3 Team-Killing Church Cultures by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird

Folks often preach the value of teams and try to instill teams in their churches, all the while cheerleading and propagating organizational cultural dynamics that squelch any possibility for those teams to thrive. If you want to improve your team (especially your leadership team), don’t ignore these three cultures that will kill your team’s ability to thrive.

1. A CULTURE THAT UNDERMINES THE LEADERSHIP TEAM’S IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION

Even though many churches have a leadership team that leads the church on paper, it’s not uncommon for many churches to truly be led by the benevolent dictator lead pastor, or the lead pastor’s kitchen cabinet—a few confidants who run the show.

When this happens, the leadership team is not given the most important work to do, time is not allocated for the team to do its work, diversity is often squashed, and the team is reduced to mere information exchange. Talented leaders move on, because they want to be keenly involved in developing what’s next for the church. And the church suffers from a lack of quality leadership.

2. A CULTURE OF SPONTANEITY THAT LIMITS PLANNING AND STRUCTURE

No matter how much we talk about wanting teams to thrive in our churches, they won’t if teams don’t have the organizational environment that offers fertile soil for teams to thrive in. In particular, teams thrive in organizational contexts that privilege thoughtful, deliberative action and provide structures that allow for planning. As researchers Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson note in their book When Teams Work Best, fertile organizational soil typically exists when:

1. Leaders set crystal-clear mission, goals and priorities that guide team efforts and establish clear operating principles.
2. Organizational structures and systems foster effective group decision making.
3. Teams enjoy ample, planned time to stay connected and work jointly on problems.
4. Teams possess all the information they need to solve problems and make decisions.

These structures offer the support a leadership team—and all teams in an organization—needs to be able to truly lead the church. Without them, teams spin their wheels and don’t make progress. Before your team will be successful, you may need to engage some cultural change to enable the team to thrive.

At one less-than-exemplary church where we did interviews, the senior team’s culture fought hard against any sort of planning. One pastor stated, we are more comfortable “fighting fires than building safe houses.” As such, the team constantly deferred to the lead pastor rather than seek God together and work together to develop direction and strategy for the church. Church cultures that prefer to fight fires rather than do the proactive work to avoid and protect against those fires are infertile ground for thriving teams. In such cases, addressing cultural challenges might be the first step in enabling a team to truly lead the church.

3. A CULTURE THAT IGNORES BIBLICAL ACCOUNTABILITY

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:6). Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and mutual accountability is the not-so-secret success ingredient of exceptional teams. But too often, for a variety of reasons, team members avoid lovingly wounding a teammate, neglect offering feedback and refuse to hold one another accountable for their contributions to the team. That behavior is often learned in the larger church culture, where biblical accountability and confrontation is not pursued.

If your church avoids confrontation and biblical accountability, chances are that your team will never gel or perform at its peak. Your team as a whole needs feedback on its collective performance, and individual team members need feedback about what they contribute to the team. Your team needs faithful friends who will tell the truth, even when it stings. Without confronting the (sometimes painful) truth, your team doesn’t have the insight to improve nor the fuel to do its job of effectively leading your church.

For more team-killing cultures and a host of other tips to help your teams thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.

Because I participated in the book project by writing an expert commentary, InterVarsity Press is offering my readers a 30% discount on the book. To access the discount, order online at ivpress.com or call 800-843-9487 and use coupon code 506-447. But don’t wait to do it. This offer expires April 30.

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Excerpted with permission from chapter 13 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

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4 thoughts on “3 Team-Killing Church Cultures by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird

  1. That's your POV, but not all church leaders are like that, the important thing is that there is balance…. "too much of a something is not good"
    What I'm trying to say is that there are leaders like that, but don't worry because there are also good leaders.