We Pastor Better Together

Vital Paths Toward a Healthy Team

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Pastor, Washington, DC

Of all the amazing feats of the Holy Spirit in the apostolic age, surely one of them is the fact that the team who led the early church was comprised of once-confused, “uneducated, common men” (Mark 8:14–21; Acts 4:13). What might we learn from them as we seek to build healthy leadership teams in our churches?

Paying careful attention to their example and instruction gives us a few vital paths toward healthy pastoral teams.

Clarify Expectations and Roles

First, the apostles were clear on their expectations as a team. Jesus instructed them that they were to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). They understood that they were not to prioritize serving tables, but instead should devote themselves to preaching and praying and shepherding (Acts 6:2–4; 1 Peter 5:1–4).

As to the different roles on the team, we don’t find much help, which is itself instructive. But we do see in numerous places that God equips leaders to be more effective in specific areas (1 Corinthians 12:4–11; Ephesians 4:11). Therefore, clearly defining the expectations of each leader and the part he plays is helpful (and can be crucial). We might add to this the need to clarify timelines. In an age of high mobility, people may desire to transition from one role to the next more quickly than we expect. I know a pastor who surprised his co-laborer a year into a church plant, sharing that he expected to plant yet another church the following year.

In terms of goals, some pastors orient toward numbers. Others aim at public teaching without private shepherding. I know of another who wanted to preach more and didn’t expect to be involved in administration. Still another thought he and his colleague would be co-planter-pastors when the other thought he would serve as senior pastor.

Get prayerfully honest and clear about what is expected of each other and for how long. Overcommunication is better than under-communication.

Ensure Doctrinal Agreement

The apostles preached a specific gospel (Acts 2:14–41). Paul warns the Ephesian elders of the need to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” because of false teachers coming in (Acts 20:28–30). The well-known statement of anathema is thrown upon any who teach a different gospel (Galatians 1:9). “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12), Paul says, and so must each member of the pastoral team.

You can maintain unity on doctrine and practice by asking good questions up front and implementing clarifying documents. What statement of faith will you use as a church? Will you use an elder affirmation of faith? If so, what will be included and what will not? If not, you’ll still need to have ongoing ethical and doctrinal conversations for the purposes of clarity and unity.

As to philosophy of ministry, how will you handle church membership? How will you sing? Will you preach consecutive expositional sermons, topical sermons, or something else? Will you be elder-led or elder-ruled? How will you practice baptism? How will you approach restorative church discipline, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and community groups? How will each of you be paid?

You won’t agree on every fine point of philosophy, but you should enjoy enough philosophical agreement that you can continue moving forward. Share books, podcasts, and articles like this one, and talk about them together. Don’t assume each elder is in the same place he was three years ago.

“A culture of competition dies amid a culture of encouragement.”

At our church, we use an elder affirmation of faith that is tighter than our membership statement of faith since the work of eldership has serious implications (James 3:1). We also ask questions for incoming elders related to the philosophical ministry of the church. Lastly, each elder on our team regularly fills out a yes-no questionnaire to affirm that his doctrinal commitments haven’t changed. Rather than assuming agreement, keep humbly pursuing clarity while enjoying the unity you have.

Pursue Humility

The apostles received a hard and profound lesson when they were caught discussing who was the greatest: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). One of the best ways to embrace that principle is to remember more counsel from the chief Shepherd: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

The apostles also pursued humility by remembering they were men under authority. We can see this conviction in their being of one accord through prayer (Acts 1:14). Also, remember Peter quickly telling Cornelius to get up when the latter bowed before him: “Stand up; I too am a man” (Acts 10:25–26).

Even when it may have been tempting not to share their authority, they seem eager to replace the apostate Judas with Justus or Matthias, given particular requirements of unity (Acts 1:21–23). Likewise, they are glad to give Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2.9).

Paul’s counsel in Philippians 2:1–4, where he calls the church to have the same love and be of one mind, sums up the spirit of the apostles. If we ask, “How can we have that unity in our teams?” Paul answers, “Humility — counting others more significant than yourselves.”

It’s easy to see another elder’s problem and complain about it. But it’s far more difficult to see the plank that is in your own eye. Also, the temptation to appear the greatest is strong and stubborn. Therefore, if you are going to experience leadership unity and effective ministry, labor (individually and collectively) to pursue humility and learn to appreciate each other’s gifts and idiosyncrasies.

Daily ask the Lord to reveal your sin. Daily die to it. Daily ask the Lord to help you see the goodness and grace of your fellow leaders. Confess areas of pride and covetousness to one another, and forgive as you have been forgiven. Pursue humility, and enjoy a team that has the same mind, the same love, and the same eternal joy.

Develop a Culture of Encouragement

Another way to strengthen your leadership team is to honor and encourage each other. Scripture commands this encouragement in numerous places (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:25). Paul says we should make a kind of holy competition to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

We see this practice exemplified in how the apostles talk about Paul and Barnabas in the letter to the Gentiles in Acts 15:25–26. They openly call them “our beloved Barnabas and Paul.” They then honor them by telling the churches how they risked their lives for Christ. Imagine how it must have encouraged those men to have the apostles and elders speak so affectionately and openly. May we do the same in our teams.

I planted a church with another brother, and we agreed that he would preach less and serve more in other areas. I was aware that this would make me appear more important than him. But I knew better. Without this brother, not only would our church sink, but my family and I would sink. Therefore, I went out of my way to encourage him in the presence of the congregation. I would speak of his powerful sermons. I would call attention to the hidden work he was doing. He does the same for me. Almost fifteen years later, this culture has only increased. We begin elders’ meetings by regularly sharing ways we have been helped and encouraged by one another. Every members’ meeting begins this way as well.

A culture of competition dies amid a culture of encouragement. Make it normal to call attention to each other’s graces.

Keep Christ Central

The apostles cared about evangelism (Acts 4:20), they cared about the health of the church (Acts 2:42–47), they cared about the physical needs of those around them (Acts 6:1–6), and they cared about doctrine (Acts 15:8–11), but they never lost sight of their central purpose: treasuring Christ together.

Peter’s final words in his second letter call us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul calls the message that unites us “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). John understands that Jesus saves us “so that we may know him” (1 John 5:20).

Our tribalistic times have not left the church untouched. Some groups center on missions and evangelism. Others center on the health of the church or social concerns. All very good! However, if Christ is not central in your leadership team, you will fall apart. You know that already, but it is easy to forget.

The glory of Christ is the sun, and our leadership teams orbit around him. As long as we not only believe that truth, but regularly champion it as well, our teams will experience a joy that is full (John 15:11).