Afternoons at Fellowship’s i2 Conference are oriented around “Consultation Workshops” with the main leaders at Fellowship. However, there was only one of me and 11 workshops, dadgummit. I chose the one on Team Ministry led by Teaching Pastor Bill Parkinson. Bill is also the main Team Building Leader at Fellowship.

Any pastor who has served one church for 30 years is to be applauded and revered, but when you have three co-pastors who have served in one church for 30 years, it’s a phenomenon. Bill Parkinson, Bill Wellons, and Robert Lewis have raised the bar so high for team leadership in American churches that it may not ever be surpassed. However, for those that would claim that the concept of team leadership does not work, one doesn’t have to look further than Little Rock.

It’s hard to detail Parkinson’s session this afternoon simply because there was so much content, so I’m going to try to hit some high notes. First of all, he highly recommended two resources, one as preparatory and one as preventative. The preparatory material was George Barna’s The Power of Team Leadership. The preventative material was The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The latter was also recommended yesterday by Executive Pastor Ken Dean. Get the feeling that these leaders are on the same page and reading the same stuff?

Parkinson began by relaying people’s unbelievable expectations on church leaders in the 21st century. They are expected to be experts in everything, evangelists, community servants, adept at Bible teaching, full-time ministers to every member (and members’ extended families), well-read, active in community life, present at all church events, informed politically, socially proficient, entertaining behind the pulpit, ready to be a cheerleader for every pet cause that comes around… well, you get the picture. However, studies have shown that 62% of pastors say that their primary gift is teaching. Only 12% claim that their primary gift is leadership.

Parkinson said the options for the church are few…

  1. Find Superman and hire him.
  2. Provide better training for ministers
  3. Create a new model for leadership

Yea, I like the third option best. Actually the second option is needed and necessary, but effecting change in our nation’s seminaries and churches quickl (and getting them all to agree on it) is not likely. So let’s put our eggs in the basket of option three.

A new model for leadership is essential, and actually it’s not a new model, but an old one. Didn’t Jesus Himself demonstrate the importance of team leadership by choosing twelve disciples? He trained them and then gave them practical experience in ministry by sending them out in small groups.

According to Barna, “Leadership works best when it is provided by teams of gifted leaders serving together in pursuit of a clear and compelling vision.”

Parkinson said that perhaps the most important element in successful team leadership is simply attitude. In his notes, he said that attitude shows up in the following ways:

  • Leaders are open and invite accountability for their actions.
  • Admire their teammates privately and publicly.
  • Solicit input on major decisions (collaborative style).
  • Avoid “I” statements (not my – but our, we, team).
  • Admit when they are wrong
  • Provide clear direction and address issues quickly.
  • Allow others to be smarter than they are.

As Parkinson unpacked 30 years worth of experience, observation and trial and error related to team leadership in this three hour seminar, I couldn’t help but find myself smiling and nodding much of the time. It’s because so much of what he said resonated with how the ministries I’ve been blessed to be involved in have intuitively operated. However, I found my hand hurting from the effort of note-taking. As a leader in a church today, I was humbled by the journey ahead for our leadership team.

What makes a team work?

  • Parkinson noted that primarily the leaders need to exhibit a calling, deep character, and competence.
  • Small groups help a team work because they are the place for effective decisio-making and communication. By small groups, Parkinson referred to literally that, not necessarily a small groups ministry. He reiterated many times that everything in Fellowship is done within a team concept.
  • Complimentary gifts
  • Mutual accountability
  • Common vision. It is the overall common vision and well-articulated mission of the church that drives the ministry, preaching, and hiring. The vision helps the leadership team decide what not to do and what to do.

What styles of leadership are needed? What is the makeup of a good team?

  • Directional Leadership – Catalysts
  • Strategic Leadership – Analysts
  • Team-building Leadership – Mobilizers
  • Operational Leadership – Architects

Each of the above is covered in depth in Barna’s book.

What are the barriers to team leadership?

  • Time
  • Trust
  • Humility
  • Size
  • Philosophy

Parkinson covered this section in depth, saying that there is simply no substitute for time spent together. An effective lead team spends prayer time together, fun time together, planning time, ministry time, etc. You get the picture.

Members of a powerful team also cultivate and prize humility on the team. They trust one another and are committed to the spiritual success of one another.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Bill really hammered home the strategic importance of every leader on the team understanding his gift mix and using it in active service and ministry. To that end, Fellowship has developed an online tool to help discover Your Unique Design. It’s $35 and well worth the time and investment for any lead team to process together.

Team leadership is an ongoing process that requires perseverance, courage, and time (can’t say that enough!). Perhaps that’s why so few churches attempt it or require it. It’s so much easier in the short run just to do it by yourself, because it gets done quickly and how you want it done. But isn’t that the problem? Ministry becomes all about what you can do, and what you cannot do just doesn’t get done.

Jesus Himself trained 12. What makes any senior pastor think he can shoulder the spiritual burden of a group of people by himself?

Team leadership also reveals competition, comparison, jealousy, struggles over control, and identity issues. Whew. If team leadership will do that for us, then we should run headlong to the first available team that will have us. This commitment to community in leadership is used in a profound way by the Lord to develop humility and Christ-like character in us.

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