by Jay Bransford
In order to explain the concept of “team leadership” better, I interviewed a good friend of mine who co-leads a YWAM ministry in Southeast Asia which operates based on a team leadership model. For security purposes, I’ll refer to her as Amy. Keeping in mind that there are numerous unique ways to express team leadership within a ministry, the following dialogue between Amy and me will hopefully give you some ideas about what it could look like on your team. Enjoy!
Amy, can you briefly tell me about your ministry?
Amy: The purpose of our ministry is to bring freedom, transformation, restoration, and Jesus to a highly at-risk community in our city. We have an amazing and diverse team of 18 people who all serve in various key ministry roles. We’re involved in a wide variety of activities ranging from providing homework help, English teaching, and baking, to such things as counseling, career coaching, weekly prayer/intercession, and bible storying.
Awesome! How did this ministry come about?
Amy: Our ministry is totally a result of prayer. About 4 years ago a large group of people from our local mission organization gathered together to intercede on behalf of people who are tricked into being sold as slaves. As a result of that prayer time, a smaller group of people decided to meet regularly and continue to pray into that topic. A few months later two of us felt like God was calling us into action – to be His feet on the ground to help make a difference and help those in need. About eight others rallied around us and the ministry was birthed.
So cool. So how does your team function?
Amy: We knew from the start that we wanted to operate as a team, and we wanted everyone to have a strong voice about what kind of ministry we were involved with and how we would do things. We also knew that we wanted our team to eventually be made up of at least 50% nationals, and over time transition the ministry fully into the hands of nationals. So we have always been careful to make sure to involve our entire team in any and all ministry planning activities, as well as problem solving and decision making. We also immediately established a leadership team, rather than relying on just one leader.
Interesting. So tell me more about what it looks like to involve your team with planning and decision making.
Amy: From the onset of this ministry, we got everyone together to pray about what God wanted us to be doing as a ministry team. Each person on the team had the opportunity to directly hear from God on behalf of the team, and each person was able to suggest their own ideas. It took time to process through all that God was telling us, but over the course of a few months our vision, mission, end goals, and strategies became clear. This is the same process that we continue to use as we plan and make decisions.
Why do you feel the need to involve all of your staff in the planning and envisioning process?
Amy: First and foremost, we believe that we are all equal in the eyes of God, that God speaks to each of us, and that as a team we are stronger and more effective when we come together in unity toward our common purpose. Therefore, it only makes sense that each of us should have a part in defining the team’s common purpose as well as the strategy to achieve it. In addition, we believe that teams are immeasurably more effective when every person on the team is valued and given a voice to express their thoughts and opinions. We have found that when the ideas for ministry come from our staff (as opposed to from the ‘leaders’), that those staff tend to be 120% committed to following through and doing all they can to achieve the goal. If you want hard working, committed staff, who are likely to stick with the ministry for the long run, you absolutely must involve them in planning and decision making.
It seems like making plans and decisions as an entire team would be slow and difficult. What have you experienced?
Amy: That’s a bit of a loaded question! Yes, making plans and decisions as a team takes more time than if you made the plans and decisions yourself. And yes, we don’t always 100% agree on everything. However, rarely is our goal to make a fast decision. Nor do we ever want to find ourselves only considering just one person’s perspective on an issue before making a final plan or decision. We feel strongly that BECAUSE we take the time necessary to get input from each of our staff about important team plans or decisions, regardless of how much slower this method is, that we make far better decisions than we would have otherwise. There is definitely wisdom in teams – but you have to tap into that wisdom by involving people in the process. Not to mention that when many people bring ideas and solutions, the end solution is much better than just one person’s ideas and ways. God made us all different, and together, we’re more like Him.
Any other advice for those of us wanting to shift into the idea of team leadership?
Amy: Yes! Team leadership is hard. It takes more time and energy and patience than the traditional hierarchical model of leadership where the boss makes all the plans and decisions, and the staff do what they are told. Some days you will want to speed things up by putting your foot down and barking out orders. But resist that temptation. And then stand firm and keep resisting. It takes a LOT more time in the short-run but is worth it in the long-run. Two final words of wisdom…
“All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” – 1 Peter 3:8
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” – Psalm 133:1
*For more information from the ALLC on Team Leadership click here.