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 second of four articles by Bond sharing principles of teamwork from his ministry experience.
Last week: Chemistry
Next Week: Conflict Resolution
November 9: Decision Making
Part 2: Communication
Years ago, Norm Wright wrote a book called Communication: Key to Your Marriage. My wife and I first read the book before we were married. We’ve also used it over the years as a resource for marriage counseling. Sometimes when Pam and I stumble into a communication blunder, I look at her and say with a big smile, “Communication, the key to marriage!”
Excellent communication is not only a key to marriage, it’s also essential for ministry teamwork. With this in view, we intentionally designed the office environment at Summit Christian Church to enhance communication. Our staff now numbers nearly 30 people, and our office suite forces frequent interaction among teammates. What we lose in terms of work efficiency we more than gain back in enhanced communication.
Stress Muddies Communication
Communication improves when stress is reduced. Stress tends to have the twin side effects of distorting what people hear and aggravating how they respond. Because of this, at Summit we plan as far into the future as possible. This prevents our staff from working under “last minute” stress. It also allows time for people to process issues affecting them. This ahead-of-time planning begins with me and filters down through our entire organization. And it has resulted in a surprisingly low-stress work culture.
Our worship-planning process is a case in point. Every Monday our worship programming team meets for lunch. We catch up on our personal lives and then discuss the previous weekend’s services. After that, we discuss future services.
Our worship-planning matrix includes the upcoming eight weekends. The matrix is updated every week. Eight weeks out the services are in various stages of planning. This includes considering possible music selections, dramas, special music, and media clips. A key part of this process is my completing message manuscripts at least three weeks in advance of their presentation. This gives the programming team time to fine-tune the services to package the theme for the weekend.
Another stress producer is fatigue from overwork. I believe godly ministry does not need to lead to an imbalanced lifestyle. For me, a balanced life has several dimensions, including investing unhurried time to grow in my love for God, consistent rigorous exercise, plenty of time to enjoy my wife and family, sufficient rest, and adequate margins to enable me to stay emotionally vibrant and mentally growing.
When I was younger I was driven by internal pressures to achieve. For many years, this insane pressure to produce prevented me from enjoying God’s most precious gifts. Now, I strive to maintain a more balanced lifestyle: physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. This reduces stress and enhances communication.
Respecting the personal space of our staff is part of being courteous in our communication. Along with the rest of Summit’s staff team, I work hard all day. But when I leave the office, I leave the office. I go home to rest, handle chores, enjoy my wife and family, and to get an emotional break.
As a result, I rarely call anyone on Summit’s staff after hours. I don’t appreciate being called after hours (unless it’s an emergency), so I don’t do it to the others on my team. Most things can wait until the next morning.
What we say—the words we choose and our tone of voice—greatly affects our communication. This is why we’ve asked our staff to avoid sarcastic humor among teammates. In the past such humor was always in “good fun,” but we found it left a negative aftertaste. Now we deliberately focus our conversations on the positive.
Our weekly staff prayer meeting is a good example. Pastor Dale Burke insightfully notes that “an organization will become what it celebrates.”1 With this in mind, the first 15 to 30 minutes of our prayer meeting is a time for laughter and celebrating. Person after person shares the kingdom-advancing victories from their previous week’s ministry.
As a result, everyone on the team stays informed about what’s happening in the rest of the church. This weekly discipline of praise creates a staffwide communication culture that focuses on the positive. And backbiting, negativity, and gossip are virtually nonexistent.
I enjoyed the days when our entire staff could sit around a restaurant table. We met at a pastry shop every week, chatted about life, laughed, and even accomplished some business. But those days are long gone. Now when the whole team meets for a meal we need to reserve a banquet room!
I know I can no longer maintain close personal relationships with everyone on Summit’s staff team. There are not enough hours in a week to permit this. So I’ve had to become strategic about pursuing the most essential relationships. Now I nurture only a handful of key relationships. I’m careful to preserve margin in my relational tank for the unexpected ministry crisis that occasionally crashes into my life as senior pastor.
Honesty Really Is the Best Policy
I value harmony . . . almost to a fault. There was a time when I mistakenly believed harmony was simply the lack of conflict. If everything appeared OK on the surface (read: harmony) I thought that’s what really mattered.
But I have since learned that genuine harmony can exist only when genuine honesty exists. In other words, honest communication is the bedrock on which true harmony is built. Honest communication requires “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This means not avoiding the tough conversations.
Every organization develops its unique communication pathways. One tool we have found useful at Summit is our monthly written staff accountability report. These reports follow a basic one-page format that includes an individual’s work-related goals for the coming month, feedback regarding the goals from the previous month, statistics related to his or her area of ministry, significant praise items, and matters of prayer.
Within this broad framework each staff member customizes his report according to his own preferences and ministry needs. The report serves as a helpful monthly communication tool for leadership staff and elders to learn what everyone is doing.
Like others, we also use e-mail to accelerate communication throughout our organization. However, we coach our staff about its limitations. Most significantly, e-mail is never—ever—to be used to confront someone on sensitive matters. That must always be done personally.
Affirm and Appreciate
An important dimension of communication at Summit is expressing appreciation. I believe if we’re too busy to say “thank-you,” we are simply too busy. For many years Max De Pree, CEO of Herman Miller, was widely recognized as one of the best business executives in the nation. Max believes, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank-you.”2
Because of this, I view one of my roles at Summit as “cheerleader-in-chief” for our staff. I’m always on the hunt for ways to say thank-you.
This doesn’t have to be expensive. One Christmas I sent staff members Starbucks gift cards along with a personal note of appreciation. Once I gave movie passes to several on our team, along with a note thanking them for their hard work. Looking back on more than 30 years of ministry, I’ve never once regretted saying thank-you!
A few years ago we went through a thorough strategic planning process. One result was the adoption of a common language for Summit’s approach to ministry. Our church’s refined vision is simple: love God, love people, and serve others. The new common language has proven to be transferable to every area of ministry. For the first time in our history Summit’s various ministries—children’s, student, college, LIFE! Group, worship, Hispanic, recovery, and all others—speak the same language. All of us now focus on loving God, loving people, and serving others. This has greatly enhanced our communication.
Greasing the Wheels
Every so often I saunter through our office suite and chitchat with folks along the way. The room is generally buzzing with energy, peppered with laughter, and filled with people sharing with each other.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to perceive that most of that humming is healthy communication that’s greasing the wheels for teamwork.
1H. Dale Burke, Less Is More Leadership (Eugene: Harvest House, 2004), 181.
2Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Dell, 1990), 11.
Steve Bond serves as senior pastor with Summit Christian Church, Sparks, Nevada.