Are you playing Football or Golf?

When I was the mayor of a small town in Wyoming, I had become an officer in the state-wide association of elected officials. I once approached the leader of the organization to talk about our relationship in the organization. I stated that I hoped we could work together as a team.

His response was to say that we had to define what kind of team we would be. I remember thinking that it was simple. Being a Colorado native and life-long supporter of the Bronco’s, of course, my mind went to the offensive side of a football team. I had in mind imagery of the quarterback as a leader and all the supporting roles of team members working together to score more points than the opposition to win. I wanted him to know that I understood my position and gifting of being a lineman, wanting not only to make sure that the organization succeeded but that he succeeded in his role.

His response was not what I expected. He stated that he was all in favor of being a team; the team model he had in mind was a golf team. I understood that to mean that his team model is the sum of the individual player’s independent game. If you think about it, they are two radically different concepts of team, albeit two different kinds of sports.

If I may, let me extend the metaphor to the church. To put it simply, church is a team sport, and though many may perceive it as a golf team, I see it more as a football team. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 makes it very clear that there is a connectedness between the individual members of the body of Christ, the church. This body has one Head, Jesus, and all the individuals serve their unique and interrelated roles or parts as members of that body. I see this as the difference between an incarnational team and a team of individuals.

So here is my question for you, “How much of a sense of team is embodied within your church?” Another way of asking this is, “What is the team culture of your church in general, and specifically within your governing board and ministry leaders?” 

(For clarity’s sake, let me remind you that ministry leaders are church staff, whether they are compensated or not, so the team principle is not dependent on church size.)

My observation is that many pastors, board members, ministry leaders, and church members are playing a team sport much more like golf than football.

Let me offer a few suggestions on your congregation’s team culture.

  1. Leaders need to do some soul searching to determine what kind of team and team player they are or want to be. I find it hard to avoid an incarnational team model picture when reading passages like 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Ephesians 1:23, 4:11-17, Colossians 1:24-29. There is a danger for pastors to become enamored by our ability to communicate or lead and to become a team of one in which everyone else in the church is there to support and advance our game.

A question I have been recently pondering as I work with churches is, “How much of a Sunday morning, sermon-centric church is this?”

  1. Leaders must steward an incarnational team culture. I like the word steward or stewardship. I understand the term is somewhat archaic to our current culture, but stewardship speaks to intentionality, responsibility, and accountability. If you do not intentionally build an incarnational team culture there will be a high price to be paid (accountability) in the dissension, division, and discord of missional dispersion. I believe it is the pastor’s responsibility to develop a body equipping ministry (Eph.4:11-12).

How much time and effort of intentionality are you investing in an incarnational team culture?

  1. Use the Ministry Leader Summit to build your team culture. We have heard many a pastor declare the benefit of bringing board members and ministry leaders to the summit. Time together at the conference or even during the commute builds relationships. A shared experience is a good tool for build camaraderie, cohesiveness, and clarity of identity. This year, one goal I have for our time together is to create space for dialogue, the proverbial “iron sharpens iron” (27:17) idea.

Who could you bring with you to build a greater sense of team?

I still do not think golf is a team sport.

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