Something clicked for me at the session meeting last night: much of the ministry at our church is being carried out by highly-committed teams that have only emerged in the last year or so. The commission/committee apparatus is not carrying all of the missional water at our church anymore. A few examples.
- Four members of our church have attended a week-long training called Clean Water U to learn how to install a water purification system in communities without clean water. This is part of a presbytery mission initiative in Ayacucho, Peru, and by the end of November, all four of those folks will have been to Peru at least once. Neither of the pastors have been yet.
- A stable of almost 10 Godly Play teachers has been leading the Sunday morning children’s program since January. Not only do these teachers lead independently each week, they can often be seen in the Godly Play room during the week practicing for their lessons, and they come to quarterly “confabs,” where they practice upcoming stories and troubleshoot classroom management issues.
- A steady group of youth ministry volunteers come each week to help run Sunday School and youth group programming. They also meet regularly to discern the shape of the church’s youth ministry, to plan, and to pray. Five adults went on last summer’s work trip, a sweltering week in south Louisiana.
Each of these teams is supported or overseen in some way by an existing commission. But none of these ministries would be doing the good work they’re doing if the existing business structures of the church were asked to create them. Instead, staff and commission leaders have tried to lay the groundwork and create the conditions where teams of volunteers can emerge to do very specific things in ministry.
The word “do” there is important. These folks are given serious responsibility to lead and make things happen. The word “specific” is also critical. Godly Play teachers may be a bit wary, for example, at the amount of work involved in that role, but it’s clearly communicated, and they’re confident “others tasks as assigned” won’t just pop up.
This observation is reminding me of a distinction between committees, teams, and communities highlighted in an article by George Bullard (and related by Joseph Myers in his book The Search to Belong—reviewed by Pomomusings way back in 2003!). Some quotes from that article:
Committees tend to be elected or appointed in keeping with the bylaws, policies, or polity of congregations. Teams are recruited or drafted to work on a specific task or set of tasks. Communities are voluntarily connected in search of genuine and meaningful experiences.
Committees focus on making decisions or setting policies. Teams focus on maturing to the point that they become high task performance groups. Communities add qualitative relationships, meaning, and experiences to the organizations, organisms, or movements to which they are connected
Committees focus on making decisions that are lasting and manage the resources of the congregation efficiently at the best price. Teams focus on debating the strengths and weaknesses of the various choices to complete a task, and typically end up with the highest quality product or outcome. Communities dialogue, engage in discernment activities, and arrive at the best solutions for a particular opportunity or challenge.
Our church has grown a nice little crop of teams. I don’t agree with the title of Bullard’s article, that we need to “skip teams” so that we can “embrace communities” (nor do I think we can “abandon committees” without doing serious damage). I would suspect that in a healthy church organization, all three of those structures are employed to their best ends: committees make decisions and give ongoing oversight, teams effectively carry out important work, and communities connect people to the bigger picture. No one of those instruments is better than the others, per se, only better-suited for the particular thing it’s being employed to do.
I love seeing the teams emerging at our church. Some of them function in some very community-like ways, and all of them benefit from competent committee structures behind them. That seems healthy to me.