by Rory Christensen
Why do we have elder teams anyway? One of my favorite arguments comes from the 1930s. It’s found in the story of one of the greatest newsmakers of that decade. No, I’m not talking about FDR, Lou Gehrig, Clark Gable, Hitler, or Mussolini. Go to 1938, and believe it or not, the most newspaper column inches were devoted to “an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit” (Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit, xvii). The reason for it was obvious. The “Biscuit” was a racing phenom. He broke track and attendance records. He became an unlikely hero for a nation that badly needed one. Seabiscuit was remarkable.
More remarkable than Seabiscuit’s success, though, was his rise to that lofty perch. Early on, Seabiscuit was anything but a sure bet. His team, more so. Seabiscuit was a tired, rundown, too-small racehorse. His jockey, Red Pollard, was unsuccessful and oversized. His trainer, Tom Smith, was an inexperienced, eccentric loner. And his owner, Charles Howard, while professionally successful, had significant personal struggles. Individually, these characters were tired, broken, and worn out (Tom Jones, Creating a Church Planting Team. 122-123). Together, though, they became a team that mesmerized America.
Maybe there’s something there for us. I like how Jones puts it, “Teams have a way of doing that kind of thing. Whether it’s horse racing teams, baseball teams, business teams, or [elder teams], we are far better together than we are apart. (Jones, 123)
I couldn’t agree more, for at least two, connected reasons. First, we’re better together because teams push us to rise from “me” to “we” … and it makes a difference. Ecclesiastes reminds us that “two are better than one,” that “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:9, 12). There’s truth in that. Elder teams provide a natural conduit for the knowledge, ability and experience necessary for making key, church-shaping decisions; this is Providential provision that we would be impoverished without. They are the natural avenue for the physical, emotional and spiritual support we all need to stay the course in ministry leadership for the long term. Note the way that teams form a natural environment for biblical “one-anothering,” for creating an atmosphere of prayer (Jas. 5:16), teaching (Col. 3:16), accepting (Rom. 15:7), carrying burdens (Gal. 6:2), confessing sin (Jas. 5:16), and loving each other (Jn. 13:35). Teams push us to rise from “me” to “we,” and we’re better for it.
A second reason we’re better together is because teams unlock the “we-together factor.” Teams provide an opportunity for us to punch above our weight class ministry-wise. A functioning team provides opportunity for overlapping strengths, and the potential for weaknesses to be counterbalanced. In Building Teams in Ministry, Dale Galloway wrote:
When mutual ministry is emphasized and a system of shared ministry is developed, an amazing multiplication takes many forms—all of them significant. More persons are won to Christ. More believers are nurtured in the faith. More service satisfaction is experienced by more believers. Healthy churches result. As we know, a kind of synergism of strength happens when a team of horses pull together: one can pull a full load, but two working together can pull the weight of five or six loads.” (p. 12)
We’re better together because of this “we-together factor.”
Why elder teams? I’m sure you can come up with other reasons. As you do, give thanks to God for your own team. Emphasize the “we” in your leadership. Live the “we-together factor.” Trust that we’re better together. Because elder teams make a real difference.