My friend and colleague, Mick Boersma, and I have been working together on a book, Supervising and Supporting Ministry Staff: A Guide to Thriving Together (forthcoming, Rowman & Littlefield). The book is based on research with associate staff members, and exemplary ministry supervisors, about what supervisors can do to help their ministry staff thrive in their ministry roles. It employs a “bifocal lens” model, looking simultaneously at issues of supervision (seeing that the ministry is done well) and support (encouraging the wellbeing of those doing the ministry). Along with the research results, which we share throughout the book, we also put together five biblical foundations for ministry together that I want to share in this blog. I encourage you to read these and reflect on the degree to which they guide your ministry with other staff members, and what other biblical foundations are important to you as you approach your ministry on a staff team.
First, we are “undershepherds” together under the Great Shepherd. Leadership in the church is meant to be exercised by a plurality of leaders, or elders. This fits well with the idea of multiple-staff ministry. This leadership, in whatever areas a staff member serves, is to be exercised as “shepherding,” caring for the needs of the flock, not seeking our own gain. 1 Peter 5:1-4 states:
I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder . . . shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Our ministry together is for the sake of God’s flock, God’s people, and we do so to please God, not ourselves. God is the true “Shepherd” of the church, not us, and we need to continually see ourselves as “undershepherds,” serving under God’s supervision. Ministry supervisors understand this, model it, and encourage their associate staff members toward a similar vision.
Second, we serve out of God’s grace and faithfulness to us. None of us is clever enough, smart enough, wise enough, gifted enough, skilled enough, or good enough on our own to have earned the right to lead God’s people or to supervise others in ministry roles. We all first receive God’s grace and calling to serve, and then we continually draw on God’s grace and faithfulness to make us adequate for what God calls us to do in ministry. In 1 Timothy 1, Paul, one of the most highly recognized leaders of the early church, shares how he had received mercy and grace from God that led to his growth in faith and love for God. In verses 15 and 16 he then says:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
This important reminder moves us to humility in our work together, recognizing that each of us may sin and fail at times, but by God’s grace we can be restored to God’s use, and we can serve together because we have all received, and continue to receive, God’s mercy and grace. Ministry leaders model this themselves, and it shows in how they treat their ministry associates who, like themselves, are less than perfect.
Third, we are family first, not just leaders of an organization. One of the most prevalent images in Scripture for the church is “family.” Family relational images permeate the New Testament, calling us God’s household, bride, and adopted children. In our relationships with one another in the church we are called brothers and sisters. We are not just some volunteer organization that attracts like-minded people. As God’s adopted children, we are remade into God’s family, and expected to live accordingly. In 1 John 3:16-18 we read:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word and talk but in deed and in truth.
There is no excuse for treating other congregation members better than we do one another on church staff. In fact, the many “one anothers” in Scripture (e.g., love, accept, forgive, pray for, admonish, encourage, bear with, build up) apply to our work relationships as much as they do to those with members of the church. A radical love for one another, even if there are hard things to be faced and worked through, must characterize our relationships together on staff. Ministry supervisors relentlessly pursue and reinforce these kinds of relationships with and among their associate staff members.
Fourth, we serve together with diverse gifts, but are united with a common identity and calling. Another prominent image for the church in Scripture is the “body” imagery with its emphasis on diverse spiritual gifts and areas of service, but unity under the headship of Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 reminds us:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
This image emphasizes our unity and mutual dependence, and the value of what each of us contributes as we exercise the differing gifts and callings God has given us to serve the church. We are called to cooperate with each other as we serve, valuing what each other are able to contribute to the body. There is no room for ministry silos or “kingdoms” that function in competition with other ministry areas of the church. We are one body, and we need one ministry team serving together, supporting and valuing one another. Ministry supervisors strive to ensure this is lived out in their ministry team of staff members.
Fifth, we are called to be means of grace to one another. In 1 Peter 4:10-12, in light of Christ’s coming return, Peter exhorts us with these words:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified in Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
We are meant to be means of grace to one another, and to receive God’s grace through one another. We must learn to see each other as channels of God’s grace to us, and to the church. When we serve one another in our ministry leadership roles, with the different gifts God has given us, we receive God’s grace through each other, and God is the one who is glorified. We don’t pursue ministry leadership roles so that we will be well thought of or affirmed, but that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. Ministry supervisors are open to the grace of God coming through those they supervise, and encourage all staff to use their gifts to glorify God through their ministries.
How well are these foundational principles being lived out in your ministry team? Are there other biblical foundations that are important to you? If possible, take some time to read and discuss these together and determine if there are any areas where your ministry team needs to make some adjustments in order to live out these biblical principles more faithfully.