Respect and Friendship
The second component of a unified and healthy ministry team (of staff, board, etc) is respect and friendship. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to be best friends. But it does mean that we must get along well enough to avoid miscommunication, stereotyping, and personality conflicts that so easily get in the way when it’s time to tackle a tough or difficult issue.
Yet I have found that many boards (and even some church staffs) are filled with strangers. They may know one another’s name and have a casual acquaintance, but that’s about it.
At PCC we’ve always been pretty close to one another throughout our church family, including those on our senior staff. When one of us is experiencing a family crisis (sickness, death, terminal parents, marital stress, wayward children, etc), the rest of us know about it. We share the information with each other. Personal information. Consequently, our relationships are not superficial – they get beneath the surface. This goes a long way in building unity among us, even with our differences.
Concentrating on developing camaraderie has paid rich dividends to me personally, as well as to the overall health of PCC’s leadership. It has made serving on a church staff an enjoyable experience. Instead of having a hard time getting people to serve, we have a hard time getting people to leave.
It has also radically changed the dynamic of our staff/board meetings. Friends and strangers have very different patterns of relating to one another. Friends are vulnerable, while strangers hold their cards close to the vest; friends tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt, while strangers are cautious and suspicious; and when it comes to dicey issues, friends debate, while strangers argue.
The third component of a healthy and unified teams is agreement on our philosophy of ministry. Simply put, it means having a basic agreement about our priorities and methods.
Philosophical unity is harder to develop than doctrinal unity or sincere friendships because sit can take a long time to hammer out a consensus. In our case, it took several years before I could honestly say that we were all headed in the same direction and in agreement as to the best path to get there.
But once we were in agreement, everything became easier. We no longer had to go back to square one on every issue or with every new leader or staff hire. We’d already established our basic direction and how we would get there. With that done, about 90% of our decisions were made.
Just as with doctrinal unity, philosophical unity doesn’t mean that everyone has to think alike. It’s not a casting for clones or even unanimity we’re after; there’s plenty of room for differing perspectives. But if we’re going to work together effectively, we have to be reading off the same sheet of music. Otherwise, we’ll be like a small ensemble to which everyone brings their own favorite arrangement. The resulting sounds will be chaos and noise, not music.
If you think about it, most church fights aren’t over theology or even ministry goals; they’re over priorities and methodology. When two people get in an argument over how to spend money (whether to use it for local outreach or use it for foreign missions) they’re arguing over priorities. When two people debate the merits of a choir verses guitars and sub-woofers, they’re arguing over methods. Both want to worship the Lord; they just disagree on the best way to go about it. Usually it boils down to personal preference.
That’s why developing and nourishing a shared philosophy of ministry is one of the most important things a pastor, board, and staff can do to maintain unity.
Making unity a top priority has paid huge dividends for us. While we haven’t been conflict free over the years, PCC has experienced long-term unity for most of that time. And it makes our church attractive to newcomers.
A few months ago I asked a new member who had been involved in other churches over the years why she and her husband had settled at PCC.
“There were two reasons,” she said. “First, I appreciated the lack of pressure to join. And second, we’ve never been in such a harmonious church. Usually, after you’ve been around for a while, when you get together in smaller groups, you hear people complaining about the board, the pastor, the staff, or something. We’ve never heard that here.”
Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Apparently, he too, believed that unity is one of those things that shouldn’t be left to chance.