Working on a team, even in pastoral ministry, can have many challenges: personalities conflict, points of view differ, people feel threatened, and other reasons cause two people to find themselves pitted against one another, though they’re supposed to be on the same team. It happens more than you realize.
In fact, your leadership team is at risk every day because of sin’s impending threat. Sin is subtle, and we are often asleep to its antics; as sinners, we have to be weary in order to keep a healthy leadership team. John Owen in Indwelling Sin in Believers reminds us all too well concerning sin, “Where it is least felt, it is most powerful.”
Now, you may not be on a large pastoral team. In fact, you might be the only full-time equivalent. Regardless, you’re working with other people, whether they are elders, deacons, or influential lay-volunteers. That means you still have to deal with threats to team health.
Here are five threats and how to handle them in order to protect your team and improve its health.
1. Don’t Just Be a Team, Be Friends
Pastors are not mere coworkers, though sometimes a work culture has the propensity to foster this. Pastors are a band of brothers doing God’s work; they are friends. Don’t treat your teammates as mere coworkers: pray, eat, sport, vacation, and hang out together as you minister. Never distinguish your friends from coworkers. You can’t keep ministry merely professional. You’re bleeding together for God’s kingdom.
You’re under the enemy’s attack, so you need one another. Just as Ecclesiastes 4:12 reminds us: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
2. Don’t Compete for Status
I’ve heard about it happening more times then I wish to admit: teammates competing for status. Often this happens with the help of other’s whispers or the thoughts whispered to self.
You’ve baptized more. You’ve spoke at more public engagements. You’re a better preacher. You’re more organized. You lead bigger and better events. You deserve more.
These whispers motivate you to compete for status. Next thing you know, you’re one-upping other staff. Maybe this competitive mindset leads to a promotion, or maybe, as your church declines, it helps you keep your job. Still, these are not reasons to sacrifice a team member.
Rather than competing for status, look for ways to build one another up (Rom. 15:2).
3. Don’t Minimize Contributions and Dismiss Ideas
This threat may not instantly jeopardize a team, but if this is an ongoing threat, it will slowly eat away at your team’s health. If you let your teammate leave every staff meeting, storming session, or any of those spontaneous doorway interactions thinking their ideas are dismissed or contributions are minimized, then you’re slowly damaging your team with disparaging disregard.
You want to validate every contribution your teammates offer. Look for ways to encourage them and affirm their thoughts or ideas. Romans 15:2 isn’t the only place Paul talks about building one another up. Check out 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” If you have to disagree philosophically, then be slow to disagree, just like with anger (James 1:19).
4. Don’t Ignore Admonishments
If you ignore admonishments from other teammates, then you’re communicating that you don’t think much of their concerns. They might tell you that you need to meet with a certain individual, though you think you have it under control. Or they might exhort you to take a particular angle on a situation.
If a teammate gives you an admonishment, take it seriously. They might have insight or perspective you lack. When you ignore them, you’re making room to ignore God, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. God places us on a team to listen to one another and point one another back to Him and His Word. Paul celebrated this attribute of the Thessalonians. They accepted Paul’s gospel admonishment, validated it as a good word from the Lord, and it went to work in them (1 Thess. 2:13). Live likewise!
5. Don’t Speak Ill of Them or Challenge Them Publicly
In reality, if this threat is around the corner, it is likely that you’ve permitted the other four threats above to steal their way into your leadership team.
If you start speaking ill of another pastor or team member or challenge them publicly, then you’re in a really dangerous situation. There is something terrible going on in your heart. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to reconcile with this person on your own. You need to reach out to another pastor in a different situation, a mentor, or another spiritual leader. You need someone to talk you down and check your sinful speech. You need someone to facilitate peace. Though I haven’t read Ken Sande’s, The Peacemaker, I’ve heard from numerous testimonies that this book will be invaluable in this scenario.
Speaking ill or challenging another teammate publicly has a demoralizing effect on everyone. People in your church will move into fight or flight because of the chaos that ensues. You really don’t want this threat to creep into your heart or the church.
Jesus the Peacemaker
If you’ve discovered that you’ve endangered your team to these threats, then go to the real peacemaker, Jesus; ask him to forgive you and help you talk to your teammate. You need to reconcile with Christ and practice the ministry of reconciliation with one another (2 Cor. 5:18). I quote this verse in particular because at some point along the way, you’ve forgotten the gospel, whether you care to admit it or not. You need to remember the gospel and the reconciliation that comes with it – reconciliation that changes your relationship with God and with one another on your ministry team.