and giving ourselves to serve one another. I discover the God-given potential in my fellow explorers and pray, serve and give of myself to help them realise their prophetic destiny. I get to know them deeply so that I can serve them fully. And then a wonderful thing happens. In really dying to myself … in community, I truly find life.

In choosing to no longer be a self-sufficient individual (no matter how qualified I may think I am), I allow myself to be known (warts and all) and allow myself to be served (even though it makes me uncomfortable and I’d prefer to look competent by serving). In discovering the beauty of those I’m in team with and in giving myself to serve them; I begin to discover, quite by accident, my own beauty. (Conversely, when we pursue our own beauty, we get uglier and nastier).

And overwhelmed, I realise I have a team given to serving me to be the best I can be; committed to me in love for excellence. Engulfed with gratitude, I cherish these precious people even more, stretching myself even further that they may become all they are called to be. Even when – not if – this means sending them across the seas to serve and stimulate new teams of faith; even when – again, not if – it means releasing them across the street to start a new community of faith.

Paul captured this essential truth in his letter to the church in the city of Colosse. In this epistle, where he unfolds a breathtaking picture of Christ, he stresses the importance of being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7). And just a few verses earlier, he prayed: “that your hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God … in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge(Colossians 2:2, 3). Wow!

Paul prayed that the Colossian believers would be “knit together in love”. The Greek word for “knit” (sumbibazo) means to “unite (in association and affection)”. This metaphor is a tremendous picture of lives woven together by the love of God. And Paul drops a gem in verse 3, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Do you see the connection he is making? There is a treasure in Christ we will never know until our hearts are knit together with others. Living an individualistic Christian life is to settle for a one-dimensional view of God; living in community opens every conceivable dimension of the glory of God.

Before I’m accused of painting a naïve picture of reality, yes, community is truly challenging. Even attempting to do life deeply with “my kind of people” is hard, let alone the kind of people the Spirit seems to think I should find community with! (Apologies to the precious people I do community with! You know what I mean and love me anyway).

If we allow the Lord to weave our life together with others, it is seldom with “perfect people” who act like us and think like us. Usually there is a healthy mix of variety and diversity. (We don’t really get it at first, but God seems to love it!) Through this journey with a “mixed bag” of imperfect and flawed and blemished individuals (among whom, in my case, I’m the biggest stink); invited through humility and patience on our part, God creates life-giving community and moulds us into the people we’re destined to be.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? Seek to expectantly discover each person God has knitted you to and selflessly give of yourself; shun the temptation to use and the desire to get. Remember, we’re contributors not consumers.

Clarify expectations upfront

While Jezebel gets a fair degree of airtime, and perhaps correctly so, the biggest threat to our relationships are the two wicked step sisters: Miss Understanding and Miss Communication.

Misunderstanding and miscommunication have undone some of best relationships and strongest teams. They undermine our best of intentions and muddy the waters of our sincere effort; slowly spawning distrust and suspicion.

In the excitement of recognising a God-given connection, we often steam ahead forgetting relationships need time to mature and that all relationships will be tested. Yes, all relationships need to be proven and although this is not something we can fabricate; regularly clarifying expectations through respectful, honest communication is the only investment we can make to walk through those times when our relationships will be put through the fire.

Seeking to understand rather than trying to be understood is still one of the most powerful principles to apply and sadly, one often lacking in new relationships where ego often drives our attempts to position ourselves correctly, in our eyes, before the other.

Again, Paul’s words are so apt, so inspired from above: “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). True team is built on the nature of Jesus.

I have found it very important to first settle two foundational questions before I can even begin to consider what expectations are appropriate in team. First I need to know, deep in my heart, whose I am. Second, I need to know, in humility and confidence, who I am. It cannot be stated strongly enough: if I am not secure in whose I am and who I am, I’ll always miss the mark when it comes to expectations … of myself and others. Until I’m secure in the knowledge that God is my functional Father, not mere theory, and that my identity is found in being a son of the Father; I will continue to look to others to scratch an itch only God can. Out of this wounded heart, I will wound others.

Only when I know whose I am and who I am, can I trust God to help me discover whom I am called to walk with, pure in motive and transparent in heart.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself … to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:3-5). Secure in God’s Fatherhood, Jesus could extravagantly serve His disciples, including the man He knew would betray Him (vv. 1, 2).

For the record then, team cannot fill the vacuum only God can; yet from a God-filled life we can serve and be served, love and be loved, give and receive in team; experiencing an abundance of life, as good as it gets.

With the “whose” and “who” questions answered, we are ready to clarify the expectations we have of “whom” we walk with as a team; resolving to permanently give misunderstanding and miscommunication their marching orders.

One of the false expectations we need to put to the sword early on deals with our tendency to want to own or possess our relationships. A true team is a primary set of relationships but not an exclusive set. Each member of the team may have a number of secondary relationships as God layers our sphere of influence with others in His Body. Remember, we’re not building our own little empire here. Each team member is free to serve and work with other expressions of God’s people as we cooperate with Jesus as He builds His church.

However, to walk together with integrity and intentionality, the team God puts me in is my primary set of relationships and I need to honour this design.

By “primary relationships” I’m referring to discerning the core relationships God is knitting your heart with. We simply cannot invest ourselves deeply in this way into everyone, but we can and must give ourselves in this way to some. And having done so, we are to be faithful to these primary relationships.

Depending on what kind of social animal we are, we may have second and third (and fourth and fifth…) levels of relationships alongside these primary relationships. And we ought to give ourselves to everyone who comes across our path, without prejudice, as God enables us to do so. But here is the issue. To whom are we accountable? Where are we known inside out? Where do we confess our faults (James 5:16)? With whom do we seek counsel and confirmation as we make big decisions in line with our prophetic destiny? This is where our primary relationships matter.

And if – and this happens in our busy world all the time – we have to make a choice as to where we will spend our time, we give our choice time to our primary relationships; unless the Spirit of God directs us on that particular occasion otherwise (in which case, the people in our primary core cheer us on, celebrating our courage to follow His lead).

Thus, team is not an exclusive arrangement of elite, controlling relationships. It’s inclusive and outwardly focused; extravagantly generous and selflessly missional. It deliberately avoids becoming ingrown by keeping the door wide open, not just for serving others God sends our way, but for sending one another out in love-fuelled mission.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? Clarify expectations upfront by first answering the “whose you are” and “who you are” questions; then work through your collective expectations with those “whom you are” called to walk with.

Reason from the whole to the part

To understand team, I needed to learn to reason from the whole to the part, nurturing a collective rather than an individualistic attitude. Me, myself and I are a hellish, obsessive little trinity determined to make itself the centre of the universe.

Paul taught us to reason from the whole to the part in using his analogy of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). The arm, for example, is important and valuable in itself but it only finds its full meaning and purpose in light of the whole body. An arm without a body makes very little sense.

Yes, each “part” is precious and vital; but the “part” only finds its fullest expression in the context of the “whole”. Therefore while “team” certainly includes “me” (we’re not talking about being an expendable cog in some cosmic machinery), focusing on “me” produces a consuming black hole of self-obsession that leaves no place for anyone else.

Again, think of the first week of creation (Genesis 1:1-31). After each day, God declared every day was “good”. Each part of the week was good. But when He viewed the entire week, He declared it was “very good”. The whole week was very good. Thus the part is good, but the whole is very good.

Most believers in the Western world are conditioned, for example, to read the Scriptures with an individualistic mindset: “How does this affect my life? What is in it for me?” In contrast, the original recipients had a corporate mindset and would ask: “How does this affect the community that I am a part of? What is my responsibility now within my community?”

Therefore, herein lies a critical principle for a healthy team. We must learn to reason from the whole to the part and then work it out back from the part to the whole.

In team, this has at least two implications; on a micro and macro level.

First, the micro.

I am a part of a team, the whole. Although my part is valuable and vital, it only finds its full meaning and purpose in relation to the whole. For me to act independently or unilaterally sabotages the whole; we all suffer. “Every house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25).

The team does not exist to serve me, to give platform for my contribution. The team does not revolve around me; the team exists to serve the Lord and my contribution, though integral to the team, is simply a part of the symphony we create together.  I am to reason from the whole – the team – to my part and work out my part in harmony with the whole. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).

Second, the macro.

The team I serve with is part of a greater whole, the Body of Christ. Although our part is important and precious, it finds its significance in relation to the whole. Being sectarian and polemic injures the Body and makes us all sick. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation” (Matthew 12:25).

God entrusted Adam and Eve with a global, dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26-28). But then He put them in a garden (Genesis 2:15). Within the boundaries of their God-appointed “garden,” they were to be faithful, fruitful and fulfilled. And … they were to keep the devil out! Adam and Eve were to be focused on their “sphere of influence” – their garden – while retaining an essential connection to His global mandate. This foundational reference point, the “whole,” delivered them from self-centred, empire-building; from thinking that their garden, their “part,” was all that there was.

As important as I think the team I walk with is, God has simply entrusted us with a “garden”; one of many “gardens” that make up His Kingdom whole.

Paul referred to it as his “God appointed sphere” and he was careful not to compare himself with the “spheres” given to others; explaining those who do so are “not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12, 13). And he entrusted himself to God to enlarge his sphere as He willed rather than giving into the urge to compete with others (2 Corinthians 10:14-17). We must die to the childish temptations to compare and compete, incorrectly viewing our “garden” as the whole ball game. Instead, true to our God-given “garden,” we ought to seek to compliment others; cooperating with the King as He establishes His Kingdom.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? Think globally; act locally. Essentially connected to the Kingdom whole; be true to the “garden” God has given your team as you cooperate with Him and work to compliment other teams to see His Kingdom come.

Build from relationship to structure

A team is only as healthy as the quality of the relationships within it. In fact, relationships are what Kingdom life is all about; first our vertical relationship with Father God and second, how we walk this out horizontally in authentic relationships with others. This is, quite simply, Kingdom Basics 101.

However, relationships without intentionality become sloppy, familiar and ingrown. And this happens very quickly too. Without a supportive skeletal structure, relationships eventually deteriorate into a blob state.

The adjectives I’ve chosen are important. My skeletal system is supportive to my body; if you saw my skeleton jutting out, you’d be right to be concerned and I’d be in trouble! But to save me from being a motionless, dysfunctional blob of flesh, muscle and sinew God has created a structure that evolves and grows to give my body shape, coordination and strength. My skeleton is secondary and supportive to my body.

In like manner, in terms of team and relationships, structure is not a dirty word … as long as it remains supportive, flexible and fluid; evolving to facilitate the team and our growing relationships. In this sense, structure ought to describe our collective life together not prescribe it.

In reaction to the poor examples of many institutionally based teams, where structure is a straight-jacket of control and micro-management, too many organic, fledgling teams become blob-like, failing to fulfil their prophetic destiny because of a fear of structure. However, the answer to abuse is not non-use but proper use. Unless we embrace the value of structure and cooperate with God’s initiative in this regard we will always remain loose flabby fingers rather than becoming a cohesive, steel punch for God.

Yes, it is our warped Greek thinking that causes us to view structure as primary and relationships as secondary; squeezing people into holes in an institutional matrix. And in reaction to this error, many then outlaw structure altogether. However, Hebrew thinking – the way God thinks – prizes relationships first, without question, but views structure as helpful and supportive. In Hebrew culture, the communal structure is not visible but is beautifully “felt” through the honour and respect of each person’s maturity and contribution to the family.

Where do we start with the structure issue then?

In the context of genuine relationships; first, by honestly discerning each one’s spiritual maturity and, second, by appreciating each one’s proven gift-mix3.

As we recognise each other’s spiritual maturity, on the one hand, our relating together is deepened through mutual respect and honour. In so doing, we affirm spiritual fatherhood and older brothers in our midst; this, then gives spiritual fathers the liberty to be who they are and to serve in this relational authority4.

As we recognise each one’s giftedness, on the other hand, our functioning together is broadened by this shared awareness. We appreciate the gifts in each other and learn to defer to one another’s giftedness appropriately; this then draws out the effective operation of all the gifts present. The recognition of spiritual fathers in our midst serves to facilitate this appreciation and deployment of each one’s contribution.

How does a skeletal, relational structure emerge? Through acknowledging maturity, affirming spiritual fatherhood, and through acknowledging spiritual giftedness, appreciating the God-given contribution of each.

As we boldly define these issues – silence breeds assumption and assumption scuppers the ship – we start to relate and function with a collective awareness, a communal structure, which can be delightfully “felt” as our relational definition and intentionality yields greater rest and more fruitfulness.

Careful to avoid the tendency to box one another, we regularly re-engage with this definition process to ensure we keep growing; we keep building from relationships to structure.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? Invest into relationships first; then define the fluid, emerging structure that emerges from an appreciation of each other’s spiritual maturity and God-given giftedness.

Function as a team with a leader

There is a world of difference between a leader-with-a-team and a team-with-a-leader.

Leader-With-A-Team                      Team-With-A-Leader                     

The leader is a dictator                          The leader is a facilitator

with subordinates that                          with contributors that

fulfil his objectives.                                 fulfil their agreed objectives.

In my own personal experience, a “pastor and staff” model inevitably becomes a leader-with-a-team in which the leader dictates to subordinates who exist to fulfil the leader’s objectives. However, biblical team ministry requires that the leader facilitates a team in which all the contributors aim to fulfil their God-given objectives.

While I believe it is the gift and function of an apostle to facilitate the initial architecture or blueprint of the team’s mandate in God (obviously drawing in the contribution of all as they discern the Mind and Heart of God together), the point-leader of the team itself may change depending on the specific task, challenge or season that the team faces together. This true in both settings: for the parent-elders of a simple church community and for an apostolic resource team.

I’m fully persuaded, revealed throughout Scripture, that a point-leader is required in a team. Even a casual read through both Testaments Old and New reveals this principle. Every project needs a go-to-guy. However, the point-leader is the person in the team who is best suited to lead at a given time and in a given situation; and this means, the point-leader is not set in concrete forever and a day.

That is why the word “facilitate” is important in the statement: “the leader facilitates a team in which all the contributors aim to fulfil their God-given objectives”. The person, who is most suited to lead at the time, serves the clear purpose of the Lord by facilitating the team’s efforts to achieve the current objective. In this moment, he humbly and courageously leads the team; willing in the next moment to submit to the leadership of another member of the team should they be more suited to lead then.

What makes one most suited to lead at a given time or in a given situation? One’s gift-mix and experience are common reasons; so to is a mutual witness of the Spirit’s prompting or when the project involves relationships or cultural dynamics that one team member is better equipped to handle than others.

A word here on spiritual fatheringmight be helpful. I serve in a functional apostolic team in which we’re continually learning to fully appreciate one another’s gifts and to allow these gifts to operate cohesively. And as such, we sit at the table, so to speak, as a team of peers. However, outside of this healthy functioning team, we’re also a family of spiritual fathers and sons. In this team are men who father me in the Lord and men who I father in the Lord. Yet, these precious father-son relationships strengthen our functioning as a team; they do not hinder it.

This is not easy to do and was not easy to learn. It takes a secure father to take off his “parent hat” to sit at the table as a peer. Insecure spiritual parents will yield to the temptation to pull rank over others. And it takes a secure son to contribute and lead in his gifting, knowing his spiritual father sits with him at the table as a peer. Insecure sons will yield to the temptation to overly defer to the parental figure in the mix.

While honouring our father-son relationships as a way of life together, we’ve learnt (and are still learning) to sit at the table as peers, functioning as a team-with-a-leader; that is, a point-leader determined not by fatherhood but by what the situation necessitates.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? As a team learns to yield to the person most suited to lead at a given time or in a given situation, functioning as a team-with-a-leader results in a multidimensional dynamic rather than a one-dimensional drone.

Build in review; reflect to move forward

As a growing team, we value and welcome change. Yes, change is not always easily; it challenges our core dependencies and exposes our insecurities … and that is why, as mature followers of Christ, we learn to welcome it. Right?

Jeremiah prophesied against Moab saying, “Moab has been at ease from his youth; he has settled on his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel … Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent has not changed” (Jeremiah 48:11). In street talk, Jeremiah was saying that because Moab was unwilling to change, he stunk! Since he did not want to be “emptied from vessel to vessel” God declared that He would “tip him over and empty his vessels” (v. 12).

Because we want to grow and value change as essential to growth, we build in regular review where we lovingly yet honestly evaluate the health of our relationships and the fruitfulness of our functionality as a team. It is in these critical moments of reflection that we re-engage with one another and re-launch into our future together.

Regular review ensures we keep short accounts with one another and removes the residual wear and tear that is sure to happen in any team that advances God’s Kingdom and wages war against the forces of darkness. And it’s in this reflection that we ensure our structures remain fluid and flexible: do they continue to serve us in following the Lord’s purposes in our midst? If not, we’re able to quickly turn into a juicy “hamburger” what could otherwise have become a “sacred cow” if left unchecked.

Herein lies a vital implication for true team; an insight easily lost after factoring in the cost we pay to invest into community in the first place. Having given our bacon for this, we may find it hard to hold team lightly. For sure, we ought not to hold community loosely; it is a treasure we must guard and cherish. But it’s not ours; we do not own it and should not hold onto it tightly.

Community, and team, is a gift from God to be held lightly, with an open-hand. We invest deeply into community so that we – as a team – can be spent by God for His purposes in this world.

Paul taught: “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8). I don’t own my team and I don’t owe them anything: “except to love” – and this is a mighty exception. I am to cherish them as a gift from God and to give myself completely to them as God enables me. But because my identity remains in Christ alone, I don’t attempt to own them or feel indebted to them because of my own insecurity or need for affirmation.

In true team, I’m making an investment into them out of the overflow of my essential union with God and secure in Him, I don’t expect anything in return. Oh yes, I ought to express my gratitude for the many, many blessings poured out upon me from those who, likewise, give of themselves in love. But it is love freely given and received, not a string of IOU’s. Only then do we avoid giving into a spirit of entitlement or nurturing an attitude of obligation. Both drain the life out of team.

In these holy moments, when we regularly evaluate in the light of His Lordship and glory, we once again release each other to either re-engage as a team or perhaps, to no longer do so. This freedom to call it a day not only avoids the team becoming a sect but creates the space for each person to freely throw themselves back into team if this is what they sense the Lord saying. This re-engagement with a sense of Kingdom call together as a team breathes fresh life and energy into the relationships again and again.

In a nutshell, then? To build teams that multiply? Regularly build in review; this reflection not only ensures the relationships remain alive in the Spirit but also enables the team to spark into full flame the collective call they share.

Teams that multiply teams …

As we cooperate with the Spirit and selflessly discover one another we unearth the treasure in community. Boldly clarifying expectations upfront and learning to reason from the whole to the part we discern our collective calling in Christ. As we build from relationship to structure and learn to function as a team-with-a-leader we realise and express our full potential in Him. Building in review keeps our relationships alive and through reflection, we grow and move forward.

In the genesis of teams that emerge in this context lies the genius for multiplying, reproducible teams. As God enlarges the team, future reviews give the team the chance to consider the development of daughter teams released from the mother team as organic life necessitates decentralisation of initiative and responsibility. I’m convinced that the DNA embodied in these principles contains reproducible power.

The multiplication of simple church communities will release rapid Kingdom expansion; the multiplication of apostolic, resource teams will increase this growth exponentially.

“Lord, raise up reproducing teams that fill the earth with Your glory”.

Notes:

1 By “apostolic, resource team” I refer to a team of Ephesians 4:11 gifts working together to establish the Kingdom of God through the planting of self-governing, reproducing simple church communities. Once these Kingdom communities are established, they do not belong to the apostolic team but may continue to align with this servant team through mutual relationships and common vision. Please see the article, How does an apostolic team work? <The A-Team>

2 While the context of Ephesians Chapter 4 is unity in the Body of Christ, I’m simply referring here to a principle valid for unity in any configuration of relationships. Certainly, in any team that we find ourselves in, learning to “keep the unity of the Spirit” within our team is a training ground to “keep the unity of the Spirit” in a much more profound and significant sense too, the (capital B) Body of Christ.

In this broadest and most important sense, we can “keep the unity of the Spirit” if we’re centred on Christ and Him alone. Yes, we certainly may have our theological disagreements – and we need to learn to embrace these distinctives; not as divisive elements but as reflective of the rich diversity in our collective midst. But the unity of the Spirit is not crafted in man’s agreement on things theological; it’s created, first, in the revelation of how much we have in common in Christ and, second, it’s kept in obedience to the instruction to prioritise the “fruit of the Spirit”, the character of Christ: “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2 c. Galatians 5:22, 23).

3 The stress here on “proven” giftedness is important. In discerning one another’s giftedness there is great wisdom in calling “what is” rather than presuming “what could be”. While we may “see” great potential in one another, we need to soberly define our gifts based on the fruit we presently yield. Yes, we may grow in other areas of gifting at which point we can redefine how we function together. However, acting on a hunch or leaning on potential prematurely creates unnecessary pressure and often gives rise to striving outside the grace of God.

4 Due to misuse and abuse, authority is seen as a dirty word by many today. But all true authority flows from the Father-heart of God (Romans 13:1ff). In fact, and this may meddle with your mind at first, authority operates in the Godhead.

Jesus said, “As the Father sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). Father God did not say to Jesus, “Son, if you have some time on your hands …”. He sent Jesus. Jesus also said, speaking of the Holy Spirit, “the Father will send [Him] in My name” (John 14:26). Again, Father God did not say, “Holy Spirit, what’s your take on My proposal?” Father God sent the Spirit.

We will continue to have a problem with authority as long as we view it from an institutional construct. But when we view true authority in the relational context it belongs, the problems dissipate. I’m convinced that when we grasp a Hebrew mindset – understanding that “community” is essentially family and “leadership” is spiritual parenting – the concept of authority is no longer a threatening word. When we view authority in the context of love-filled parents and a life-giving family, we unwrap the blessings that God intends through it. Incidentally, it helped me to initially add the prefix “relational” to the word “authority” to renew my meddled mind. Please refer to the articles:

How does authority work? <Like Father, Like Son>

What are Hebrew values? <My Big Fat Greek Mentality>