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How to create a thriving team

| by Ronald Keener

What can you say about a book where every word in the book is already worth quoting and sharing and putting into practice? That’s the way I feel about Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird [IVP Books, 2015].

Getting work done in churches relies on more than the pastor, or more than the board chair, or more than the deacons; making things happen, as the phrase goes, depends on a team that has been organized to carry out a task or a function or a program.

The authors introduce the subject in saying: “We’ve seen great teams in action in churches like yours. The truth is, many church teams are thriving. We surveyed them, watched them and talked with church staff, volunteers and elders that rely on them for direction and guidance. These teams are truly leading their churches collaboratively. And so can your team. Your team can grow to be extraordinary. Yes, with coaching, your team can likely accomplish significant goals you never imagined possible!”

The result of good teamwork is something like what Mark Johnston, lead pastor of The Journey Church, Newark, Delaware, says, “I used to lead our church….Now I lead our team, and they lead our church. I’m loving it.” There is lots of truth in that when church teams operate well. The result of that effort, that teamwork, is so much better than when one person takes on it him or herself to do it all—even in a church of a single staff person, the pastor.

In closing out the 268 pages of the book, the authors say “we’ve given reasons why leadership teams more than make sense for effective organizational leadership; we’ve affirmed how the team approach follows in line with key biblical principles; we’ve shown you what to do and how to do it to help your team thrive together.”

Here are five principles that, done over and over, produce high-performance teamwork:

1.      Focus on purpose, the invisible leader of your team.

2.      Leverage differences in team membership.

3.      Rely on inspiration more than control to lead.

4.      Intentionally structure your decision-making process.

5.      Build a culture of continuous collaboration.

When stories are shared among us of our service on a church board or committee, the result is usually not a happy story. We might make small jokes, or large excuses, for outcomes that are seldom successful and decisions poorly arrived at. Yet, in the church, it is an ideal place for taking a biblical approach to godly decision-making and advancing the Kingdom—and feeling the satisfaction of accomplishment and achievement. Teams That Thrive will help you get there.

No more meetings in the parking lot—the meeting after the meeting—when the pastor is raked over the coals or the decision is second-guessed. It need not be that way if the decision group takes time in studying this book and puts its good advice into practice.

Expert commentaries by leading men and women are scattered throughout the book. The last one is by Tony Morgan, and he concludes the book with these thoughts: “Good leaders will leave your organization if they aren’t empowered to make decisions or lead. That means you get to decide who stays and who leaves. Are you embracing an approach that empowers leaders to be who God created them to be or is your approach pushing them away?”

Think about that for a moment—and then order Teams That Thrive.

Additional resources to the book are found at

Photo source: istock

Ronald Keener

Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa. His church interests lie with congregational transformation, church health movement, church strengthening and revitalization and reporting on churches that have not just survived but thrived. 


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