My dear brothers and sisters, PAX!
During my travels around the Diocese, I am able to get the pulse of each congregation. I can see when congregations are healthy and working together or when they are struggling without a sense of direction. I perceive whether there is unity in the congregations or unfortunately when each individual is going in their own direction and playing the blame game.
As Bishop of this Diocese, I find it very interesting to see and try to understand the idiosyncrasies of each congregation. In trying to establish a common vision and a plan of action for the Diocese, some people think that this task belongs exclusively to the Bishop and the clergy. I am confronted with an underground culture, which instead of favoring a common work and the progress of the Diocese, remains stuck in the “golden” years of the past, with the cliché, “it’s never been done this way before” and with the thought that we don’t need to do anything because the Lord will send new people to our congregations .
On the other hand, I can see the enthusiasm, dedication, effort and sincere desire of many members of our Diocese in working for the kingdom and bringing people to the kingdom of God.
We cannot work each on our own. We need to develop a Diocesan and congregational team ministry in order for our work to prosper and be blessed by God.
Team ministry may be defined as the clergy and congregational leadership working together to provide oversight of the spiritual growth and well-being of the congregation and to develop a clear direction and purpose for the ministry of the church. This definition involves three aspects of team ministry. First, it involves mutual, shared authority. Instead of being in competition with one another concerning power, each learns to value and accept the input of the other. Second, team ministry involves the recognition of mutual responsibility for the spiritual oversight of the congregation. Team ministry moves the leadership from organizational priorities to spiritual responsibilities. They recognize that the spiritual care of the church is not just the charge of the clergy but equally belongs to everybody. Third, team ministry involves organizational oversight. The congregational leadership is to work with the clergy in the establishment and implementation of goals and direction of the church.
To build an effective team ministry, everyone needs to understand the foundation for mutual cooperation and recognize that in order to develop teamwork, they must build upon the right relationship.
1. Build upon a biblical theology of team ministry. Working together as a team springs from the heart of the biblical concept of leadership within the church. When the early church was founded, it was established under the leadership team of the twelve apostles. In its first missionary venture, they sent out the team of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:2), following the pattern already established by Christ (Matthew 6:7). When they appointed leaders in the churches they established, they appointed multiple elders (Acts 14:23).
2. Understanding the nature of leadership within the congregation. Leadership is not vested by position but by relationships. The clergy is not threatened by the congregation or by the “well-intentioned dragons.” Instead, the clergy strives to work with them and use their influence. The team understands that the congregation views leadership from a family perspective where relationships form the basis for all decisions. Rather than the corporate perspective where the organizational health determines the goals, budgets, and programs, the congregation evaluates everything from relational health.
3. The importance of mutual submission. Paul commends all believers to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). The term implies that each person within the congregation (and leadership) voluntarily yields to one another in love. Rather than pushing their personal agendas, they are willing to set aside their personal desires, needs, and plans for the benefit of the whole and the maintenance of unity within the church.
4. Mutual trust. The hallmark of love is continual trust in the other person (1 Cor. 13:7). Just as God has entrusted the leadership of the church to selected individuals (1 Cor. 4:2), so also we must learn to trust one another. We need to value others’ judgments and opinions, striving to see the best in others rather than seeing the worst. Instead of quickly judging the motives of others, we learn to have confidence in each other’s spiritual integrity.
5. Love for the church. While Ephesians 5:25-33 has traditionally been used as a text on the husband’s love for his wife, Paul makes it clear that the primary focus of his discussion is upon Christ’s love for the church (verse 32). Effective leaders love the church. They are motivated to service, not to get more recognition or influence, but because of their passion to see the church become all God designed her to be.
6. Spiritual maturity. Paul, in addressing the qualifications of leadership, places the emphasis upon spiritual maturity (1 Timothy 3:17; Titus 1:5-9). While the secular community looks for leaders who have multiple abilities, keen intellect and dynamic personalities, the church looks for leaders who have a deep love for Christ, a passion for truth, and a consistent biblical lifestyle.
While building upon the right foundation for team leadership is critical, it is also important to identify and avoid those things that will destroy an effective team.
Pastoral Pride. While education and training is critical for effective ministry, the danger is that we can equate training and biblical knowledge with spirituality. The pastor then views the congregation as untrained and uneducated in spiritual leadership. This establishes a rift between them that undermines effectively working together as a team. When the pastor fails to understand and value the congregation, tensions arise. For there to be teamwork, it is vital that the pastor learn to value the spiritual insight and sensitivity of the board.
Lack of Acceptance. The congregation sees the priest as an outsider. There are several reasons why the congregation will view the clergy as an outsider. First, because some congregations have experienced a rapid turnover of pastoral leadership, the congregation begins to develop the mentality that the priest will be temporary. Consequently, they do not fully entrust themselves to his leadership for he will soon be gone.
Cultural differences. Cultural differences can exist between the background of the priest and that of the congregation. When a priest comes from a different cultural setting (such as from the city to the country or from one geographic region to another or from a different country) he may discover that people are reluctant to accept him into the inner circle of the church. Although they value his spiritual and biblical instruction, they are hesitant to accept any changes because “he does not understand us.” They view this priest as someone who comes in with new ideas and programs but lacks sensitivity to the issues and culture of the congregation. They see him as someone who brings in his agenda rather than listens to theirs.
In both cases, it is critical that the leadership team take the lead in setting the example in following the clergy’s leadership. The leadership team must work to help people learn to accept the new priest with his cultural differences. On the other hand, it is important for the priest to seek to understand the specific culture of the area and to manifest a strong commitment to the church.
Suspicion. The people become suspicious of the leadership. If the congregation has experienced problems in the past with the priest or even the lay leadership, mistrust for new leadership can develop. Instead of rallying around the new individuals in leadership positions and working with them to fulfill the great commission, the people question any new idea or change they bring to the table. When a priest and leadership team are working within this environment, they need to recognize the importance of gaining trust before attempting to implement new strategies. Furthermore, they need to keep all communication channels open and operate under the assumption that it is better to over communicate than under communicate. If they are not clearly communicating what they are doing and why, people will develop serious doubts and questions about the motives and intent of the leaders.
Inflexibility. When the priest or any individual of the leadership team always says “no” to any new idea or proposal, the teamwork within the congregation breaks down. The leadership team needs individuals who are open to new ideas and who are willing to evaluate change openly. People who are inflexible are those who refuse to accept any opinion or proposal that is not in full agreement with their personal concept or agendas. Effective teams are built upon people who are open, who evaluate ideas and listen carefully to others before formulating their decisions. They are willing to “agree to disagree” and will support issues and proposals even if they are not in full agreement.
Docility. In sharp contrast to the inflexible person is the one who always goes with the flow and is always a “yes” person. This is the individual who never expresses his/her own ideas but always agrees with the priest. Teamwork is built upon individuals who are not afraid to disagree, who raise objections to issues in order to protect the congregation from poor decisions. While they do not demand that everyone agree and follow their opinions, they are not afraid to express their ideas and give their input.
In summary, healthy congregations in a Diocese operate as a team. Instead of the priest and leadership team struggling against one another for power and authority, they learn the value and importance of shared authority. While they have different functions and roles within the life of the congregations, they also recognize that only by working together can they lead the church in the fulfillment of its biblical responsibilities.
Bp J. Alberto Morales, OSB