Over 20 years ago, Bill Hybels wrote a terrific book, Too Busy NOT to Pray. In it he challenged our passive willingness to allow busyness to muscle out time for prayer in our daily schedules. Most of us know intuitively what we fail to practice in real time – that it’s precisely because of our full and fast paced lives that being grounded in prayer is critical to keeping our focus, activities and well-being centered in God.
I would argue that the same is true for staff team development. We are simply too busy NOT to stop and intentionally nurture our relationships as a team. Certainly for our own sakes, but even more importantly, for the sake of our churches and the work that God wants to be doing in and through them.
This summer our staff blocked out four weeks when our team was our priority focus. Four weeks! That seemed like a great idea back in March when our August calendars had a whole lot more white space in them. As it turned out, it was a great idea. We’d been through a lot of transition, we recently had brought two new staff ministers on board and we had a sense that our congregation was on the verge of a new season of vital ministry and we needed to discover together what God might have in mind. So, we kept other meetings to a minimum and devoted 2-4 days each week to listening, learning and laughing together.
Whether you are in transition or in a rut, whether congregational life has bogged down or is revving up, whether you are a long-tenured staff or just getting to know one another, there are three areas of staff team development that will breathe life into your relationships and your ministry if you are willing to stop and take some time to focus your attention on them.
In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni states, “Teamwork is not a virtue. It’s a choice – and a strategic one.” Too often we live under the assumption that good relationships just happen. We get surprised in marriage when we don’t always communicate perfectly, frustrated when we discover unspoken expectations, or defensive when we respond to conflict differently. The same is true of a staff team. Building trust, communicating clearly and consistently, and handling conflict in healthy ways are foundational to a strong team. And they happen by choice, not by luck.
Our staff spent two days with a facilitator working through some of Lencioni’s material on building a cohesive staff team – telling our individual stories, using personality profiles to talk about our unique strengths and weaknesses and what they bring to the team, taking time to unpack the ways that we communicate and handle conflict and what we might do differently.
When we understand one another better, we assume positive intent. The big picture folks can listen and not feel challenged by the questions of the detail folks. The people people can appreciate the structure brought by the task people. The introverts can have some time to think before being asked to respond. And everyone can feel that the gift that they uniquely bring to the team is noticed and valued.
In his book, Transitioning, Dan Southerland says, “You don’t find vision when you search for vision. You find God’s vision when you search for God.” If you want to discover what new life God wants to breathe into your staff team and into your ministry, expand your circle of conversation partners and listen for what God might have to say to you through them.
We traveled to a church our size in another city and spent a day with their staff, listening to stories of what God was doing in their midst. We visited a refugee ministry to catch a glimpse of what might be next in our own work with Karen families. We met with our District Attorney and were challenged and inspired by the needs of our community and what thoughts he had on how our church might make a difference.
Catalytic conversations take us outside of ourselves. They’re shared experiences of listening and discerning God’s voice that can reshape our collective hopes and plans for ministry together.
Room to Breathe
If fun and food are not a major part of staff team development, then something critical has been lost! We went kayaking, took a boat tour, spent a leisurely morning at a coffee shop just brainstorming ideas about the things we’d heard. We met and ate at each other’s homes, went out to dinner together and, oh yeah, ate some more. And we talked about how we needed to do that more often.
As in most relationships, the really good conversations come more informally than formally, and that takes time and room just to be.
You don’t have to take four weeks for staff team development. Maybe you can do something once a quarter together. Carving out that kind of time was challenging for us, even a bit stressful. Rapidly approaching fall events and a September stewardship campaign all clamored for attention, along with the daily activities of ministry.
But much like the clarity and peace that comes when you make time to pray, even and especially when you believe you are too busy, taking time to focus on our inner and outer life as a staff team surfaced and deepened many gifts in our midst that have better equipped us for the days ahead. Gifts of:
- Discerning God’s leading
- Leaning on each other’s strengths
- Trusting one another’s intentions
- Avoiding unhealthy silos
- Benefiting from healthy conflict
- Folding in new staff members
And most especially, simply enjoying together the journey we have each given our lives to.
Which one of these gifts do you most want and need to unwrap as a staff team? How will you be intentional about making that happen?