You may think that we’ve evolved too far to ever go back to anything resembling New Testament church leadership. Not so! Hardy Clemons of the Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, writes of the “team” model his church adopted instead of the more common “pyramidal” model of a senior pastor at the top, executive staff below, associate staff, assistant staff, mangers, and so on.
In the midst of an ancient world which hallowed a monarchical model, the New Testament offers a team-oriented alternative to what it means to be a leader. Thus, we have grounded our attempt to understand and follow better models of leadership on the biblical, theological, and historical foundations of the Christian faith and upon the psychological and managerial confirmation of these insights in more modern times.
Jesus challenged the prevailing views of great leadership in teaching his followers that the mark of truly effective leadership is not lording it over others with one’s authority, but rather serving others (Mk. 10:42–45).
At one point, Paul says: “We are partners working together for God” (1 Cor. 3:9, TEV). This statement suggests two things which lead me to adopt a team oriented model for our church’s ministry.
First, “we work for God.” It is true that we also work for a congregation. We may report to a particular supervisor or group. We cooperate with our denomination. But the basis of true Christian ministry is that each minister works for God more surely than for a senior pastor, an executive committee, or anyone else.
Then, “we are partners working together.” The entertainment world has room for a star supported by a cast of backups, but I do not think this is the biblical model. I do not want to see my colleagues as “my staff” who assist me as I carry on “my ministry” in “my church.” The church does not prosper as much if they are echoes, extensions of me and my approach. Each of them is a person, a child of God, called just as surely as I to be God’s minister. My job as leader is to facilitate the harmony of a team working together for God so that each staffer becomes a faithful, effective pastor in his or her own right. Only then can we blend these individualities into a coordinated, integrated pastoral team to serve God and God’s people.
To have productive, creative harmony, staff members must learn to blend their differences as a body blends its unique parts. If differences are to be blended, they must first be recognized, encouraged, and celebrated. When differences are ignored or suppressed, we lose the beauty of unity for the sake of uniformity.
Apply what Paul says about the church to the question of whether the more biblical model of leadership is a pyramid or a team:
Who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply God’s servants … Each one of us does the work the Lord gave him to do: I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow. There is no difference between the one who plants and the one who waters; … for we are partners working together for God (1 Cor. 3:5–9, TEV).
God is clearly described as the head, but otherwise Paul seems to avoid any hierarchical implication. The New Testament leads me to believe that the more I facilitate each of my colleagues in discovering and expressing the true individual identity God means for him/her to have, the more capable the colleague is of making a valid Christian contribution to the total church. Our staff has discovered that the individual expression of one person’s gifts need not threaten the team or the team members.
If one feels jealous when a colleague experiences success or achieves recognition, the problem is likely not with the achieving colleague. The solution is not in the suppression of a colleague’s individuality, but in one’s becoming more secure in one’s own ministries under God. What results if the quarterback is jealous when the receiver gets credit for the touchdown? What happens to growth and ministry if the chief of surgery is angry when the intern saves the patient?
Our congregation has chosen to define itself as a team of ministers. Beginning with the orientation which is prerequisite to membership, we seek to lead our people to see that the terms “Christian,” “church member,” and “minister” are theological synonyms. We frequently emphasize that we have a pastoral team of six members but a team of ministers numbering about 1200. We say: “As a team of pastors, we will minister to you, with you, through you, or for you; but never instead of you!” The church of Jesus the Christ cannot function as the body of Christ on a theological basis in which the laity hires the best professionals it can find to do the work of the body. It can only function when each part of the body is performing its assigned function.
Thus, our team of ministers has four fronts from which it seeks to operate. (1) The congregation functions as a team of ministers. (2) The elected leaders of the church function as a team of ministers. Our church is divided into five divisions of ministry and is coordinated by an executive council; the deacons function as a serving body within the church. (3) The church staff operates as a team. (4) The pastoral staff operates as a team—seeing ourselves as colleagues and as equippers to facilitate the workings of the other fronts of ministry throughout the church.
A team pastorate means three primary things to us. (1) Each pastor is assigned primary areas of responsibility for ministry by the Executive Council. (2) Each pastor functions as a vital part of the whole ministry of God through the congregation under the coordination of the senior pastor. The senior pastor is the integrating factor of the pastoral team. We are not “his church” or “his staff.” But he does sit at the desk where “the buck stops.” (3) When there are irresolvable differences between the pastor in charge of an area and the senior pastor, such differences are resolved by the executive council. Each pastor has not only the right but also the responsibility to bring any such disagreements to that body. We are making every effort to operate as colleagues whose ministries have equal validity.
I agree with Pastor Clemons that his “team” model is more biblical and productive than the pyramidal model which automatically creates barriers and divisions among the church elders. Furthermore, the pyramidal model is upside down: everyone on the lower ranks serves all those ranking above, when Jesus told us to be servant leaders. “Among you it will be different,” he told his disciples on the night of the last supper. “Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:26-27).
My husband and I have worked in ministry for nearly forty years together, and we came out of a school (Liberty University) where leaders were taught to be servants. I have ridden in a bus along with singers and Dr. Falwell as we out to raise money for the school; my husband used to get to church early to set up chairs for hundreds of middle schoolers. We did not ask the custodians to do anything we could do ourselves, and we would never ask our lay staff workers to do anything we were unwilling to do. That’s just the way we were taught, and it’s the way we’ve always worked in ministry. Frankly, it bothers me to stand around doing nothing if I could be doing something to help.
Unfortunately, in too many churches I have noticed a real lack of servant pastors/elders. To all who are in the church, I would urge us to remember that if Jesus gave up his divine privileges in order to serve the humble, the poor, and the wounded, how can we do any less?
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippines 2:3-8)
To be continued . . .
 The Statement of Organization, Second Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas, Revised 1979.
 Hardy Clemons, “How We Build Team Spirit,” Church Administration, September, 1977.