By Stephen Bond
Steve Bond and his wife, Pam, launched Summit Christian Church in March 1998. The church met in the Sparks YMCA for 3½ years before moving to a new permanent facility on a 36-acre site. Summit’s vision is to “Love God, Love People, and Serve Others.”
Over the past 10 years the church has grown to more than 2,000 people in weekend worship attendance. Approximately 1,000 adults are also involved in life groups. One of the keys to this growth has been a high level of teamwork among Summit’s staff and elders.
This is the first of four articles by Bond sharing principles of teamwork from his ministry experience.
Next week: Communication
November 2: Conflict Resolution
November 9: Decision Making
Part 1: Chemistry
The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was one of the most exciting games in the history of college football. Perennial powerhouse Oklahoma was pitted against the Boise State Broncos. Boise State outplayed Oklahoma for most of the game, but when time ran out the score was tied 35-35.
OU scored first in overtime, taking a 42-35 lead. But a few seconds later Boise State scored a touchdown and elected to go for a two-point conversion to win the game. In one of the most dramatic plays in college football history, the Broncos outfoxed the Sooners and the Boise State runner walked into the end zone untouched. Boise State—a David of college football—defeated this Goliath, Oklahoma, 43-42.
Boise State’s surprise victory exemplifies the power of teamwork that should also be evident in the church. In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul offers the vivid illustration of the church as the body of Christ. The metaphor of the body is pregnant with implications; one of the most obvious is that God envisions the church operating with Spirit-empowered teamwork.
When the body of Christ works together as a team, the church moves forward. I have been privileged to see this take place at Summit Christian Church. In just 10 years God has grown our congregation from a church plant to more than 2,000 people. Teamwork, the top reason contributing to this remarkable growth, is especially evident within our staff and our elder teams.
Much has been written about the three major factors in team building: character, competence, and chemistry. All three are important. Character is who we are when no one is looking. Competence includes skills, gifting, and experience—talent; it is especially important when deciding which staff to hire with a limited budget.
Chemistry is how we connect with others on the team. It is the most subjective of the three; it is far less measurable than character and competence. Chemistry could be described as team fit. Chemistry occurs when members of the same ministry team fit well together; they gel, connect, synergize.
The longer I am in church leadership the more I see the value of chemistry in building ministry teams. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, conducted copious research of great companies and discovered that teamwork is an essential component to their success.
In the book, he writes: “If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”1 Great ministry teams have the right people on the bus in the right seats. Building a cohesive team is exceedingly difficult if the chemistry is not present—if the right people are not on the bus.
This raises the question of how to assess chemistry when building staff and elder teams. At Summit, the most helpful means of assessment has been careful observation. In the past I made the mistake of paying too much attention to carefully crafted résumés. I have since learned that past action is the best indicator of future behavior. On a résumé it’s easy to sanitize past performance. This is why hiring church staff strictly from résumés can be problematic, especially when trying to assess how an individual will fit within the chemistry of a ministry team.
Our concern for staff chemistry led Summit to recruit mostly homegrown talent. Long before they were called to join the staff, our ministry leaders demonstrated God-given calling, fruit-bearing gifts, and alignment with Summit’s vision as volunteers.
Elder Team Chemistry
The chemistry on our elder team is just as important as staff chemistry. We avoid the term board when referring to our elders. They are a team in every sense of the word. We often refer to ourselves as a “band of brothers.” And this chemistry is vitally important! Summit’s elders do not have term limits. The reason is simple: once our elder team is experiencing Spirit-engendered chemistry, we see no reason to interrupt it by arbitrarily forcing someone to step off for a year.
We are also circumspect about adding new elders. The last time we added elders was preceded by six months of prayer. Once strong consensus was reached within the existing elder team, we approached each potential elder candidate to see if he might be interested. After prayerful consideration, all three men agreed to enter into a process of “exploration” with us. They were not yet part of the elder team, but together we agreed to seek God’s heart about this possibility.
We began a six-month mentoring process with the candidates, at the end of which the existing elders agreed by consensus to invite all three candidates to join the elder team. But for the first year new elders at Summit are considered “provisional elders.” Once again, this is to safeguard the chemistry within our elder team. Provisional elders attend the monthly elder meetings and serve as elders in the church. This enables the existing team to see how the new elders function as part of the team. After one year, if consensus remains, a provisional elder becomes a permanent elder.
Part of Summit’s team chemistry results from clear expectations. One of the most important expectations is that since we’re about kingdom business, hard work and internal motivation is expected. Not long ago one of our staff members commented that no one is coasting at Summit. Everyone on the team constantly strives to reach new levels of effectiveness in his area of ministry.
We also expect excellence. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Excellence, of course, is a sliding scale depending on the resources available. When we met in a YMCA we used overhead projectors to project lyrics during worship. In that case, excellence meant creating the best overhead transparencies possible. We would hand-fold the bulletins for weekend services. One of our volunteers fondly reminds people that I personally showed her how to fold the bulletins with a straight crease.
Little things make a difference. Even though we were a small church (at the time), we weren’t going to act like a small church.
As Summit has grown, ministry alignment has become increasingly important for sustaining team chemistry. Alignment occurs when everyone on the team agrees to the ministry’s overarching objectives—and then develops supporting ministries that align with those objectives.
This is not as easy as one might think. There is a multitude of valid, God-honoring ways to flesh out ministry within a local church. During Summit’s short history, we have tried most of the options popular today. At points, we had so many plates spinning in the air we didn’t know which way was up. Almost anyone with a “good” ministry idea was encouraged to give it a try.
One adverse consequence of this helter-skelter approach was that many people associated with Summit actually cared very little about our church. They operated in suborbital worlds that were funded by Summit’s main body of believers, but they were not really associated with the mainstream of our church. The larger the church grew the more untenable this lack of alignment became.
Our alignment issue was finally resolved with a thorough, strategic planning process. A staff team set out to discover, together, how God wanted Summit to operate in the years ahead. I had my own ideas, but this was not something I could dictate to our staff or elders. For a strategic plan to be effective, it must be embraced by everyone on the team. This strategic planning process involved time, discussion, reading, listening, and much give-and-take.
We hired a consultant to help guide the process. The end result was a simple, clear, newly articulated approach to ministry that was genuinely embraced by our entire leadership. Collectively, we determined to do less in order to accomplish more. This means engaging in less wheel-spinning activity, offering fewer ministry options, spending fewer nights out in a week, but accomplishing more substantive life change.
One of the most influential books in our planning process was Simple Church by Thom Rainer. On the heels of our two-year-long dialogue, Rainer’s insights brought together many of the thoughts that had begun surfacing among our leadership.
1 Jim Collins, Good To Great (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 41.
Steve Bond serves as senior pastor with Summit Christian Church, Sparks, Nevada.