Juan Calderonnes Souza writes from Puebla, Mexico, where he is a church elder.

It is obvious that principles of team ministry must be put into practice by the elders for them to accomplish theirs intended function. Unless the application of principles to practice is clearly discerned, team ministry will not achieve its full potential of blessing to the eldership or the church.

The elder must have team spirit

The apostle Paul wrote to the team leaders at the church of Philippi and exhorted them to have a team spirit, "that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27).

The words striving together are one Greek word, sunathleo, which was an athletic term. The prefix sun means "together with" and athleo is the Greek cognate verb from which the English word athlete comes. The Greek word literally means "to work together as a team, to contend along with someone" (Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 548).

This principle of working together is aptly demonstrated in many team sports. The team with average talent that works well together as a team can often beat a team with a superstar that lacks a team spirit.

A team spirit is dependent upon three traits.

A spirit of meekness. A spirit of meekness does not strive or assert self. It flows together with others. It melts individuality into unobtrusiveness. Meekness is not weakness, but strength under control. The strength is controlled by the person's spirit, which has become subservient to the team effort and which no longer seeks personal recognition. Titus 3:2 states, "shewing all meekness unto all men." The person lacking a spirit of meekness will be continually frustrated in a team effort and feel that his ministry is not appreciated enough.

The Greek word for "meekness" is praotes. This term was used in the secular Greek for the taming of wild horses (Barclay, New Testament Words, 241). Amidst the mountainous terrain of Greece, wild horses roamed the canyons and open spaces. These horses were captured and tamed for the Greek armies. It was the cavalry of mounted soldiers that provided the backbone of Alexander the Great's conquering hosts.

Much like the cowboys of the American "Wild West," the rider would mount the wild horse and the horse would do everything it could to throw off the rider. It wanted no one to tell it what to do. If the rider succeeded in staying on the horse until it exhausted itself and its independent spirit was broken, it would become a "meek" steed. It had not lost its strength, but its strength was brought fully under control. It will work together with the rider and with more training, may be harnessed with a team of other horses to do a job that none of them could accomplish alone.

A senior pastor is God's "cowboy" to "ride" an independent team member He must confront, instruct, and stay with him until the team member is willing to be part of a team effort.

A spirit of submission. A submissive spirit is not demanding, but surrenders to the team effort. It is not domineering or presumptuous to assume more than is warranted. It desires that the team succeed, even if a task is not accomplished in his way. Thus Ephesians 5:21 states, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." Submission is not suppression. A team member's individual style and creativity must not be eliminated. He does not have to become a clone to have a spirit of Submission.

A spirit of humility. A humble spirit recognizes the need for support and strength, supplied by one's fellow team members, to do the job at hand. Peter says, "For God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

A proud spirit, however, promotes self. It tries to prove its own abilities and strength. It denies, in precept or practice, the need of others to fully accomplish the goal.

Characteristics of team spirit

  • Team spirit does not demand that its way is the only way to function.
  • Team spirit sacrifices personal ambition for the goals of the team.
  • Team spirit finds satisfaction in the accomplishments of the church and its leadership team, not just in individual achievements.
  • Team spirit finds joy in making the senior pastor and the leadership team successful.
  • Team spirit submits to the leadership team as a whole unit.
  • Team spirit is fiercely loyal at all times.
  • Team spirit does not strive to be personally recognized.
  • Team spirit is able to say 'we' most of the time, rather than saying 'me.'
  • Team spirit doesn't get offended over little issues, but surrenders self-assertiveness to team purpose.

A team member must have a spirit of unity with the other team members

The church at Corinth showed the devastation that can happen in a local church when unity is not in practice. In the Corinthian church there were serious divisions. Some were saying that they were of Paul, others were claiming allegiance particularly to Cephas, others to Apollos, while some were of Jesus and rejected all other church leaders (see 1 Cor. 1:12, 13).

Thus the apostle Paul wrote in ICorinthians 1:10: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

The word "divisions" is the Greek word schisma and was used in the classical Greek to refer to actual tears in a garment (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 3:188). These divisions were tearing apart the fabric of the Corinthian church. Paul told the church and its leaders here that they should speak the same things, think the same things, and have the same judgments.

How is it possible for a groups of leaders from diverse backgrounds to fulfill such a team mandate? The answer is not for senior pastors to surround themselves with "yes men" who have weak personalities and who are afraid to speak their minds. This only constitutes a group of puppets, which makes for a weak team. It provides no check or balance to the senior pastor or other team members.

In team discussions, the team members have the right and the responsibility to give input and to speak their own minds. Senior pastors must allow room for their supportive ministry to give input to him and the team. They have been working in different areas and will have information and insights not as readily available to the others. They should be free to debate and disagree on the issues being discussed. But once the decision has been made by the leadership team or by the senior pastor about a certain direction that will be followed, team members are responsible for accepting that decision as their own. Even if team members feel they are right and the team decides to take a different direction, the team member must accept the decision and back it unreservedly. A disagreeing member would say, "Okay, if this is the decision of the team, then I will submit to it, and I will cooperate to see it work." Then when the team members leave the room, they are truly of the same mind and have the same judgment.

Consequently, one of the greatest tests for a team member who disagrees with the team decision is in being confronted by others who ask, "What do you think about the recent leadership decision? Do you think this is the direction the leadership should go?"

Even though individual team members may feel within themselves that the team decision is wrong, they must (because of their spirit of unity) back up the decision of the team. They must say to the other members, "The team made this decision, and I'm behind it 100 percent. We're going to make this thing work."

When a leadership team speaks the same thing, it gives a far greater impact to the people. When people come to attack a particular decision, they are not only coming against the senior pastor or an individual team member, but they are confronting the entire team.

Juan Calderones Souza writes from Puebla, Mexico, where he serves as an elder in a small congregation.