Gathering a team and keeping it healthy are at the heart of the whole process of planting a new worshipping community. This page begins with John Lee’s top tips on building a team followed by some advice from Richard White on understanding team dynamics to keep your team healthy.
Building a team
by John Lee
Imagine you own a restaurant and you are looking to serve the best food in your area. You hear one day that a Michelin starred chef has moved into town. You need to get that chef onto your team. You do not hold an interview process so that everyone who can boil an egg has a chance of getting the job. You go and camp on that chef’s doorstep until they agree to work for you.
When you’re a leader it’s important to decide to build the most effective team that you can. Be hungry for that team. You can’t build a great team through announcements asking for volunteers and a good team member is not always somebody who comes to you. Great teams begin in individual conversations about discipleship and vocation. They are fed by people who are servants and risk takers rather than by people who are ambitious or fancying a change.
You need a team
The day of the solo leaders is gradually on the wane in the church but roots of that way of doing things are deep. Ordination services sometimes sound as if a small band of heroes are being anointed to do the work of the whole church. The preacher and the priest are exalted by different strands of church life to unrealistic levels of individual significance. Don’t aspire to that; aspire to build a great team.
People before Posts
Very often I knew who I wanted on my team before I had any idea what I wanted them to do. I’ve had a number of conversations with people who knew that they were at key moments of change in their lives – God was calling. They didn’t know exactly what they were being called into - neither did I – but I invited them to join my team as a way of exploring this.
This meant that I tended to put people before posts. This was partly for pragmatic reasons. I recruit on the basis of the ‘3 Cs’ Character, Competence and Chemistry and I always treated Character as the priority. A person’s competence can be addressed through training and experience and in church teams roles tend to change over time. The Chemistry [how they relate to other team members in particular] is also something that can be addressed and behaviour can be adapted. Character, on the other hand, is deep rooted and a strong indicator of how somebody will approach the challenges of competence and chemistry.
I also prioritised people over posts for theological reason. In my experience God tells us about the future of Christian communities through the people he calls into them and particularly through those who are called to share in their service and leadership. Most of the innovation and experiment that happened in the church I was leading could be traced back to the teams I recruited. I don’t claim to have had any idea of what those people would bring into our life when I recruited them. All I knew was that these were people I wanted to work with. It is a dubious assumption that leaders must be the people with the vision in an organisation. I’d suggest, instead, that leaders need to ensure that vision is discerned and shared but that the vision itself may well emerge from a wider team praying, working and talking together.
Here are some indicators that I found compelling and helpful when building a team….
The most basic necessity was availability. Sometimes it’s somebody who has worked part time to look after a young family; the children get older and the parent has time for a new direction. It could be a student with a gap year or somebody nearing retirement and winding down their business commitments. Availability is not the same as a calling but it can be a hint. It can be a sign that somebody’s spiritual temperature has risen. Two extra factors were helpful for me. Would somebody be willing to commit to the team meeting? People who will commit to ministry are valuable; people who will commit to the life of the staff team shape the life of the wider church community. Most interesting of all were the people who were available and also ready to take a risk; the person ready to step away from a secure job or a promising career; somebody exploring a vocation into full-time ministry without really knowing what the next step on the journey looked like.
I was looking for servants. There were always opportunities to move furniture in St Paul’s. I made sure that this was a part of my Sunday and I wanted to see who would join in. Not all furniture shifters are team members but all team members need to be furniture shifters. I was looking for people for whom this was a step down and not a step up; people who were becoming more like Jesus stop.
Team as a path not a destination.
Over the years my team constantly evolved. In fact I see now that I let a series of teams. This often happened because those I recruited were on vocational journeys. The part of their journey in our team was probably just for a few years. I hope and believe that the team members benefited from this; I know that the team as a whole and the church we served were enriched by sharing in their journey. So look for the people who will grow and leave. Don’t worry about the fact that they will start new things and then they will go. It’s your job as the team leader to help them to build their own teams around those initiatives and to grow new leaders themselves. And if their initiatives and when they leave - well often that’s not important. Programs and events really don’t matter; what matters my new disciples and deepened community; if your team members leave those behind them as their legacy - be happy! People who follow God’s call will leave your team. They will leave you missing them when they go but they don’t tend to leave destruction behind them; instead they leave interesting gaps to be filled by other people who are paying attention to God.
Mind the gaps
Don’t rush to fill the gaps in your team. When the German footballer Thomas Muller was asked to describe his job he said “I am an interpreter of space”. People leave spaces in communities that echo who they were in that place. Since you can never fill that space exactly your job is to interpret it first. The community you are leading may not understand this – they may be grieving the loss of the absent team member and wanting things to be as they were before. Resist the pressure to act too quickly. Try looking at the problem with the eyes of the community builder rather than as an organisational manager. The future will be shaped by who God has given you not by the person God has led elsewhere.
You don’t lead through your own competence.
I’ve prioritised character over competence but I still aim to recruit people who would be more able than I am – both in my areas of weakness but also in my areas of strength. The logic of recruiting people to do what you cannot do is obvious; our tech staff member and our children and youth leaders did what I simply could not do. The logic of recruiting people who are better than you at what you can do is also clear when you are a disciple of Jesus. You are in your role as a leader because of God’s call, not because you have outperformed the competition. This foundation of grace means that you can relax and enjoy the strengths that your team members bring to your work together. There may still be things that you can teach them and there will certainly be things that they can teach you. The community that you’re building together will be blessed by the freely exercised gifts of your team; they will also be liberated by the example of everybody’s strengths being welcomed. You will also find that working with people who are strong where you were strong will free you to experiment and to widen your own ministry. Besides all of this you will be taking a big step in succession planning and perhaps making multiplication a possibility.
Build a team for the future
The team I recruited at St Paul’s was always a bit too large for the church. Some of the team were paid and so I needed to explain this to the PCC every now and then. Here are my reasons…
Firstly - we need to have a team that we grew into and not out of. Much of church life embodies past practices and ambitions. These have value but in various ways we are growing out of them [or struggling to do so]. The teams that we build can be statements of intent about the future. They are not guarantees or unwarranted claims; they are expressions of and of our trust that God’s plan is for his work to grow. They put our ambitions in an embodied form and they show that we accept risk as part of our life together.
Secondly - teams exist to begin new things. It is wise to recruit some people with the right gifts to release others from tasks that would slow most of them down. So an administrator or a tech expert has a disproportionately positive liberating impact on a community. Beyond these kind of roles, however, I recruited team members to focus on beginning new work. Your team will probably express the key values of your community and so they must be about growth and not consolidation. This is particularly true if you are paying a team member, partly because of economic wisdom but also because of the principles of discipleship which caused to be generous and outwardly focused rather than self interested. Don’t let your church pay for someone to make their life more comfortable; let them pay for someone who will challenge them and extend their mission together.
Thirdly – a team that is rather too big for its current role has some space built in. James Watson of DNA fame said “It is necessary to be slightly under-employed if you want to do something significant”. People who are busy spinning plates never get to cook a meal. The most creative time in my week as a church leader was the Tuesday morning staff meeting; it began with cakes and coffee and would take most of the morning. That space gave us the time for new ideas to emerge – sometimes ideas that transformed parts of our life together.
A caution on teams and leadership
Sometimes a team and the community’s leadership are the same but often they are not. In most Church of England settings leadership is something that the Incumbent and the Churchwardens and the PCC shares. In day to day terms a team can often look and feel as if it is a leadership group but this may be an illusion. Your administrator or tech person may not have a formal leadership role but they may play a valuable role in talking over the church issues with others on your team who have formal leadership status. Be clear with everybody about where leadership lies in the life of your community. I write as a person with burned fingers.
Build that team
I do team for some not particularly noble reasons. I didn’t want to be lonely in my work; I’m lazy and I wanted share a demanding job; I’m ambitious and I wanted to see change; I’m not particularly pastoral and I knew I needed to share my work with some people who are. God was kind to me; he gave me some wonderful teams to work with and showed me even my unspectacular motives could service purposes. Build a team – you won’t regret it.
by Richard White
As the leadership and the team develop, a three-fold structure often emerges.
Leader(s):First, there is the overall leader, or small leadership group of two or three. They are supported by the core team.
Core Team:These are equally committed to the task. Choose the core team carefully, the best members of the team may not be the first impulsive volunteers or those who come saying ‘I never agreed with the vicar, or liked the services in the parish church.’
Whole Group:As people join the NWC, most won’t join the core team. Nevertheless for a healthy community to grow it’s vital to create opportunities for as many as possible to get stuck in, offering their time and abilities as they serve the community.
Core Teams are complicated
A diagram of the relationships within many so-called teams would look like this:
In fact this is not a team at all. It is simply a set of reporting relationships. It’s like a football team in which players only ever pass the ball to their captain.
A good team is much more like this:
This structure is much more complicated and requires more trust on the part of the leader because there are many aspects of team life which don’t directly involve her or him.
Team Exercise 1: As a team discuss which diagram most closely reflects your life together. Have a go at drawing your own team diagram.
Phases of team life
Good teams tend to go through four distinct phases.
Dependent (or “Forming”)
A new team usually goes through a “honeymoon” phase. Everyone is being nice to each other. There is excitement about the new venture. Enjoy this phase but know that it won’t last and it would be unhealthy if it did!
One helpful way of maturing in this stage is to get each member of your group to tell some of their own faith story, their experience of church and church leadership and why they joined the team. Trust can develop quickly when people know each other’s stories – don’t assume they already do
Counter-Dependent (or “Storming”)
At some point team members become disillusioned because quite literally some early illusions are disappearing. There are irritations, different points of view and other types of conflict. This is good and normal! It’s especially helpful for the leader top recognize that this is an inevitable and healthy phase.
It’s an opportunity to build true community based on commitment, forgiveness and grace rather than just politeness. One way of drawing this out is trying to write down, in a few lines, a core purpose statement for your new worshipping community.
Independent (or “Norming”)
Most teams in the world end up at this phase. They move beyond the discomfort of conflict and continue to work together rather than disband but there’s a lack of trust and heartfelt commitment.
Sometimes when a team is stuck at Phase 3 it’s because the conflicts that emerged at Phase 2 weren’t properly dealt with they were just “swept under the carpet”. The way to move on to Phase 4 may be by choosing to return to the conflict, listen carefully to each other, forgive offenses and express your commitment to each other.
At this stage there is also a lack of accountability. One challenge to this is to try figure out what particular strengths and weaknesses each individual brings to the team. That can sound scary but you might be surprised at how well people talk of each other and how well they receive challenges.
It takes a commitment, forgiveness and trust to move onto the next phase. That’s costly, but so worth it.
Inter-Dependent (or performing)
The team are committed to each other and to the task. Their differences are a huge strength though that means they will at times disagree. And as human being they are bound to irritate one another at times which gives ongoing opportunities for their own growth so that together they are becoming a group of disciples of who are growing in love. “By this will all people know that you are my disciples…” (John 13:35)
Of course people are gloriously unique and much more complicated that a four stage process. Stage four isn’t a destination, rather a team will go through different phases again from time to time as they go deeper with one another. Whenever a new member joins the team, human nature tends to cause everyone to be extra “nice” for a bit and return to a new mini-honeymoon phase.
Team Exercise 2:The phases are much more our own perception and experience than an absolute, so different members of a team will have different perceptions of which stage the team is at. It can be helpful to discuss as a team which stage each member feels you are, emphasizing that there is no correct answer and learning from each other’s perspective.