Team Work Makes the Dream Work (Wayne Schmidt)

I know the title sounds like a cliché, risks making the topic of my blog sound trite, etc. – so a better title would have probably have been “From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16).  While that’s certainly more biblically explicit and theologically profound, it’s a bit long for a title.  But it does provide an inspired framework for understanding how God wants His redemptive team to function.

One of my great joys, both in 30 years of pastoral ministry and my brief time here at the Seminary, has been to participate in great teams.   Currently at the Seminary I am involved in three teams on a consistent basis – the Cabinet of the President (led by Dr. Henry Smith), the Council of the Provost (led by Dr. David Wright), and our team within the Seminary (which I have the privilege of leading).  Each of these teams consists of people supportive of the leader, mutually committed to the mission and capable of working collegially with a blend of very unique personalities, gifts and passions.

Those great teams have both a relational dimension (“in love”) and a functional contribution (“does its work”).  Ephesians 4:16 not only celebrates who we are in Christ’s body, but illuminates serving in such a way that His body is expanded and strengthened.  A few observations arising out of that verse:

Great teams have a commitment to UNITY.

Christ is glorified by a “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament…”  Teams quickly become dysfunctional when personal agendas are placed above a mission and priorities that have been established together.  Sometimes these agendas arise out of the failure to listen (James 1:19), from “selfish ambition” (James 3:14, 16), unresolved issues within a team member (James 4:1), or the entitlement mentality so prevalent in our individualistic Western culture.  In other words, there are many motivations behind divisive personal agendas.

Unity does not mean uniformity – we are all part of the same body but are not all the same part of the body.  In fact, the greatest teams I’ve participated in have found their unity enriched through diversity – a tapestry of personalities, ethnicities, genders, gifting and experiences.      We’re experiencing this right now as our Seminary team works to prepare to offer our MDIV in the Spanish language.  Our Administrative team has been strengthened by the leadership of Rev. Joanne Solis-Walker, our Director of Latino Latina Education.

Unity does not mean the absence of conflict – in fact, healthy conflict strengthens teams.  Teams that succumb to “group think” or “happy talk” rarely reach their full potential, because differing perspectives and words of warning are suppressed.  Conflict can be uncomfortable and yet simultaneously beneficial as the team fulfills its purpose.

In church planting we talk about the need for “agenda agreement.”   As an initial core group is forming for a new church, people may be attracted based on their personal assumptions of what the church will look and act like.  Early agreement about the contours of the mission and the strategies to fulfill it provides a foundation for a strong team.

Great teams know their RESPONSIBILITY.

The purpose of every team which is part of the body of Christ is to determine its contribution so that the body “grows and builds itself up in love.”  A local church needs many effective teams operating under the umbrella of one purpose and yet taking responsibility for its unique assignment for the growth and building up of the church.  These teams may have the responsibility of envisioning new ministry possibilities (usually a “task force” approach with a definite time frame for beginning and ending is best) or of maximizing a ministry that already exists.

Vision leaks, and strategies tend to fragment resulting in a diffusion of focus.  Great teams are diligent in clarifying their contribution.  The Cabinet of our University is continually prompted by our President and his Chief of Staff to tie everything we do to our four strategic objectives – and if it doesn’t connect to one of those, there had better be another compelling reason as to why we’re doing it!

Great teams generate ENERGY.

The verse concludes with “as each part does its work.”  The word “work” (energeia) carries the idea of energy.  Now there are different levels of energy represented by team members – some higher energy, some lower energy.  As a person on the lower end of the energy spectrum, I have to budget my energy more carefully – teams have to budget their energy as well.  There are different kinds of energy – I have an abundance of “thrust” energy (for initiating), but am always grateful to be on a team where other members have energy for sustaining what has been started.

Years ago I was part of a learning group in which Bill Hybels encouraged us to schedule according to our energy more than our time.  Great teams also know how to help each member schedule their energy to make the greatest investment in the highest priorities.

As 2010 ends, I’m thankful for every team I’ve been blessed to be involved in this year.  In anticipation of 2011, both the relationships and responsibilities of each team will be a source of edification both personally and organizationally.  Most of all, there is a sense of adventure and significance that comes from responding to our Head, Jesus Christ!