by Garth Gustafson

After eleven years of seeing a ministry grow and become more fruitful than we had ever imagined, I was on the verge of wanting to give up. Why you ask? I had about twenty leaders of ministries coming to me as direct reports and it was about to kill me and annoy them. We had continued to grow as a community and an organization, but lacked the structure and clarity of roles to continue to sustain it.

Healthy ministries grow. Just like in nature from trees to animals, when things are healthy they grow bigger, multiply and spread. By God’s grace if a ministry is healthy and grows a major challenge for us as leaders is to continue to recreate structures and this requires redefining leadership roles.

The D-T-R Talk…

In high school when a girl and a guy seemed like they liked each other more than as friends, eventually one of them would initiate a D-T-R. Someone had to take the leap and Define The Relationship.

Defining Roles is kind of like a D-T-R, you need to figure out who is thinking what, how are we going to move forward and what the heck are we going to do. Just like all relationships the more clarity we can bring to defining our roles, the more healthy the relationship will be, the more effective we will be in our roles, and the more fruitful the ministry will be.

In our context, as the ministry had grown we had outgrown our structure. We had been working hard on a new model, but we needed to get the right people in the right place and in a volunteer organization that isn’t always easy. Finally, after over a year we had not only a plan, but also the right people in the right places to take on the new structure with new roles.

Know Your Number and Stay on It

As a leader one of the keys for defining roles is that we know the strengths, weaknesses, skills and spiritual gifts of our team, as well as our own. When we have clarity around this then we are not only able to get the right people in the right role, but we are able to have conversations that enable us to define how we can work together to make them successful in these roles. As we clarify roles or “our numbers” and we can work together, then we stay on those numbers to avoid confusion so we can function effectively.

Eventually over time we will need to recreate the structure and redefine the roles because of greater growth. Because healthy ministries grow it will be normal that as leaders we will consistently be restructuring and defining roles to continue to steward what God continues to build and so being able to D-T-R is a critical skill that we as leaders must grow in.

Trust is the Foundation to a D-T-R

“Leadership and followership are ideas linked by a trust that puts everyone at peace with ineluctable risk.” Max De Pree, Leadership Jazz

If you have a D-T-R it will be taking a risk and so without trust as a foundation, it will not go well. The necessity of trust in a D-T-R was true in high school, it is true in a family and it is true in ministry. I have seen and experienced a number of leadership appointments, leadership transitions, and organizational restructuring. When there is not a deep foundation of mutual trust between those who are defining roles, the leaders, their direct reports, as well as the community, no matter how well we D-T-R, without trust undergirding the relationships in ministry the role defining will most likely fail.

In our case one reason our recent D-T-R has been successful is we invited mentors into this process who helped us to intentionally clarify what our roles were, where they overlapped and how we would process these areas. We used a simple tool called a RACI Matrix which helped us agree upon what leadership areas we had responsibility or accountability and what areas we wanted to be consulted on or informed on. This process continued to build the trust as we walked into our new roles with clarity and unity.

(Here are a few websites you can use as resources for RACI Matrixes and for using them in the ministry context:  &

In our recent transition the responsibilities that I was overseeing were basically divided and a friend, co-laborer and local indigenous leader took oversight of the day-to-day leadership. Yesterday we hung out and after almost a year we both consider it to be a wildly successful D-T-R and all of our leadership and community agree!  I feel like he and I should have a couple’s picture holding hands here.  🙂

Why has this D-T-R worked? One word, trust… we deeply not only trust, but respect and love each other. There is no sense of jealousy, competition or power struggle. Instead we know each other well, trust each other deeply, continue to clarify with one another, as well as with our community.

Keys to having a Good D-T-R:

As we consider having D-T-R’s, here are a few keys to help us have successful ones because as anyone who has had a D-T-R knows, an awkward D-T-R is no fun!

  1. Trust must always be the foundation for a successful D-T-R.
  2. Know Each Others Strengths, Weaknesses, Skills and Spiritual Gifts.
  3. Clarify roles, responsibilities, accountability and expectations with your direct report.
  4. Make sure as you define roles that any structure or defining of roles must serve the ministry and guard against the ministry starting to serve the structure.
  5. Communicate with clarity to others about the roles of leaders.
  6. Continue to communicate with one another and others as the roles continue to evolve and develop.
A Final Warning on the D-T-R: Remember the Context

As a volunteer movement for nearly 60 years we have learned over the decades what we are and what we are not. To Define the Roles (DTR) it is critical that the roles fit the context. After many attempts as a movement to be more organizational, more corporate and more structured, God has made it very clear that our DNA is to function as a family. When we have started to define roles and structure using organizational models and trying to be more corporate we have seen that we do not function as God has called us to relate as a movement.

As a movement we are called to function first and foremost as spiritual fathers and mothers, big brother and sisters, championing one another in the call of God. It is critical that as we D-T-R, that we continue to remember that our first role is as a part of a family and that we relate to one another as a family and not out of titles or roles.

May we continue to grow as a movement in ministries around the globe. May we continue to restructure, raise up more leaders and therefore redefine roles. May we D-T-R on the foundation of trust, knowing our gift sets and with great clarity. And as all of our roles get defined and redefined, may we continue to relate first and foremost as a family looking to our Father to continue to lead us forward for His glory!


*For more resources from the ALLC on Defining Roles, click here.

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