The concept of team is universal, broad and multi-faceted. The practice and fruit of team can be applied to many domains and in a variety of contexts. The context in which I want to briefly apply the idea of team is in a church plant and my prayer is that you find it helpful, applicable and translatable to your unique environment. Please take away the Biblical principles I put forward and I’ll leave you to apply them to your contexts, whether that be planting, employment, family or other kingdom work.
So let’s look at team and do so by looking at one in action. Firstly, have a read of Acts 20:17-38 then keep reading.
So here we find Paul in Miletus where he calls for the elders of the Ephesian church. He does so because, as far as Paul believes, this will be the last time he ever sees his beloved co-workers and Gospel-labourers. Paul is headed to Jerusalem where he anticipates, by the Holy Spirit, that he’ll be afflicted and imprisoned for Christ’s sake. With this expectation Paul gives a final apostolic exhortation to this particular eldership team as they continue to lead the Ephesian church together on a mission after him.
There is healthy and vital wisdom for church plants scattered across Paul’s farewell speech, and I’d like to highlight and expand upon those key elements and how they may be expressed practically in a church planting team. If we’re being honest, the planting core team isn’t just a planting core team, they are the members volunteering, the people running ministries, the leaders overseeing it all and an overloaded amalgamation of sometimes just several people. Planting teams do everything! That being said, when your team does begin to form, and its members are given authority and responsibility the following aspects of team must be non-negotiable blocks the foundation is built upon.
Let’s get to it and draw out some godly principles that the Ephesian team demonstrated but were also modelled by Paul.
Be Humble Towards Each Other
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time…serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me…”
Every team who desires excellence in their teamwork must strive for humility. Church plants are both an exciting and frustrating time for those who lead them. It’s exciting because you’re working with like-minded planters who have taken The Great Commission to heart and want to see God’s kingdom come through the local church. It’s also frustrating because, although your team might be like-minded in heart and soul, there can be differences in how that’s worked out. Practicalities, strategies and desires may differ in many ways. Your plant might bear much fruit by God’s grace or it could wither like the fig tree when Jesus walked past it! In it all humility needs to be held tightly. When differences arise in your team during, say a team strategizing meeting, let humility ask questions like, “Where’s my co-labourer coming from?” “Why might this be beneficial or not?” “Let’s think and view this through his perspective” or “Might my ideas or opinions be wrong?” After asking such questions, allow humility to take such control that whoever is the first among equals in your team is humbly submitted to when there is no majority. Humility is especially necessary when lies are whispered into your ears saying that your plant is bearing fruit because of what you’ve done, for example because of your innovation, initiative, gifts and skills alone. Humility in a team recognises, honours, values and submits to the other team players. Paul demonstrated the humility he expected in the team he established by how he lived among them. To be a team like the Ephesians, planters need to live out their teamwork daily and humbly work together on God’s mission.
Proclaim the Gospel to One Another
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul reminds the Ephesian eldership team that he didn’t shy away from declaring to them profitable teaching through the Gospel, but that he testified to it, to Jews, Greeks and them. A team that wishes to function well is a team that never ceases to speak and live the Gospel to each other. It’s a priority for teams to herald the Good News to their plants and lead them in such a way that its people show and speak the Gospel in their everyday lives, in the hope the plant will grow and bear fruit. What perhaps may seem another strange priority is to continually declare and demonstrate the Gospel to each other as a team. What I mean is that the way teams behave towards each other, speak about one another and act towards each other needs to be saturated with the Gospel. Dying to each other when scheduling meetings conflict, speaking resurrection life to one another when a team player is discouraged in family life, reconciling when choices on location or lack of volunteers gets heated or gently and kindly rebuking someone when wrong decisions were made. Gospel qualities such as integrity, authenticity, transparency and loyalty among others are integral to a team. As well as demonstrating the Gospel it’s healthy to speak it to each other. Remind one another of what Christ has done for your team and why that’s the reason you’re on this mission in this area and with these people together. If you’ve learnt something from Scripture recently, a book you bought, a conference you attended or from a person you met, then share it. Teach one another truths and wisdom you’ve learned along the journey so the team can gel and grow.
Protect Each Other
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert…"
Church plants are like new born babies. As such they require protection. A plant, like a baby, is finding its feet and growing. It’s testing the boundaries, making mistakes and even hurting itself, usually by stuffing a few peas up its nose! Plants have infancy years and through that season they have parents, that’s you planters. Your team is responsible to pay careful attention to the church you’re planting but not just to be alert to the flock alone but each other in your team. Paul tells the Ephesian Team to firstly pay careful attention to yourselves. A church can’t be protected unless those overseeing it protect themselves and each other firstly. Church plants occur in an atmosphere of change and fluidity and this can be an attractive environment for wolf-like behaviour and twisted attitudes to sneak in and kill a plant. Like parents who spend their time, energy and pretty much entire lives giving their attention to their children can get a bit impatient with each other, so teams can experience the same. A team, like new parents, need to protect each other. They need to protect each other’s time together, attitudes, actions, input and rest. If a true work of the Spirit is happening with your plant then it is likely that wolves will bark and bite and men will say all kinds of twisted things about you. A healthy team doesn’t prevent these situations happening but it does protect and guard against them. Shepherd one another before you shepherd others. A parent needs to tend to themselves before they tend to their baby. There are many ways to protect each other, such as asking pointed questions if appropriate, praying protection over each other and privately for one another, remaining loyal and at the defence of each other and rebuke each other kindly and gently. As parents protect one another during their child’s infancy, a team protects each other when a church is being planted.
Build One Another Up
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
A team functions fruitfully and faithfully when it functions encouragingly. A church planting team is not a board room meeting. When you gather together it’s not like Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice. We don’t do cut-throat antics or make backstabbing decisions because it’s “good business”. Instead a team is a family. We are not professionals but brothers and sisters. We are not an organisation but organised. We’re not a business but doing God’s business. We’re not in it for profit but for people. All this is done through encouragement. In the life of a church and of a team, the early planting years are the ones that can require the most encouragement. Just as a plant requires lots of building up from the ground so the team that plants needs to build each other up. As with many plants there will be times when finances are stretched, volunteers are few, people leave, venues are too small or expensive and the area you’re in doesn’t seem to be impacted by your presence. Instead of submitting to the temptation to tear each other down, throw stones and pelt accusations around the place, be intentional about edifying one another. Champion your team mates and be their biggest cheerleader, without the skimpy outfit. Speak encouraging words to them and over them. Pat them on the back and give them hugs. Edifying words are applied by edifying actions. As you go on this journey together try and learn what coaching methods work best for each team player. Some like a challenging approach while others a comforting one. Through knowing your team you’ll encourage them, by encouraging your team you’ll know them.
Work Hard Together
"I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
Church planting is hard work. Often in planting situations it isn’t viable for the core planting team to be employed by the church, there isn’t really a church to fund it anyway, and so planters need to have a job at the same time. Leaving for work at 7am or earlier, working a full 8 hours or more, returning from your possibly long commute to spend time with your family and then work on planting your church is more than any one person is capable of. This is why team is so important! A team needs to work hard together, to carry the load and bear the burdens of responsibility. There’s such opportunity to delegate and embrace duties in plants and doing so shares relief amongst the team. Remember that the money you earn from your day job not only goes into your wallet for your family but goes to your team and to the plant. Paul’s hands ministered to his necessities and to those who were with him, his team. Paul remembered what Jesus said, that it’s better to give than receive, and so out of his hard work he gave to his team and together they gave to the church from their resources. As exciting and adventurous as church planting may sound the reality is hard work, commitment, overtime, long hours, tiredness, frustration, slowness, rejection, etc. Yet with a team, even better a hard-working team, these experiences and realities can be met with broad shoulders and thick skin. For anyone reading this who is considering church planting I recommend you talk to other planters about this particular area and prayerfully think if the blood, sweat and tears of this labour is right for you. If it is, then go into it as a team player who works hard and whatever is given him to do, does it with all his might.
"And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all."
It may seem obvious, at least theoretically, but a vital component of any team is to pray. Still practically, teams can tip their hats to prayer but may rarely take those caps off and get on their knees to pray long and hard. You’ve heard the saying that a husband and wife who pray together stay together? Well the same applies to planting teams. As a newly married couple joins together and become partners, planting their lives in a particular place, united and building their home, so a planting team joins together, plants their lives into gathering a church, in a specific location and builds up a local body of believers. True partnership is birthed in prayer. Authentic relationship is developed in prayer. Passionate mission and clear vision is revealed in prayer. Paul demonstrates this clearly as he kneels with the tearful team he led. Partnership, relationship, mission and vision are all compiled into what Paul has said and what he has modelled as he kneels and prays. Many things will contribute and build up a plant: money, volunteers, technology, research, resources, venues etc. but it ultimately won’t come to fruition unless a team gathers frequently, authentically, passionately and expectantly in prayer. Prayer has no power, rather the God who listens to our prayers has power. There’s nothing more I could offer here, except to leave you with several practical questions. Do you pray enough? Do you schedule in times of prayer? Do you pray both privately and corporately with your team? Do you invite those who make up your plant to join your team in praying? Are you building a prayerful culture? When bigger decisions are made does prayer come first and follow it afterwards?
Love Each Other
"And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship."
Last, but by no means least, is the absolute fact that every team in any context who want to bear fruit in any way need to love each other. The Ephesian team demonstrated this by weeping, embracing, kissing and being sorrowful over Paul. What team weeps with other team mates than one that loves each other? What team embraces each other other than a team that loves one another? What team kisses (or hugs and sits with, depending on your culture) each other than one that loves one other? Jesus said to love your neighbour as you love yourself, how much more so the team you’ve invested in and partnered with? I could write much more on love but for brevity’s sake I won’t. Just remember that although I’ve listed it last, really, it’s when you love your team first that the other aspects I’ve mentioned above come into play. It’s from love that you will lovingly protect, lovingly encourage, etc.
This is how the Ephesians did team. This is what was modelled to them by Paul and what they have modelled to us in turn. This is how to be a team the Ephesian way.