As your church or ministry team grows, the game changes. Different rules apply. Things just don't work the same when you're a church of 300 as they did when you're a church of 30. As a church leader, here's what you can expect at each stage.
The solo pastor can be compared to a track-and-field star. That's where most of us start out, and many choose to stay in that role. On the up side, the single-staff pastorate offers tremendous freedom. On the down side, it can be overwhelming and lonely.
Like the sprinter, the solo pastor may work out with others, but he or she performs alone—often without fanfare and usually before a small crowd peppered with family and friends. Like a marathon runner, you learn to keep going whether anyone is cheering you on or not.
Independent types love it. Sometimes the highly relational do, too, because the smaller church provides opportunity for deeper personal relationships.
The opposite can also happen, especially in a small church with a long history of ingrown relationships. The new pastor can be shut out, viewed by the members as an outsider.
Most leaders I've known want to be part of a team. So even in a church that's at the track-and-field stage, they often pull together a few others to run with, and a team is formed, but the efforts are individual.
With growth comes the inevitable addition of a team member or two, whether paid staff or volunteer. Either way, the small leadership team of two to four resembles golfers.
Golf is a highly relational game. So are these teams. Golf is most enjoyable when played with friends. And while it's preferable that players have similar skills, a stroke a hole is no big deal among pals. The leisurely pace allows for extended conversation and camaraderie. It's a major part of the game. Afterward, everyone is expected to hang around for a snack and a drink while debriefing that round and planning the next one.
For the highly relational pastor, a golf-size leadership team is the most enjoyable stage. The relationships are often deep, the sharing genuine, and the concern for one another goes far beyond the course. Doing what you like with people you like is hard to beat.
As the team grows beyond a foursome, its relationships begin to resemble those found in basketball. More a team sport than a friendship sport, basketball depends upon working together, trusting one another, and sharing the ball.
No one expects everyone on a basketball team to be best friends. There are too many players for that. Some are stars and some are role players. It's also played before a larger crowd.
The ministry team of five to twelve key leaders (whether paid or volunteer) is similar. Everyone is in the loop. They all know what the others are doing and are supposed to do. When the coach addresses the team, he speaks to everyone at once. There are few surprises.
During a basketball game, those who aren't in the game watch those who are. Offense and defense involve everyone. Most players can play multiple positions. Changing positions for the good of the team is usually no big deal, a minor change in focus.
A winning team needs a star player or two. Given freedom to go one-on-one, these players can make or break the team. Adding or losing a star player can turn the season around.
While basketball teams do not have the same depth of relationships found on the golf course, the good ones have great esprit de corps. Everyone rides to the game in one van. The locker room is lively. Trash talk is half the fun.
When the primary leadership team of a church increases beyond 10 or so, the game changes radically. More like a football team, the dynamics can be very uncomfortable for the golfer. And for those who still think they're playing basketball, ministry can become confusing—and painful.
Football is a game of highly specialized roles. Few players are interchangeable. Guards seldom become quarterbacks. Teamwork is more important than one-on-one skill. In fact, a great athlete who freelances can mess up the entire game.
Football players don't know what everyone else is doing. The offensive and defensive teams have different playbooks and different game plans. When not in the game, they may not even watch their teammates; they huddle with their unit and position coach to plan for the next series. Most players have to watch the game films to know what happened.
The sheer number of players and the distinctly different roles make camaraderie a challenge. While the basketball team rides everywhere together, the football team may take two buses.
For the members of a leadership team that once played basketball, this is a difficult adjustment. They may feel out of the loop and insignificant. Some won't be able to make the change. Some won't want to. But there is nothing they can do about it. The game has changed.
The only question: Am I going to put on the pads, retire, or just stand here in my shorts and get run over?
A fuller version of this article, with more applications for church leadership, can be found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2000/winter/13.80.html
Larry Osborne is pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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