Saturday, June 28, 2008

Review - Transform Your Church With Ministry Teams

I just finished a very interesting book by E. Stanley Ott - "Transform Your Church With Ministry Teams." Ott spent some significant time in ministry right here in West Lafayette, Indiana, while attending Purdue University as a Graduate Student. He is currently pastor of the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church and president of the Vital Churches Institute. Online there is an excerpt of the first chapter. The book addresses a key question - "Is there a better way to 'Do Ministry?' than is seen in most churches today?" (Ok, I know this post violates "Less for More"... I'm so weak!)

Ministry teams are not simply a name change for committees. Rather, the type of ministry team he proposes has at its core a commitment to building relationships within the team, a dual-focus (building up the team as well as carrying out the tasks of ministry), and connecting like a small-group. Ott suggests "They multiply in the life of transformational congregations and have a major impact on the lives of the people in those congregations and in their surrounding community. They foster friendships among their members and 'grow' them into disciples."

There are several strong benefits to such an approach, including:
- Genuine experience of fellowship (koinonia)
- Growth in discipleship
- Development of new leadership
- Continuity of leadership within teams
- Mobilizing and empowering people for ministry
- Growth in interpersonal ministry as well as program-based ministry.

These are all outstanding benefits, and address several other vital needs within the church (e.g. growing disciples and growing leaders). "The ministry team becomes the consummate opportunity for leadership development within the church because it blends at least three different leader-developing processes into a single composite entity." (referring to small groups, apprenticing, and 'with-me' ministry).

Throughout the book Ott helps to understand the distinctiveness of ministry teams, how to shift a congregation towards such teams, what they look like and what they do, developing team leadership. Other important points that caught my attention in the book:

- "Every team is centered in the defining vision and practices of the congregation"
- Try to incorporate at least twenty-minutes of small(er) group time into any meeting for the ministry, including Word - Share - Prayer.
- Takes the idea of 'never launch a new ministry without a leader' one step further: 'never launch a new ministry without a core leadership team' for the new ministry.
- Encourage identifying and developing 'the next ring out', a broader set of willing-to-serve people not on the ministry team itself
- To further the goals of "dual focus" in ministry, the leader and leadership team must focus strongly on encouraging and developing their team members
- Being sure to strongly welcome and get to know new people on the team whenever there is a team meeting or training event
- "Loose-Tight" balance: tight when it comes to sticking close to the vision, practices and priorities of the church, loose in having a lot of freedom to carry out the ministry as the team sees beset as long as it stays within those boundaries.
- Discerning, casting, sustaining vision for ministry is vital

As far as nurturing ministry team life, he suggests several practices:

- Small-group time together, including Word-Prayer-Share
- Establishing prayer partnerships among team members
- Sharing meals together
- Going on a retreat (e.g. annually)

To promote leadership development one of the approaches he suggests is called "Action Learning", described by Marquadt. I hope to describe it in more detail in another post, but it's basically an on-the-job learning approach with a dual focus of meeting a need and of developing leadership in a team of people along the way.

There's quite a bit I like about the book, but there's one overarching concern that bothers me: How would this work out in practice in a setting where people are very busy, leaders are overworked and involved in several areas of ministry, and where there is an active and growing small group ministry? In particular, I can see the time commitment and level of interaction to be rather high for groups like bulletin stuffers, IT/web techies, landscaping team, or other ministries where the people are drawn to the ministry because they either like to work alone or enjoy the task. What's not clear is whether this approach to ministry is meant to be across the board at all levels of the church... does it replaces a "small groups" ministry... do they expect people to only participate in one ministry?

There seems to be a middle ground available - where there is a team leader that cares for their people, encourages them, and creates opportunities (not expectations) for fellowship within the team. For example a 'Grounds Committee' might meet formally, enumerate and divide up the tasks among themselves, and really have no further interaction. The 'Ministry Teams' approach by Ott would have the lawn mowing team as a small group, who meet regularly to share from the word, pray for each other, share meals, and grow as disciples and friends. While the latter approach would definitely be of great value for those who chose to participate on that team, I'm just not sure that approach would be a good fit for everyone seeking to play a part in taking care of the grounds. Is this a situation where "an outer ring" applies?

It's possible that my own lack of experience is more of a problem than the approach. I've been involved in a lot of ministries and teams but have never seen one taking this approach. I've also been in many different small groups, and across the board our SHAPE, interests, and the ministries we were involved in, have been completely different. I can see it potentially working very well for some churches or teams, but have a harder time seeing it as a widely applicable approach to be considered for all ministry teams in a church.

I would love any feedback or experience on this approach to Ministry Teams. There's enough benefits to the idea and enough good ideas in the book that I still feel like I want to learn more about this approach to Ministry Teams.

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