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Ministry Teams: Replicating the Church Purpose on a Personal Level

by Roger Barkley
Lead Pastor, Congregational Church of Northridge

Roger-Barkley-139x300Is it just me, or do your eyes also water up when you hear the famous words from Amazing Grace?  “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”

Doesn’t that get to the heart of why Jesus created the church?

In a recent daily devotion on the UCC website, Molly Baskette describes coming home from a hard day’s work during the cold, dark winter months and bruising her shins as she stumbled in the shadows of her living room. But when her Christmas lights are twinkling outside her windows, she has light to see her way across the room.  That’s a wonderful metaphor.

Why did Jesus create the church? The purpose of a church is to bring the light of Jesus into the dark corners of our lives.

Schools educate people – at church, even though we educate people, we’re different than schools.

Social clubs offer us friendship – even though we have lots of friends at church, we are different than a social club.

Kiwanis do charitable work – although the church does lots of good works, we are different than a charitable organization.

We’re in the business of changing lives. The purpose of a church is to transform lives through a relationship with Christ. When we talk about changed lives, we mean lives of health, resilience, meaning, service and joy.  That is why Jesus created the church.

How do we participate with Christ to make that happen?

About fifteen years ago our congregation entered into several months of bible study, prayer and discussion to figure that out and then put it in our own words. That’s what we call our Mission Statement:

We honor Christ by celebrating God’s presence in worship, and by living as God leads.

We grow in Christ by personally maturing in faith, and by bringing new people to Christ.

We serve Christ by caring for one another, and by ministering to those in need.

We organize everything in our church around that biblical mission of honoring, serving and growing in Christ. The way we’ve structured our church also grows from that clear mission; it is what we call “Team Ministry”, and it is fundamentally different from traditional church boards and committees.

Organizing church life “nature’s way”

One way of understanding Team Ministry is by comparing it to fractals, a process that appears throughout nature.  Fractals are created by repeating a simple design or process over and over.  Cut a cross section of a snail shell and you see the fractal phenomenon:  each chamber is the same except for its size.   This process of self-similar patterns replicating themselves is observed across the entire range of nature from the structure of snowflakes to the basic structure of every cell in plants and animals.

Fractals are nature’s way of growing and organizing itself. This is really important in our church life because it is by this principle that we organize our church into teams.

Since our purpose is to transform lives through a relationship with Christ, we want that to be simultaneously happening at the team level as well as at the overall church level. The same is true for our mission: we want church members to honor Christ, grow in Christ and serve Christ during their experience on their team.

That’s why most of our team meetings begin with a generous amount of time for discussing a scriptural devotion – to help us mature in Christ.  That’s why most of our team meetings include a generous amount of time for personal sharing and prayer – to care for one another. And that’s why most of our team meetings begin by reading the covenant of how we will work together – to live as God leads in healthy relationships. The traditional “business” of the teams only accounts for about a quarter their meeting time.

In the above examples of fractals, the basic pattern is the same, but there is one variable that changes, something like its size or orientation. In team ministry, that one variable is the specific ministry with which the team is charged.

In the case of Mercies Team, that variable would be caring for the congregation and spearheading our mission work outside the church, but the team still honors, serves and grows in Christ by how it cares for its own members.  For the Worship Team, the variable is conceiving and organizing worship, but the team still honors, serves and grows in Christ by how it cares for its members.

Uniquely You

When first the cells are formed in the human embryo, each one has the potential for developing into any organ in the body. Somewhere along the line a message is sent to produce certain proteins and those cells form into a liver; different proteins get turned on in other cells and they become arms or legs, or a brain.

Each cell is fundamentally the same – as we just saw are fractals – but their specific expression becomes unique. And so it is for members of the Body of Christ.

There’s a trap in church life that says we must fill all the slots on an organizational chart;
but the Body of Christ is meant to be a living organism, not an organization.

An organizational chart with names typed neatly into every slot may look like you’ve got it all together, but that could be like mistaking a silk plant for the real thing. A silk plant looks tidy and clean, but it is actually lifeless. A real plant may be missing a leaf or two and it may twist this way and that, but it is alive and growing, resilient and strong.

So rather than fill slots on a tidy organization chart, our Nominating Task Force primarily works to place people onto teams where they will feel enthusiastic and energized, and where they will enjoy what they are doing. We want them to use and enjoy the unique gifts and passions God has given them. We’ll let some things go rather than burn out volunteers doing something that is not right for them. We’ll experiment with new things if that is someone’s passion and it aligns with our mission.

That’s why we invest in learning our spiritual gifts, strengths and vision for ministry.

And we know that people on the same team may have quite different interests and strengths. For example, on the Mercies Team someone might have a heart for caring for people in our own congregation. They notice when someone is missing from worship. Without giving it a second thought they telephone someone who is ill, they pray for them, they send them a note of encouragement, and they might drop by their room if that someone is hospitalized.

Another member of Mercies Team may be concerned about someone who is ill, but they’d be really uncomfortable visiting them in the hospital, and they may not get around to calling or sending a card.  But that same person may be so passionate about homeless people or about spinal cord injuries that they jump right in to help with events. They’re on the phone to Triumph Foundation asking what they can do next.

So like a living organism, we’re really flexible. If this year’s team members don’t want to do something we did in the past, we’ll likely let it go. If this year’s team members want to try something new and it aligns with our mission, we’ll probably give it a try.

Our order of worship usually concludes with the statement, “Congregational Church of Northridge, where every member is a minister.” As Christians we are each called to get involved in Jesus’ work. We won’t feel whole until we do, and Jesus’ ministry won’t happen unless we do. So God created a church where we can serve, and where at the same time we can be cared for – a church where our lives are transformed by a relationship with Christ.

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