Clergy teams as the way ahead

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.

Dysfunctional teams do not trust each other. Dysfunctional teams cannot tolerate unfiltered and passionate debate. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments. Dysfunctional teams rarely if ever get real commitment by members to decisions. Dysfunctional teams do not hold each other accountable for behaviors that are counterproductive. Dysfunctional teams put the needs of individual members ahead of the needs or goals of the team as a whole.

The above comes from an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It also describes — so far as I can tell — the clergy of the United Methodist Church when considered as a group. It probably describes the way many congregations function as well, but my interest right now is in clergy.

Looking at the clergy as group may seem like a mistaken perspective, but I want to suggest that we as a connection should look at the clergy in this way. The entire conference cannot be a team, but the clergy in any given geographic region certainly can be. They are a team of UM clergy deployed to a place to achieve the mission of the United Methodist Church.

This is not how we talk about it, of course. We think in silos. Clergy have their own careers and calls. Congregations barely know about the existence of other UM congregations in their county. Clergy in different orders or even in different age cohorts view each other with suspicion.

I’m not naive about how far we would need to go to actually function as a team of clergy in covenant with each other and the conference to accomplish a mission. But I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Wouldn’t it be energizing to be part of a functioning team in your county or city.

In a functioning team people trust each other enough to be honest about mistakes and weaknesses. They have passionate debate over ideas and plans without damaging relationships. They make decisions that all the team members buy in to. They care enough to call each other out when they do things that hurt the group. And they put the success of the team’s mission ahead of their own personal wants and needs.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing to be a part of?

7 thoughts on “Clergy teams as the way ahead

  1. John, I almost said this in response to your earlier post, but I think it is time we started looking at teams of clergy and laity as a way forward. It seems to me that forming Clergy only teams fosters the false dichotomy that exists between the lay and clergy members of the Priesthood of ALL believers and this has contributed greatly to the dysfunction of the modern Church. In my view, we are equal partners in ministry and we need to start working together as a covenant teams, especially in our cities and counties.

  2. A related phenomenon… and one that David’s suggestions of lay-clergy teams would help to address, as does the idea of “missional appointment making” in the Ministry Study: congregations themselves live in silos. United Methodist congregations in a given area typically do not see themselves as partners in ministry in that area, but rather as “turf-holders” in their sector of that area.

    In Indiana and a number of other conferences, the creation of “clusters” of congregations MAY be helping to break down some of those barriers– in time. If the cluster itself can function as a team– which is a real challenge that probably requires some significant interventions from the “outside” as it were to begin to bring about.

    A challenge we have in this regard is that the cluster has no legal or even ecclesial status in the UMC UNLESS the cluster is intentionally structured as a cooperative parish. The congregation does have legal and ecclesial status. So folks working at a cluster level could come up with some wonderful ideas to work on, but the congregations themselves retain full veto power– and can exercise it simply by non-participation without ever having to take a formal vote. This means, in effect, that the cluster may be valued only insofar as it helps congregations fulfill their individual, siloed aims.

    It’s not an insurmountable challenge. But if we’re to expect even clergy teams to function as teams, it is a challenge we’ll have to address, and address seriously.

    What is needed is a radical shift of attitude– from “we’re here for us” to ‘we’re here for the ministry of Christ among the people of this region.” Making that shift will not be easy. It will require strong leadership and support, and initially much of it from the top (bishop, DS, and pastors with the conference, district and local lay leader structures). This really would have to be a unified front of leadership– top to bottom as it were– all on message. I don’t think anything less can divert the siloed, congregation-first inertia already in place.


    1. The points you raise here are part of the reason why we need a deliberate and focused effort to increase the esprit de corps of the clergy. Including the laity leadership is fine, but the need for a unified front to make real change suggests to me that a fractured and divisive clergy will never bring real change.

      Smart people may have decided that is impossible and so are saying we should do all we can to make our congregational silos as strong as we can. That movement, however, an only increase the negative trends among the clergy.

    2. My experience thus far in Indiana’s cluster program is exactly that – some congregations have bought into the cluster model and others participate only insofar as they must, primarily with cluster-based charge conferences, in effect vetoing as Taylor has said by simply doing nothing. No formal decision to participate or not participate was ever made.

  3. A resounding YES!! I see, here in west Texas, cooperative groups from many churches working together on ministry and mission. Usually they are laity-led. Perhaps because our non-church jobs encourage cooperative behavior and require us to interact positively with those in other departments and locations we understand how it’s done and and the bean-counting aspect doesn’t get in our way.

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