Synergy: The Multiplying Impact of Ministry Teams
By J. David Arnett
I hate to rake leaves. When unseasonably warm weather came to Missouri, I decided to use my riding mower to mulch the piles of crimson and golden leaves that cluttered my yard. The plan worked well until I began mowing the slope near the driveway. The mower lost traction on the wet leaves, slid sideways, and wedged itself into the neighbor’s fence. I tried to go forward, reverse, faster, and slower. I got off to push, pull, and kick the mower. Each attempt to free the metal beast made the situation worse. Humbly, I went into the house to ask my son for help. With the addition of his muscles, we quickly pushed the mower through the mounds of maple tree debris.
My problem was too difficult for one person. However, when a support person joined me, we accomplished the task with ease.
Team members working together to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual efforts is synergism. Long ago, the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote about synergy, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
The multiplying impact of synergy is a lesson the contemporary church must learn. Synergistic support teams are vital to the proper functioning of the church. The task of evangelizing the world and building effective churches is too complex for one person — no matter how visionary, gifted, and experienced a leader he may be.
Great Leaders Are Humble Enough To Accept Support
Moses was a great leader. He demonstrated special traits and skills by leading 603,550 men plus their families out of Egyptian slavery (Numbers 1:46). Unfortunately, when studying Moses’ leadership traits, many scholars overlook the fact Moses had a significant support team and was humble enough to accept their advice and help: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Be humble enough to recruit team members with different proficiencies
According to Jewish tradition, when Moses was a small child, he picked up a glowing coal. He quickly dropped it. When he put his fingers into his mouth to soothe them, a few glowing embers clung to his hand. These cinders burned his lips and tongue. Moses struggled with a slight lisp the rest of his life.1
When God called him to liberate the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, Moses felt inadequate and insecure. He described himself as “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Although angered by Moses’ obvious lack of faith, God responded to Moses’ apprehension by offering Aaron (Moses’ older brother) as a spokesperson. Aaron was proficient where Moses was limited. Aaron could provide encouragement and emotional support to his brother as Moses faced numerous leadership challenges.
Contemporary church leaders need to learn from Moses and recruit team members who are proficient in areas where the leader is limited. If a leader is strong as a preacher or teacher but weak in business administration, he needs to add team members who are capable in administration. If a pastor is introverted and task-oriented, he needs to recruit team members who are gregarious and people-focused. If all team members have the same personalities, gifts, and skills, some team members are probably not needed.
Be humble enough to accept support from the team
When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites at Rephidim, Moses recognized his need for a support team. He delegated leadership of the combat troops to Joshua. He then assumed the posture of an intercessor. Moses stood on top of a hill with his hands raised. In one hand he held the staff he had used to display the miraculous power and provision of God.
Moses realized that while Joshua battled bravely in the valley below, the outcome was determined at a spiritual level above: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Exodus 17:11).
Although he was a great leader and intercessor, Moses was human. He grew tired; he had difficulty holding up his hands. Moses needed help. His brother Aaron and his brother-in-law Hur came to his aid.2 These two men formed a synergistic support team. They took a stone, put it under Moses, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur kept Moses’ hands steady until Joshua vanquished the enemy. We can only imagine the tragedy if Moses had not had supportive prayer partners or he had tried to battle by himself.
Some years ago I visited a church where the pastoral team sat on the front pew while the senior pastor did everything in the worship service — welcome, leading worship, prayer, announcements, offering, and sermon. This one-man show was far from the biblical pattern for a church service. Paul wrote, “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:26). Churches will be much stronger if pastors will be humble enough to permit broad-based participation.
Be humble enough to delegate responsibilities to others
When some people hear the phrase advice from the in-laws, they recoil with defensiveness. Moses was not one of these people. He was humble enough to accept advice from his father-in-law, Jethro.
After watching Moses put in a hard day of work as the sole arbiter for the people of Israel, Jethro offered some sound advice: “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (Exodus 18:17–23).
How many pastors and church leaders burn out because they cannot admit their inability to handle the work alone? How many church members go home dissatisfied because a harried, strained pastor has not learned to delegate decision making and ministry responsibilities to others?
Be humble enough to respect the anointing resting on other team members
Moses’ frustrations with the whining and complaining of the people he was leading spilled out in a grievance session with God. His words were full of anger and depression as he complained to God, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now” (Number 11:14,15). God’s remedy for the maudlin Moses was to form a team of 70 elders to help carry the burden of leadership (verse16). God anointed these elders with the same Holy Spirit who was resting on Moses.
Two of the elders — Eldad and Medad — did not follow God’s instructions to gather at the Tent of Meeting. God anointed them anyway and they prophesied among the people. Moses’ assistant Joshua objected. They were prophesying in a location not endorsed by Moses and they should be stopped. Moses displayed humility again by setting aside jealousy and recognizing that the anointing rested on these men. He replied to Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (Numbers 11:29, see verses 24–29).
Modern church leaders need to learn to appreciate and respect the anointing of God that is resting on other team members — including those described by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson as second-chair leaders. (See their article “Can You Lead From the Second Chair?” http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200704/200704_098_SecondChair.cfm.) These authors define a second-chair leader as “a person in a subordinate role whose influence with others adds value throughout the organization.”3 Second-chair leaders are not understudies waiting for their opportunity to come on stage as the star; their ministries are already significant in their own right. The contribution of an assistant pastor is not less important than that of the senior pastor. It is just different.
Some years ago, a young father said to me, “Pastor, the reason my family and I attend this church is because of the children’s pastor.” I was not offended or jealous. Instead, I felt good — much like a parent who hears a tribute paid to his child. I agreed that the ministry of the children’s pastor was vital to this couple and their precious children. I honored the pastor’s anointing and skill in ministry to young families. I was also relieved he was part of our ministry team. I appreciated the synergy he brought to the diversified ministry team.
Diversified Ministry Teams Are Vital for Healthy Churches
In the Old Testament, the patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) provided multifaceted ministry and leadership. They did everything. As they attempted to follow God’s leadership and serve their extended families, these men filled the roles of priest, prophet, judge, general, teacher, and preacher as various needs arose. As the people of God grew into a complex nation, however, God formalized the ministry and leadership functions into offices held by different individuals.
While under the theocracy, God called some to serve as prophets, others to act as priests and, periodically, some to lead as judges. The priests “cared for the temple worship, provided for the sacrifices, forgave sins, announced pardon, [and] comforted the people.”4 Prophets thundered forth the messages of God and called people to repentance and to a demonstration of their faith. Periodically, God used judges to accomplish a specific task — usually to lead a temporary militia of liberation. Later, when the people of Israel requested an earthly potentate, God called and anointed a king to permanently fulfill the role of the judges. The kings managed the material affairs, settled disputes, and provided for the common defense.
According to Norman Shawchuck, “All three ministries were going on in the congregation at the same time, being carried out by different persons.”5 To function properly as a society, the nation needed a balanced ministry team that included a prophet, a priest, and a potentate. Things worked well when each office holder faithfully fulfilled his distinctive role and respected the function of the others.
Ministering as servants in the body of Christ
The New Testament clearly presents the need for diversified and synergistic support teams. To be truly effective, however, ministry teams must possess the unity, mutuality, and interconnectedness of a well-functioning body — a particular body — the body of Christ. According to Millard Erickson, the use of the body metaphor “emphasizes that the church is the locus of Christ’s activity now, just as was His physical body during His earthly ministry.”6 As Christ’s hands and voice in the contemporary world, the church must behave and minister as Christ would. Christ, therefore, becomes the ultimate model for ministry.
One of Jesus’ most obvious leadership styles was servant-leadership. He said of himself, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He taught this precept to His disciples — “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
According to Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser, to be a true servant-leader the “desire to serve others must be stronger than the desire to lead — so leadership becomes a means of serving.”7 Servant-leaders find joy in encouraging others. They do not demand credit for their ideas. They base their authority on character, not on the office they hold.
Servant-leaders avoid what Hans Finzel calls the “number one leadership sin.”8 They stay away from “top-down autocratic arrogance.”9 Greg Ogden observes that servant-leaders “shun the trappings of authority and status. Realizing that all are equals before Christ, they avoid titles that support hierarchical pecking orders and opt instead for functional language that describes what a person does.”10 While not writing from a strict theological perspective, Robert K. Greenleaf has defined servant-leadership by describing the process of becoming a servant-leader and then explaining how to evaluate one’s effectiveness. “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”11
Out of the one spirit come many ministries
Loving, Christlike body ministry fills a prominent role in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church — a church plagued by divisions that revolved around preferred personalities and the exercise of spiritual gifts in general and likely the abuse of the gift of tongues in particular.12 Paul reminded the divided church that it is not strong human personalities but the Holy Spirit who builds the Body through “different kinds of gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:4). While varied, these graciously bestowed gifts find their unifying source in the Holy Spirit. Out of the one Spirit come many gifts, many kinds of service, and different workings (12:5,6). The Holy Spirit bestows the various gifts, services, and ministries for building up, strengthening, benefiting, and profiting the corporate body of Christ (12:7). Since the Holy Spirit decides which person ministers in what gift, no one should despise another person’s ministry.
Many ministries contribute to a unified and healthy church
For the divided Corinthian church, Paul illustrated how there can be unity despite the diversity of spiritual gifts. Reversing his earlier emphasis that out of the one Spirit comes many ministries, Paul stressed that from many team members come one healthy church. To drive home his point, Paul used the example of the human body. Just as a body with many parts is one body, the church is united in the Holy Spirit, even though it is comprised of persons from diverse backgrounds (12:12,13,20). In fact, diversity is necessary for a body to operate properly (12:14–19). Each part of the body must be willing to perform its own function and not seek to function in a role for which God did not create it. Likewise, the members of the church with their various functions need each other (12:21). The members should have mutual respect and concern for each other and even for those who minister in the inconspicuous places (12:22,26). Each Christian has an important ministry as a part of that Body (12:27).
Paul concluded his treatment on spiritual gifts by asking a series of rhetorical questions, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (12:29,30). The implied answer to these questions is no. Since the Holy Spirit does not use anyone in all the gifts (even first-chair leaders), diversity is vital to a well-functioning church.
It Is Time for a God-Thing
Commenting on the state of many contemporary churches, Reggie McNeal wrote, “The truth is, many churches are more secular than the culture. Everything that transpires in them can be explained away in terms of human talent and ingenuity. Only when something goes on in church that can be explained as a God-thing will a spiritually fascinated culture pause to take notice.”13 This God-thing will come when the contemporary church begins to take seriously the leadership role of the Holy Spirit in energizing and superintending the activities of the church. Leaders will stop relying on natural abilities and showmanship. Broad-based participation and synergistic ministry teams will emerge naturally. The Holy Spirit will diversify ministries and bring the miracle of mutual respect and loving unity to the churches.
J. David Arnett, D.Min., president, Northpoint Bible College, Haverhill, Massachusetts
1. Jonathan Hirsch, Moses: A Life (New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998), 64.
2. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 3, chapter 2, paragraph 4.
3. Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, Leading From the Second Chair: Serving Your Church Fulfilling Your Role and Realizing Your Dreams (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 2.
4. Norman Shawchuck, What It Means To Be a Church Leader: A Biblical Point of View (Indianapolis: Spiritual Growth Resources, 1984), 20.
6. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985), 1036.
7. Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser, Leading the Congregation: Caring for Yourself While Serving Others (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 35.
8. Hans Finzel, The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make (Colorado Springs, Colo.: ChariotVictor Publishing, 1994), 22.
10. Greg Ogden, “Servant Leadership” in Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration, ed. James D. Berkley (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 151.
11. Robert K. Greenleaf, The Power of Servant Leadership (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1998), 1.
12. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 570,571.
13. Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).