I’ve had the privilege of being a part of a few wonderful student ministry teams. Teams where we enjoyed, cared for, and supported each other, both in and out of the ministry. We were on the same page with where we were headed and how we were going to get there. This togetherness made us more effective in serving students and enabled us to stick with it when things got difficult. In short, these teams had both relational and missional unity!
As ministry leaders, we want to cultivate teams likes this; teams that are unified in both relationships and in accomplishing the mission God has given us. Here are a few ideas on how we can build these kind of teams:
Because it’s already built into our spiritual DNA, believe unity is possible. Unity is a spiritual reality established through the work of Christ. When talking about unifying Jews and Gentiles in the church, Paul says, “For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace….” (Eph. 2:14-15). If Jesus makes it possible for these two groups to be unified, he’s doing it for our teams too! Jesus has laid the spiritual foundation for unity in your ministry team. Now this does not mean we just sit back and watch it happen. We need to be intentional in our efforts to make unity a practical reality. In the same letter Paul tells the Ephesians to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). That’s where the next few steps come in.
Pray for unity. Jesus must have known the difficulty we would have in staying unified because he prayed for us, the future church, “…that all of them may be one….” (John 17:20-21). We need to pray for unity in our teams as well. Try this: For the next thirty days, ask God to bring unity to your team. Then watch what He does!
Create relational moments for your team. Building unity takes time together; time to get to know each other and to build trusting relationships. By serving together week in and week out, we often build relational unity. You can accelerate this process by creating opportunities to build spiritual friendships. Try dedicating 25% of each team meeting for relationship building through sharing and praying for personal needs, having snacks and social time, or playing some crazy group game (Yes, without the kids!). You could also have a team social event. One youth pastor I served with early in my youth ministry career hosted a Murder Mystery Night (a live version of the game Clue) where we all came dressed as assigned characters and followed the clues to figure out who the killer was. What fun we had! And as we laughed together, we also built relational unity. Team retreats also provide opportunities to build unity. Yes, busyness and budget limitations can make this difficult; but if you can pull it off, it is worth it!
Develop goals & plans together. Unity is about more than good relationships. It is built on a sense of shared mission and decision-making. When we are pursuing the same goals, goals that matter – reaching and discipling students – we can look past less important things that have the potential to divide us. As a leader, there is a temptation to take the “Moses on the Mountain” approach to leadership where God gives me, the leader, the vision and plan for the ministry. Then I deliver it to the team. The truth is, when people have a voice in the direction and decisions of the ministry, they have more ownership, commitment, and unity. The effective leader becomes a skillful facilitator, allowing God to work in the visioning and planning process, unifying the team around a shared mission and plan.
Size the team for unity. It is difficult to be unified when a group is too big. As a team member, I can know and feel relationally connected to only so many people. What’s the magic number? It may depend on the make-up of your church and community, but generally try to keep ministry teams to under 15-20 people. If the team grows larger, break the team into sub-teams where community and unity can be formed. So, you might go from one overall student ministry team to two teams, one for middle school and one for high school. Or you can divide the high school team into teams based around schools or ministry responsibilities. You will still work towards the unity of the overall ministry team; but relationally, unity efforts will be focused on the smaller groups of people who work more closely together week in and week out.
May God bless you and give you wisdom as you lead your teams towards unity in relationships and mission. Remember, this is His desire for His people. So, you’re pursuing an important goal!