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Risking a Radical New Start to Church Life: How a New Model of Team Ministry Changed Church Life at the Congregational Church of Northridge

Risking a Radical New Start to Church Life: 

How a New Model of Team Ministry Changed Church Life

at the Congregational Church of Northridge

by Pastor Roger Barkley

Roger BarkleyIs your church where we were a decade ago?

* burned-out volunteers who’ve done most of the congregational work for years;

* confusion about how to have broad-based congregational participation while also

empowering leadership;

* issues of embracing generational, cultural and political diversity while uniting around a clear, common mission;

* concerns about how to be gracious to members while maintaining healthy boundaries of behavior;

* chronic, low-grade dissatisfaction with occasional outbursts of conflict.

We knew that to become a healthy, mission-driven church we needed more than cosmetic changes, and more than a short-term resolution of yet another conflict between congregational leaders.

We also understood that the process of transformation would require risks and time, yet we were certain that Christ was calling us to a fresh and energized ministry.

So for over three years we set aside our existing constitution, pruned away all but a few church activities, and allowed the vision of a radical, new way of being church to unfold.  Not only did it take that long to develop the new model for our church, we also needed time to let go of old attitudes and ways of doing things. We are grateful to Dan Reeves of the Institute for Missional Leadership Teams who gave invaluable coaching, encouragement and insights alone the way.

The result of this long but exciting journey is what we call Team Ministry, and it has ignited our church and brought health to our congregation.

What do we mean by “Team Ministry”?

First, a word about what Team Ministry is not: Team Ministry is not a trendy re-naming of boards and committees. Nor is it a substitute for a clearly articulated and living statement of mission.

Clarifying Your Mission

Before embarking on Team Ministry, a church must be united around a clear mission, and this takes time to discern. Fifteen years ago, we spent several months in prayer, bible study and church-wide discussion to develop a short mission statement. Our goal was a scripturally-based, focused statement of fewer that fifty words around which all church life would be organized, and which 95% of our members could recite from memory.  Our guiding principle in developing our mission statement was to do in Christ’s spiritual body – his church – what he did in his physical body 2000 years ago. Our Mission Statement is prominently posted on the wall at church, printed on all church documents, and repeated at the beginning of Sunday church announcements. See our Mission Statement at the end of this article.

Called by Our Spiritual Gifts, Passions and Interests  

We’ve all had the experience of seeing volunteers who burned-out and felt uninspired because they had felt obligated to fill some committee position year after year. On the other hand, our teams begin by drawing together people who are gifted and passionate about particular church ministries and activities.  We want to empower and encourage our people to unleash their dreams of ministry.

Some people have a heart for visiting the sick, while others are excited by managing the details of a financial spread sheet.  Some people come alive when they sing, others get enthused by hands-on building-improvement projects … the church is a body that needs all of these people. When we work within our gifts, we stay motivated, creative and energized.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Discerning Our Gifts and Call

We begin the discernment process by helping people explore their spiritual gifts through an on-line spiritual gifts survey, followed by an in-depth conversation to consider where that person feels called to serve. The gifts survey is a valuable starting point for the conversation, and we are blessed to have a person with intuition and experience who helps people through their exploration.  We never ask someone to serve in a position because we “need” them there.

The activities of each team are formed by the unique gathering of people on that team, rather than a sense of “this is what we’ve always done.” We’ve learned that there are relatively few things that must be done for the church to operate; and we want people to be creative, enthused and gifted for their ministries. The book Simple Church helped us start the discussion about what is essential for a church.

Since we have a clear mission with which everyone is onboard, we can trust that fresh ideas coming from new people and teams will lead us forward, and that team members will have fun along the way. This also allows for full participation from our culturally, generationally and politically diverse congregation.

Covenant – Staying Healthy

Each team writes their own covenant about how they will work together in healthy and effective ways. Their covenant specifies how team members will make decisions, how they will handle disagreements, how they will share their concerns, and how they will support, encourage and pray for one another. This is a living document that can be modified by the team at any time as new insights or needs arise.

Each covenant begins with our church Mission Statement, and the covenant is read at the beginning of most meetings. See a sample Covenant at the end of this article.

Strengths – Staying Healthy

We are learning the value of the Gallop’s StrengthFinder 2.0.  This personal inventory is used worldwide by tens of thousands of companies, universities and non-profits to help their people identify and understand their primary work strengths.  It also raises cautions associated with each strength. For the past two years, two of our teams have had their members take the inventory. They then discussed each other’s results and created a matrix of the team’s combined strengths. This has been so helpful that in 2015 all of our teams will do this.

Scripture

Scripture is the living Word of God that will speak into our own lives as we read and reflect upon it. Therefore we begin each team meeting with members sharing what a scriptural passage or devotional given for that day means to them.  Sometimes we ask ourselves the question, “How will my life be different by having encountered this biblical passage?”

For the first three years of our Team Ministry, we used Life Journal as the basis of personal reflection.  If a person did all the Life Journal reading assignments, then over the course of one year they would read the entire Bible once and the Gospels twice.  A significant number of people came close to doing this. In 2014, we shifted to a daily devotional entitled Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.

Some days, people will be strongly impacted by a passage, at other times not so much. The important thing is that we read and prayerfully reflect on the Bible, and that we share honestly about our lives with one another.  We don’t want people coming to church with their “lookin’ good” act on … personal authenticity leads to growth and health.

Small Group

All of these things build trust, compassion and cohesion in our teams that we don’t often find in other settings. Many of us honestly (and sometimes to our own surprise) say that we look forward to our monthly teams meetings more than to anything else.

Thus, each team is the small support group for its members. We care for one another by praying, by encouraging and by listening to one another. Sometimes we help in practical ways. For example, members of our Music Team recently spent a day helping two fellow team members move to a new apartment.

John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Ministry Gets Done

Usually about 2/3 of our meeting time is spent on the topics just described … and after that, doing the “work” of the teams generally goes pretty quickly and efficiently. We encourage teams to focus on the big-picture things at meetings, and to leave details and coordination to phone calls, texting and email.  We regularly question whether something really needs to be done, if it fulfills our church mission, and whether there is some better way to do it.

Wayne Cordeiro’s book Doing Church As a Team guided and inspired much of what we did.

Our Teams

* Mercies Team: Pastoral care of our congregation, and ministries outside of the church. Examples include involvement with homeless missions, a spinal cord injury support ministry, visiting hospital patients, supporting people through job loss and career transition, and running a GriefShare group.

* Finance Team: Responsible for raising and overseeing the budget of the church. Financial stewardship has become a year-round topic at our church as we help all members – including our youth – develop a healthy, sensible and faithful relationship with money.

* Worship Team: Brings creative ideas to worship as well as maintaining the behind-the-scenes needs such as managing our sound system and sanctuary set-up.  Worship is the heartbeat of Christian life, and we seek to involve all of our senses in worship.  Everything that is done during worship is supported by images or words on PowerPoint, and music accompanies pastoral prayers and other spoken words.

* Music Team: is a satellite of Worship Team. We sing a lot of songs during our worship services, and we usually coordinate music with the teaching theme of the day. A core understanding of our musicians is that they are not performers but worship leaders. We begin every service with a prayer that God will be pleased with the worship we bring Him that day.

* Facilities Team: Maintaining nearly five-acres and three buildings is a big job, which our Facilities Team members do with gratitude for the exceptional beauty of our holy grounds and sanctuary. Over the past twenty years, we have re-landscaped and rebuilt much of our facilities, but since the formation of teams this work has progressed much more smoothly and creatively.

We believe that the church belongs to Jesus, not to us, and therefore, we have invited other congregations to share our facilities.  Managing renters can be a headache, but working collegially with other congregations who need worship space can be a wonderful experience.  We currently have a total of five churches sharing our facilities.

* Community Building Team: This team reaches-out to the neighborhood to encourage people to join with us so that their lives, too, may be transformed. They also help newer people integrate into community life here. And some of their activities are just plain fun – like our game night for adults and monthly church hikes.

* Media Team: This new team is a satellite of the Community Building Team, and is primarily comprised of young adults who are film makers, graphic designers, screen writers and actors. They have created movies for our website and worship services, a skit for Christmas, and they are re-designing our church signage. The new, more contemporary designs will become an integral part of our printed materials, website, Facebook and t-shirts.

* Christian Study and Growth: Bible study, discussion groups, book studies and children and youth ministries are coordinated by this team.

* Lead Team: Our pastor, two co-moderators and one other church member belong to the Lead Team, which gives direction and helps coordinate church activities. Our pastor leads the meetings, which largely focus on big-picture issues.

* Council of Team Leaders: The co-leaders of each team meet once a month to coordinate events and share with one another all that is going on within our community. Like every other team, it begins with reading their covenant, sharing personal concerns and bible reflection.  They regularly devote time to studying a book on church development.

Sample Team Covenant (includes our Mission Statement)

Each team writes its own Covenant that is sure to include the church’s Mission Statement. Here is a sample:

Lead Team

Congregational Church of Northridge

I commit to sincerely, prayerfully and courageously work in partnership with fellow Lead Team members to advance the mission, health and faithfulness of the Congregational Church of Northridge.

Our Mission is to Honor Christ, Serve Christ and Grow in Christ

Honor Christ by

 celebrating God’s presence in worship

 living as God leads

Grow in Christ by

 personally maturing in faith

bringing new people to Christ

Serve Christ by

 caring for one another

 ministering to those in need

I will pray for insight, guidance and strength, always seeking to put God first as revealed through prayer, collective discussion, and scripture.

Ephesians 6:19-20   Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. 

I will maintain a practice of regular practice of scriptural reflection and prayer to discern God’s voice in my own life, and in the life of the church.  I will pray for the faithfulness, health and success of the ministries of this church, and I will pray against sin, dysfunction and evil that would disrupt it.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

I will personally encourage fellow Lead Team members, and I will always be sensitive to the personal and professional issues they may be facing; I will pray for the needs and wellbeing of all Lead Team members.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11 [God] has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 

I will communicate honestly, directly, and kindly with Lead Team members, always seeking to bring health, progress or resolution to issues.  I will express my feelings, but I will not display emotions in inappropriate or harmful ways.

1 Corinthians 10:23 “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. 

I will not assume the motives of fellow Lead Team members, and I won’t allow negative feelings to fester.

Ephesians 4:26-27 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”  Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

I will join in seeking consensus on all Lead Team decisions, but I will wholeheartedly support all decisions even if I hold a dissenting opinion.

1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 

I will speak from personal observation and understanding rather than representing a constituency.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God.

I will be mindful of the Lead Team’s accountability to our Council of Team Leaders and congregation.

Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

I will maintain confidentiality of Lead Team discussions that are of a sensitive nature, including personal and journaling discussions.

Proverbs 11:13 A gossip goes around revealing secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence. 

I will strive to attend and to be prepared for each Lead Team meeting by thoughtfully completing reading or other assignments.

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