Administration,  Church,  Discipleship,  Ministry

Towards a Healthy Church – Team Descriptions

“I didn’t know that was something I was supposed to do!”

“If I had known that, I would have never signed up for this!”

Have you ever heard (or thought) these phrases? They are quite common. Why? Because of a lack of clear communication (see last week’s post here). Many leaders (and far more managers) are capable of communicating a general idea of what must be done, but do not focus on how the task fits the greater cause – and that is a problem. In fact, even that last sentence is a part of the problem because too many people focus on tasks instead of responsibilities!

Generally, managers are charged with maintaining systems. That is, people who manage need to keep the processes moving smoothly. Those processes include people, but they also include anything necessary to make the organization (or their part of it) function. This “anything” can include technology, time, materials, etc. But to manage is to attempt to control the process. That is not wrong, and is necessary in many ways. But leadership is different. Leadership is moving forward, trying new ideas, and influencing others to do the same. Management is making certain the pieces fit properly. Leadership is trying the pieces in new places to see if they might fit better. Again, both management and leadership can be important, but both ideas are fundamentally different.

Likewise, committees and teams are fundamentally different. They may be charged with the same general tasks (or responsibilities), but committees are generally “ruled” by a chairperson and “run” by a few. Frankly, I have wondered what some committees were committed to doing – other than protecting their authority.

A team on the other hand is meant to be inclusive. Each member of a team has a function. We can easily see this to be true in sports, but it is true in business, in the church, etc. Some members of the team may be more valuable than others, but all members have a role. Imagine, for instance, if a basketball team only put four players on the court against a team that had five, or a football team tried to play with nine instead of eleven.

So, while committees and teams are similar in function, they have a fundamental difference. Committees focus on getting tasks done; teams focus on fulfilling responsibilities. Committees manage processes; teams can be innovative. Committees often focus on the status quo; teams can work towards a future goal. I realize this comparison may be oversimplified, but the premise is true. Therefore, I am obviously a proponent of the idea of teams and will use that terminology going forward.

But having a team is insufficient. A team needs to know its purpose and set goals to fulfill that purpose in order to be an effective team. Having grown up in the Kansas City area (on both the Kansas and Missouri sides), I am a fan of the sports teams there. Of course, both the Royals and Chiefs have struggled at various times in my life, but each of these teams knows its purpose is to win game in a particular sport. For instance, the Royals do not draft players who are exceptional football players nor do the Chiefs choose basketball players (with Bo Jackson and Tony Gonzalez being the primary exceptions, respectively). Likewise, Sporting KC does not seek to sign someone gifted in American football (say Pat Mahomes), because the skills of a quarterback do not translate well to the pitch.

So, a team must know its purpose – it’s why? Why do we exist? Once that is known, it must consider the What – as in What will we do knowing why we exist? And then the rest of the questions can be considered? Who is chosen for the team will be dependent upon what must be done and who else is available. The When and the Where are necessary aspects to consider as well. These two components may be directed by others or the team may have the freedom and flexibility to choose when and where to meet, work, and fulfill their responsibilities. And, of course, all of this leads to the How?

For a team to function best, each of these items are important. However, as I mentioned last week, it is important for the organizations (i.e. leadership) to clearly and consistently communicate the Why? and the What? Similarly, the leadership of each team must do the same for the team. Otherwise, the team (and its members) lose focus. Thus, I advocate that each church (or any organization) create team descriptions in addition to job descriptions (which will be the topic for next week). At the bottom of this post, I have attached a sample draft for one of the teams at the church I serve. This is only a draft, but it does show the following elements. The team is essentially a Church Council for those familiar with that idea.)

A good team description will have, at least, five components. The first is some sort of heading with an effective date for the description. It is also a good practice to place a date of Updated or Edited in the footer to track any updates. (This date is helpful on team descriptions, job descriptions, policies, procedures, etc.)

The second component consists of an answer to four questions. Those questions are:

  1. Why does this team exist?
  2. What role does this team have in fulfilling the church’s vision?
  3. What role does this team have in fulfilling the church’s mission?
  4. What part(s) of the church’s strategy does this team fulfill?

Third, the description should include any responsibilities the team to other people or teams. That is:

  1. Does this team report to any other person(s) or team(s) within the church?
  2. Is this team responsible for any other person(s) or team(s) within th church?

Fourth, the team description should include any general qualifications needed for service. For instance, must team members be church members? If working with children, will background checks be required? Etc. In other words, the central question that the fourth element asks is:

Do any basic qualifications exist to allow someone to serve as a member of this team?

Finally, the fifth element is to generally describe the duties of the team. These duties are not specific to any person and thus must be general. Specific duties will be detailed on the job descriptions. A word of caution on this section: This section should focus on the What? not the How? The How? might be addressed somewhat in the Job Description, but will be more developed in the documentation related to the Procedures. The fundamental question for this last issue is:

What are the basic functions of this team?

You may choose to add more elements to this list. And you can certainly call each item what makes the most sense for your setting. However, the questions listed above will help develop solid descriptions for each team within your church (or organization). None of the questions are focused upon the how, they only focus on the Why? or What?. This approach is intentional because the How? might change over time. Of course, the function (or existence) of the team may change as well, but these same questions can help determine those issues as well.

At the beginning of the post, I listed two statements many people have and will say over time. A good team description may not solve that issue entirely, but a good leader with good team (and job) descriptions can help show others that a certain “job” is more than some disconnected part of a plan. Instead, that leader can show how the “job” is a part of a larger role that helps a team fulfill a purpose that is much greater than one person, or even one team. When that happens, a person, a team, and a church can truly begin to transform.

Next week, I will move from the team to the individual, when I will focus on job descriptions.

To see the Team Description Sample (pdf), click here.

To see the Team Description Template (.docx), click here.

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