Building a Battle-Ready Team
A true ministry "team" is invaluable. But there's a crucial difference between building a team and merely letting a team form around you. Great teams are built; bad teams just form, with no intentionality or planning. Good leaders tend to approach others to help serve their vision.
Most of the time, we are just happy for warm bodies willing to volunteer. We use pious-sounding phrases like, "I'll use anyone the Lord sends me." Sounds really great, but remember that God is not the only one who sends people to us. I have had my fair share of people I suspect were sent to me by the other team. I thought they were from God—right up to the point they began to turn red and grow horns.
I began to realize building a team would require being more intentional about the selection process. It would require a series of tests and training to see if prospective team members carried our organization's DNA.
Here are a few of the things I ask myself to determine if people can be trusted team members.
How do they respond to failure?
I hate failure. I hate failure in my personal life and on my team. But I loathe it when our failure reflects badly on our church. Self-contained missteps are one thing, the kind of failures that only reflect on the person involved. But let's face it—in a true team environment, failing rarely happens in a vacuum. When a kicker misses a field goal and loses the game, the entire team loses because of the player's mistake. The defense cannot say, "Well, we did our job really well so it does not reflect on us." We succeed and fail together: in sports, in life, and in ministry.
If I want to build an effective team, I have to give certain key leaders the permission to fail—and not rescue them. That's hard to do. If I see something going badly, I have a strong impulse to step in and stop it before it has a negative impact. But in the end, my team members won't learn valuable lessons if I do that. And I won't have the opportunity to see how they respond when they witness the consequences of their failure.
Some time ago, my very young staff was not responding quickly to emails and calls that came in to our church. I made it clear that all incoming messages of any kind needed to be answered within one day. That's 24 hours. And yet, despite my repeated reminders, rewards, and even threats, my team was not responding. So each Sunday I would have awkward conversations at church with new members who felt as though they did not matter because no one got back to them. This was especially irritating because our church motto, which is printed on every sign and brochure reads, "You matter to God … You matter to us."
In order to resolve the issue, I began answering all the emails and calls myself. This, of course, was too time-consuming. Finally I made a difficult choice. I had to watch them fail, even though I knew their doing so could hurt people and lower our attendance. And it did. It was incredibly frustrating. Several families were offended, and one even left the church. I let my staff all read the email from the outgoing family explaining how they felt and why they wanted to find a church that would connect with them.