the glorious inefficiency of team

there’s the old saying, “if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”  I would add (and I know this is incredibly brilliant): “if you’re going to do it yourself, you’re going to be doing it by yourself.”  i’ve been leading teams of people for 20 years, first in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer and then in ministry as a college/singles pastor, worship pastor, small groups pastor, executive pastor and now as a senior pastor.  and over the years, i’ve experienced (and still do) the tension of the glorious inefficiency of team.  the bottom line… team takes longer.  it takes more energy to collaboratively develop vision, strategy, and execution.  it takes a long time to involve the different “layers” of teams on a church staff and lay leadership.

at northshore baptist church where I pastor, we’re an “elder-led, staff-driven church.”  our elder team (of which I am a part along with our executive pastor) discerns and develops the “30,000 ft.” vision, our senior staff team (we call it our ministry management team) develops the “20,000 ft.” strategy, and then our pastor/director team develops the “10,000 ft.” implementation plan along with their ministry leadership teams.  but all along the way, there are the circles and spirals of collaborative conversations, brief-backs, check-ins, and mid-course re-alignments.  and the bottom line again… it takes much longer to do this.  but the glorious bottom, bottom line… there’s often much more buy-in because everybody has had some hand, heart, and head in the process.

here’s a theological thought on inefficiency and team.  think about God’s “divine inefficiency” as I like to put it.  think about how “inefficient” it is to use a bunch of broken, sinful people who He’s redeemed to get the word out there about the glory of the Creator God and His glorious gospel.  couldn’t He build His kingdom much more efficiently?  couldn’t He make a much more effective “delivery” system to spread the gospel?  many a day, I can’t believe that God would involve me (and others) on His gospel-spreading team… the glorious inefficiency of team.

but back to some praxis on team.  here’s a brief snapshot of how we do team and vision/strategy planning at northshore (with a calendar of our planning cycle during the year… our ministry year runs september to august):

  • november – elder retreat to determine vision points for the following ministry year (so in november 2009, we’re thinking at the 30,000 ft. for 2010-11 ministry year and beyond).  we’re determining the big things that we see, hear, and discern God calling us to do.  before this retreat, we’re hearing from Jesus… from our leaders… from our people… from our community on where Jesus is calling us to go, truly for His glory, for our good, and for the good of our world.  a lot of listening happens before, during, and after our fall elder retreat.
  • january – the senior staff team (ministry management team) goes on a retreat and takes the elder team’s vision points and begins to put some flesh on the bones… begins to hone in what this looks like in terms of strategy and goals for the following year’s ministry action planning process.  we typically come out of this retreat with 3-5 major “headline” goals for the year that we’ll take to the rest of our staff
  • march – the pastor/director team goes on a retreat, taking the 30,000 ft. vision points for the following year and the 20,000 ft. strategy and begins to talk about how it specifically impacts their ministry areas and how we’ll all share in the big goals together.  necessary adjustments and tweaks are happening here… feedback is going “up and down” the leadership channels.
  • may – after the pastor/director team retreat, the pastors and directors  take everything that we’ve collaboratively done together to their ministry teams (which includes their lay leaders) and begin to collaboratively develop specific, concrete ministry plans (with metrics, timelines, teams, people, budget, etc) for that next ministry year.  in the middle of may, each pastor and director on our staff brings that “collaborative” ministry action plan and presents it to the ministry management team for the final “thumbs up.”  it’s a collaborative process where we speak into each others plans, making sure that we’re all moving in the right direction together.

all along the way, there’s continual and intentional communication and feedback “up and down” the pipeline of leadership teams… making adjustments along the way… getting feedback from the different levels of leadership.  it’s a blend of organic/structured leadership and ministry/mission development.  and for right now, it’s working… we’re all heading in the same direction together (imperfectly, of course).  silos are slowly disappearing… teams are having to work together… people are sharing larger goals together.  we’re completely willing to change and adjust as necessary.  it takes a long, long time to go through this process… and some days it feels very inefficient… but in the end, when we’re executing together in the best of what team is supposed to be and lives are being changed by the power and the glory of the gospel, it’s a joyous experience.

i’d love to hear how you do and lead teams to accomplish what God is calling you to in your world.


~ by Jonathan Alexander on December 10, 2009.

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