Leading Ministry Teams, Part 1
By Kevin E. Lawson and Orbelina Equizabal, Biola University
In this article, Lawson and Eguizabal look at Old Testament and New Testament models of leading teams. What do the Scriptures have to say about working in teams? How do the biblical models communicate unity, love, servanthood, and shared leadership?
There is no doubt about it—teams and team leadership are hot topics in church ministry. Church leaders have been eager to understand how teams and ministry teams can be effective in working with their staff, by exploring business focused and Christian resources. However, due to the nature of the church, it is also necessary to explore Scripture teaching on this subject. Although Scripture explicitly speaks little about teams themselves, it strongly records and supports ministry teams. Ministry teams reflect an ancient pattern portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments as an important approach for the specific ministries to which God called some people. Some biblical and theological concepts, such as love, unity, the image of the body, co-laborer, plurality of leadership, shared leadership, and servanthood, were also examined. All of these concepts have been shown to be essential components for leading ministry teams.
A. How did Moses Lead a Team?
(Excerpt from “Moses’ Model of Team Leadership”)
Exodus 3:4–4:17 recounts Moses’ appointment by the Lord to liberate his people from captivity and to lead them for 40 years during their wandering in the wilderness. As a leader he experienced a number of challenges, such as opposition by the Egyptians’ political leader, as well as complaints, grumbling, and rebellion of the congregation against him and his brother Aaron (Num 16). Bearing the overwhelming burden of caring and solving problems of the whole congregation was not an easy task to accomplish alone. Therefore, Moses had to let others take charge of some of his responsibilities.
1. Power and decision-making were shared by Moses with a team of counselors for the Israelites during the wandering in the wilderness, because as their leader he recognized that he could not bear all the Israelites’ burdens (Ex. 18:15–26).
- Moses listened to his father-in-law’s suitable advice and chose capable men out of all Israel with the social, spiritual, and moral qualifications for judges, and appointed them as his assistants for political and judicial activity. Most of the decisions were made by them, but they brought the difficult disputes to Moses as the team leader.
2. Moses involved others in solving problems.
- Numbers 11:16–17, 24–26 relates another occasion in which Moses was assisted by 70 elders in leading and caring for the people. The overwhelming burden of leadership due to the complaints of the Israelites brought Moses before God to desperately plead for help. Thus, God instructed him to appoint 70 elders from among the leaders who were also officers among the Israelites (Cole, 2000, p. 188).
- After Moses followed His instructions, God enabled those 70 men with His Spirit to assist Moses in bearing the burdens of the people. According to Cole (2000), “The spiritual dimension differentiates this group from those appointed for administrative and judicial tasks in Ex. 18: 25–26” (p. 189).
In short, as a leader, Moses looked for the assistance of a number of people who also qualified to take the role of leaders. He had a humble attitude before God and men, recognizing that other people could carry out the mission with him. He trusted their capacity and skills and built confidence in them by letting them make decisions and solve problems.
B. How did Jesus Lead a Team?
(Excerpt from “Jesus’ Model of Team Leadership”)
Jesus is the supreme example of team-based leadership. His definition of ministry team was displayed through His earthly ministry, which was mainly performed surrounded by His disciples with whom He shared during His public ministry and whom He taught how to minister to others.
1. Jesus built His team by appointing a group of 12 disciples to have intimacy with Him and to carry out some responsibilities.
- Mark 3:13–17 describes the institution of His team, first of all to intimate discipleship with Him and to share His authority with them in the service of His kingdom.
- Luke 9:1–10 relates how He gave them authority to cast out demons, to heal the sick, and to proclaim His message. He allowed them to represent Him and empowered them with His authority (Luke 4:36).
2. Jesus also built mutual accountability to a higher purpose among His disciples. He Himself was obedient to God and taught them to love obedience. Jesus kept all of them, including Himself, aimed to a larger purpose.
- Matthew 17:14–21 provides an example of this dynamic when Jesus, returning from the mountains with Peter, James, and John, found that the other disciples could not heal an ill boy. He not only cast out the demon from the boy but also taught them what hindered them from delivering the boy from the demon. By doing so, Jesus reoriented them toward the thing to which they were mutually accountable; that is, faith as the higher standard that His disciples needed to reach (Beausay, 1997, pp. 31–32).
3. Mutual trust and confidence was another component Jesus built within His team by teaching His disciples the truth.
- An example of how Jesus did that is found in Matthew 16:13–20, when He asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Since the disciples were going to lead the church of Jesus Christ, they needed to have a grasp on the identity of Christ and His purpose. By confessing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Peter as the spokesman for the 12, who had been addressed collectively, exhibited their understanding of the Lord’s unique relationship with the Father and His purpose (Blomberg, 1992, pp. 250–251).
- Jesus’ response to Peter was not only an affirmation of Peter’s God-given insight, but also an expression of His confidence in the disciples’ future role in leading the church. Jesus entrusted Peter with a key leadership role (Buzzell, Boa, & Perkins, 1998, p. 1138).
4. Through His ministry Jesus had to solve problems, but He took advantage of those opportunities to get His disciples involved in solving all kinds of needs.
- Luke 9:11–17, for example, presents the event that follows the mission and report of the 12 (Luke 9:1–10). Jesus’ attempts at getting away with His team for prayer ended with Him preaching about the kingdom of God and healing the crowd. At the end of a long day, instead of sending the hungry crowd away, as His disciples came to ask Him what to do, Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.” Even though the disciples lacked faith to feed the crowd, Jesus involved them in participating actively in providing food for this huge crowd, “first by organizing them for distribution and then by setting the food before the crowd” (Green, 1997, p. 364).
Jesus, therefore, is the perfect example of a team-oriented leader, committed to bringing out the potential of His followers. They lived together, ate together, and shared a common purpose. Boehme (1989) points out, “He gave Himself to them for three long years, walking with them, living among them, demonstrating His righteous life, and training them to be followers after His likeness” (p. 215). In the last days of His ministry with His disciples, Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit’s presence (John 14:16–18, 26; 16:13–16), which would empower and enable them with spiritual gifts (Acts 1:8).
After His death and subsequent resurrection, Jesus commissioned the 12 to take charge of what He had begun, because He had trained them to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:1–4).
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About The Authors:
Orbelina Eguizabal (Ph.D., Talbot School of Theology) serves as Professor of Christian Education at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, CA. E-mail: Orbelina.Eguizabal@biola.edu
Kevin E. Lawson (Ed.D., University of Maine Graduate School) serves as Professor of Christian Education and Director of the Ph.D. and Ed.D. Programs in Educational Studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, CA. E-mail: Kevin.Lawson@biola.edu
Leading a Ministry Team, Part 1 is taken from the Christian Education Journal, CEJ: Series 3, Vol. 6, No. 2. Copyright 2009; p 250-264. All rights reserved. Permission granted by Christian Education Journal.
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