Good leadership teams stick together. That’s their defining trait. When faced with differing agendas and clashing perspectives that every team must work through, mature teams know how to deal with the issues at hand and still come out united in purpose, with a genuine camaraderie undamaged by strong differences. In other words, good leadership teams are not only productive; they are healthy too.
Why is unity so difficult to achieve? To begin with, there is our sin nature. It messes everything up. Add to that our differing backgrounds, biases, blind spots, and passions. We all come to the table with a different set of eyes, which often causes us to see the same things differently.
In addition, most leadership teams are saddled with traditions, policies, ministry methods, and organizational structures that were designed for a previous generation. Yet as every leader knows, it’s not easy to change deeply entrenched traditions, no matter how stupid or outdated they may be.
The result is board conflict, staff conflict, turf battles, independently operating ministry silos, and splintered congregations – the stuff of ministry legend and gallows humor.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It really is possible to get everyone on the same page and keep them there.
LET ME SHARE A TRUE STORY. It’s a miracle that I ever got saved. I mean it. Though I wasn’t raised in church, I knew enough about church to see its dark side. The petty squabbles, acrimonious debates, and highly visible church splits taking place in the community were enough to sour my attitude and repel me from Christianity. Even after I got saved, I found it totally out of the question for God to call me (of all people) into the ministry. I’m still not sure why I didn’t pull a Jonah.
When I eventually entered the ministry I was prepared. Or so I thought. I had spent a few years learning the Bible, memorizing scriptures, taking Bible courses, studying systematic theology, and witnessing to lost people every chance I got. I was deeply spiritual and felt I had gained all the information that I would ever need to be a pastor in the ministry. I was extremely pleased with myself.
I must have been smoking something.
My perception changed very quickly after I actually became a pastor. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t prepared for this at all. The gaps in my training were not Biblical or theological. My gaps were in the areas of leadership, exercising authority, and learning how to deal with people.
In all my years of theological training I was never taught about the different forms of church government, how to hire the right people, or remove people who needed to be removed. There was never a class on how to build a unified staff or church board. There were no classes on how to set salaries, conduct performance reviews, or write job descriptions. Although the scriptures taught me the attitude and grace I was to have when interacting with people, I was at a loss regarding the practical aspects of leading a team.
Six months in at my first church I was embroiled in controversy. A few key leaders and I were having trouble seeing eye-to-eye on anything. Squabbles were happening in the choir. A women’s group was fighting over their flower fund.
Marathon board meetings and tense business meeting were the norm. Old members were leaving as fast as new members could be added. Then there were the troublemakers in the church who were making my life a living hell. Attendance was slipping, offerings dropped off, and very little was being accomplished for the kingdom. I lay awake at night wondering how it would all end. Falling on my sword seemed like a good option.
Fortunately, it didn’t end in disaster. With God’s help I began to learn the skills that were needed to fill my ministry gaps. Along the way I learned a lot of lessons; lessons that have been implemented at PCC. But none was more important than this simple truth: A unified and healthy leadership team doesn’t just happen. It has to be a priority.
The Importance of Unity
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Jesus predicted church growth (Matthew 16:18) but prayed for unity among the believers (John 17). If taken for granted, unity quickly disappears. Unity is the one thing that cannot be left to chance.
From Aaron and Miriam’s harsh criticism of Moses, to Paul and Barnabas’ heated argument and eventual split over John Mark, God’s leaders have a hard time getting along. It’s nothing new.
But I thought we would be different. I assumed that as long as I put good people on the team and we stayed focused on the Lord, harmony would naturally follow. I was wrong. If you would have told me to slow down and focus some of my energy on camaraderie and building unity, I would have chided you for your inward focus. We had a world to conquer and disciples to make and there just wasn’t the time to focus on getting together for a hand-holding party. Again I was wrong.
One of the best moves I have ever made was to focus my attention on maintaining unity among our leadership team (in previous churches, as well as PCC). It is one of my most important leadership priorities, far ahead of other worthy goals – including evangelism, church growth, community outreach, developing internal systems, in-house ministries, and congregational care – because without unity on the primary leadership team, everything else falls apart.
But unity doesn’t just happen. I (we) have to work at it day after day, because if we don’t, it quickly slips away. And once it does, it doesn’t matter how clear our vision is or how gifted the pastor is. When the foundation rots, it’s not long until the whole house collapses.
It All Starts with the Leadership Team
When it comes to building healthy and unified ministry teams, it all starts with the senior leadership. As they go, so goes the rest of the church.
If the senior staff and leadership is a war zone, it doesn’t matter what kind of revival you’re having in the pews. If the infighting continues, it won’t be long until a Coup d'état (hostile takeover) will be attempted or a split occurs. I guarantee it.
As a pastor it is my job to help move people along towards spiritual maturity and to make sure we are fulfilling both halves of the Great Commission: leading people to Christ and nurturing them to full obedience. I used to think that could be accomplished by putting together challenging sermons, forming great small groups, and visiting the sick. I still consider these things to be important. But now I realize I was leaving out a vital first step: creating an environment of unity, which means removing divisions, turf battles, and the bitterness that sabotages the work of the Holy Spirit.
Defining & Developing Unity
So what does unity look like? Unfortunately, unity can be hard to define. It’s a vague term. Does it mean total agreement on doctrinal minutia? How close do our relationships need to be? Does unity mean that we have to be best friends? Do we have to share Thanksgiving dinner together?
Eventually I settled on three irreducible minimums that defined what I was looking for in unity. They are essential to the success of PCC. They are: (1) Doctrinal unity… (2) Respect and friendship…. (3) Agreement on our philosophy of ministry.
I’ll write about these in a day or so.