I have written frequently about the need for churches to be led by teams instead of just one person. A number of pastors and lay leaders have asked how they should go about creating such a leadership team. Though each church will have to weigh the situation of their individual church, the following steps can serve as a guideline for how a pastor or lay leader might gather a leadership team in his church.
1. Pray and seek the will of God to determine if this is the right style of leadership to pursue for your specific church at this specific time. Though healthy churches should be led by teams, sometimes the timing is not right and pastors have to put off creating a leadership team for a short period while they deal with others issues. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if this is the right time to move forward with this idea.
2. Spend three to six months teaching the congregation why this leadership style would be right for your church at this particular time. Do not just make an announcement on a Sunday morning and expect people to adopt a new leadership style without time to think it through. Preach from a number of scripture passages that demonstrate team leadership. Do not assume that everyone in the church will get on board after one sermon. Preach about it several times before moving forward with changes to the church leadership structure. In addition to preaching from the scripture, consider teaching chapters 1-3 of the book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church to the entire congregation over a period of time. Though that book was written specifically for bivocational churches, the material has been used effectively in churches that are not led by a bivocational pastor.
3. Ask the congregation to test out this leadership style for one year before actually making any changes to the church constitution or bylaws. People tend to resist structural change when asked to do something they have never done before. Therefore, remove that barrier by asking the congregation to simply experiment with the idea for a while. If the concept does not work, the old way will still be there to go back too. The structure may have to be tweaked a few times anyway, so do not set it in stone until it is worked out. Once the new leadership structure is working effectively, then make the structure official in whatever ways are appropriate.
4. Ask the congregation to set aside those individuals who will be a part of the leadership team. Pray over the group and ask God to give them wisdom as they move forward. Ask God to give them flexibility as they try a new way of leading. Ask God to help them be willing to change mid-stream if the system adopted is not working as well as it should. Elect the individuals to this leadership team if that is what your congregational polity calls for.
5. Create a pastoral care schedule that includes each person on the team. The goal is to spread out the visitation and ministry duties so that the pastor is not doing it all. This not only makes the congregation healthier, but it gives the pastor a break in order to avoid burn-out. Any system that meets that goal will be a success but these options might be considered: splitting the entire congregation up into groups with each team member assigned a group, giving each team member one week a month to do whatever visitation needs to be done, having the team members make any visits that arise on the pastor’s day off or when out of town, or having one week a month when the pastor makes no visits and the rest of the team makes all the visits.
6. Create a preaching schedule that includes each person on the team. The schedule can be any system that works for the team, but a suggestion would be that the pastor preaches three Sundays a month and one of the other people from the team preaches one Sunday a month. In a month that has five Sundays, a second person from the team would preach one time. Or, if the congregation prefers that the pastor do most of the preaching on Sunday mornings, then assign mid-week Bible studies and other teaching times to the other members of the team so the pastor can focus on making his Sunday morning sermon the best it can be. This is particularly important if the pastor has to work a second job and has limited time to devote to sermon preparation.
7. The leadership team should meet at least once a month to plan sermon topics and update each other on whom in the congregation received a visit and who still needs one. Spend a day together once a year to plan the major annual focuses of the church.
Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.