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November 3, 2018

Start Well to Do Well as a Church Leadership Team

By Shelley G. Trebesch

I often encourage churches to form non-representative leadership teams for three reasons.

  1. “The priority of the ‘good’ of the constituency displaces the overall good of the organization [church].”[1]
  2. “The leadership team may or may not be composed of people who actually have gifts related to leadership.”[2] 
  3. “Inevitably one constituency is deemed more important than others.”[3]

Yes, the diverse voices of church members must be welcomed, heard, and valued. Yet, when it comes to church leadership, choose persons who display leadership gifts—those who have followers because of their wisdom and those upon whom others confer spiritual authority. Then, start well to do well and become a team.

Team formation is an often-neglected dynamic in leadership teams. Following from various leadership selection methods (like elections, appointments by the pastor, invitations from already existing teams, etc.), teams often dive into the business of the church without addressing formation. In the following, I offer what I propose as must do’s in order to advance team formation and pave the way toward a high functioning team. These ideas are best worked out early, in a retreat setting with ample, non-hurried time.

1. Prayer and scripture study. 

Leadership teams must grow in their practice together of hearing from the Lord and offering spiritual leadership. If a speaker offers devotions or Bible exposition during the retreat, ensure there are additional methods of study and sharing, such as manuscript study and/or small groups. This creates safe environments where everyone’s insight and listening collaborates and builds into wisdom.

2. Listen to each other’s spiritual journey. 

Telling life-stories provides needed bonding and reveals potential personal values. Take the time to listen, and when everyone is finished, discuss emerging themes from the stories. These likely indicate important values and beliefs that shape decisions and actions.

3. Identify team values.

Who does your team want to be? What guidelines will provide the pathway for decision-making and operating as a team? Agree on five to seven values and then exegete the words into modeling behaviors (for example, team schedule, meeting agendas, communication and relationship with the congregation, etc.) that flow from the values.

4. Review the vision, mission, and values of the church.

The call of leadership is to advance, advocate, and ensure the DNA (vision, mission, and values) of the church, the reason for which it exists. Therefore, review the vision, mission, and values and the essential strategies that flow from the vision, mission, and values.

5. Decide in advance. There are several key decisions lead to effective team functioning:

a) Who leads the team and how? Choose a leader adept at facilitation—one that encourages the input of all team members and creates space for each member’s development. As the team grows in functioning, however, each member should take turns leading.

b) How does the team deal with conflict? Decide ahead of time how conflict will be resolved. Healthy teams develop safety and space for disagreement, for it’s often in this type of conflict that the best ideas emerge. Of course, if there’s a personal conflict between two members, reconciliation could happen “offline” or in the context of the team if that’s where the conflict occurred.  

c) How does the team make decisions? Regarding conflict and decision-making, agree ahead of time what happens when there are disagreements. Does the team wait for consensus? Empower one or several members to decide? Of course, there can be varying types of decisions. In what type of decision does the whole team need to have consensus? Or when can one or several be empowered to make decisions?

I pray these relatively straightforward steps lead toward effective leadership in your church!


[1]Shelley Trebesch, Made to Flourish: Beyond Quick Fixes to a Thriving Organization, InterVarsity Press, pg. 131.

[2]Ibid., pg. 132.




Shelley G. Trebesch

Shelley G. Trebesch (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) has served as vice president for capacity development for Prison Fellowship International, as well as assistant professor of leadership and organization development at Fuller Theological Seminary and in Singapore as global director for Membership Development for OMF International. An active consultant, trainer and seminar leader, Trebesch has facilitated complex change processes and developed leadership curricula for churches and organizations around the world.


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