Dr. Mike Miller–Part 3: “Put Me in, Coach!” graphic


Right now I’m thinking of a certain Major League Baseball team that spends a lot of money to sign the best talent in the league.

In fact, most of us who are fans of other teams have probably been irked by this other team “stealing” some of our favorite players by giving them huge contracts. The interesting thing, though, is that this team I’m referring to just can’t seem to win lately. Oh, they win games, but they haven’t been to the World Series in a few years, even though with the talent they have, we would expect them to win it every year.

The lesson we can learn from them is that individual ability is only as effective as the collective ability of the team. And we all know that the value of a team is not simply the sum of its parts.

This is why we need to think about the composition of our teams of leaders. The importance of the leadership team relative to church health cannot be overstated. Frankly, how we put this team together (including the team leader), and how well we work together can make or break a church.

Now, let me say at this point that I am well aware that we are all in different situations. I am in a ministry setting with multiple staff members, and I am the lead pastor. Some of you might serve on a staff, but you are not the team leader. Others might be in a position where you are the only staff member. Regardless, we who have any leadership responsibilities must put together teams if we are to accomplish our work effectively. The following are some of the essentials for the leadership teams in churches.

Mission buy-in. Before hiring a staff member or recruiting a lay-leader, I clearly articulate the mission of the church and the specific ministry. We all have to be on the same team going in the same direction.

You might remember the movie, Miracle, about the 1980 U. S. Olympic hockey team. During one scene, coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) has the team doing drills late into the night past the point of exhaustion. After every few drills, he picks a player and asks him what team he plays for. Each player responds with the name of his respective college. And each time, Coach Brooks responds with, “Again!”

Finally, he asks one player who he plays for, and the player responds, “United States of America.” That was the answer that got the team to the shower. If we’re not all on the same team, we’re destined for defeat.

Diversity. Can you imagine a football team consisting of only quarterbacks or a baseball team with only pitchers? That would be absurd. But sometimes in church, we tend to recruit team members who are just like us.

Consequently, we never get unique perspectives or a wide range of solutions to problems. We all think alike and act alike, which means we are seriously limited. Many tools are available, but according to the assessment provided by Aubrey Malphurs in his excellent book, Being Leaders, I am an Inspirational-Director (a hybrid of the two, with “Inspirational” being dominant).

On my team, I have members of all four of Malphurs’ categories. We complement each other and are a stronger team because of it.

Clearly defined roles. Does everyone on your team have a job description? As I’ve been teaching at the seminary for several years now, I’ve been surprised at how many church staff members do not have written job descriptions.

In our church, we even write charters for committees so that everyone knows what is expected of them. From that we can also evaluate each team member’s effectiveness. I urge you not to recruit a team without telling them what you expect of them.

After all, no coach in any sport simply puts his team on the field and tells them to go win games. He puts each person in the position for which he is most qualified, and he gives them all a game plan.

Work ethic. I will not tolerate laziness. I can handle inexperience and even to an extent a lack of talent. Those are things that can be remedied or overcome. What I cannot work with—indeed will not work with—is laziness.

I wouldn’t even say that you need people who don’t mind putting in a day’s work. You need people who enjoy working hard. You don’t need workaholics who don’t know how to honor the Lord and care for their families with their down time, but you do need people who thrive on a job well done.

When they go home at the end of the day, they need to know that they have left it all on the field. And they should expect no less from their leader. If you expect hard work from your team, you have to work at least as hard as you expect them to.

Unity. We actually write into our job descriptions that any public display of insubordination or disunity is grounds for immediate dismissal. I do not expect everyone on our team to agree with me or with each other in all matters.

However, we must maintain a united front. Just as a professional athlete can damage team morale by publicly criticizing his teammates, we can do serious damage to the unity and momentum within our churches if they think the staff does not get along.

Honesty. On the heels of unity, I mention honesty. What I mean is that I fully expect everyone on my team to provide honest input to whatever we are doing. Each week in our staff meetings, we do what we call “weekend review.” This is when every aspect of our worship gatherings and other activities are evaluated.

If I preach a terrible sermon or make some kind of blunder, my team is of little use if they are not willing to speak up so I can resolve the problem. We don’t unduly criticize each other, but we absolutely must be honest with each other if we are to be the most effective team we can be.

Loyalty. Also tied to unity, we have to have each others’ backs. Members of the team need to be willing to take bullets for each other. We don’t pass the buck, we don’t place blame on other staff members, and when another staff member is criticized, we defend each other.

As the pastor, I trust my staff members completely. They support me and the direction I am attempting to lead the church. Sometimes we disagree on a course of action, but at the end of the day, they get behind me and help me to get the job done. And I do the same for them. We look out for each other, and as we do, our levels of trust and respect grow.

These are just some of the essentials I see in building a strong healthy team. I firmly believe that our churches will never be more healthy as the teams giving them leadership. I pray that you will have leadership teams as unified and effective as the one with which I am currently privileged to serve.

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