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April 4, 2013

The value of working in teams

As a freshman engineering student, my oldest son was assigned to build a robot.

A four-person team was responsible to design the robot, develop a budget, buy the parts, build the machine and race it against robots built by other teams of freshman. Each student had to complete a self-assessment of her or his contribution to the project and evaluate the work of each team member. All the feedback was incorporated into the final grade.

My son is now a Ph.D. engineering student. He understands engineering to be a team sport. Most of his papers have co-authors. His lab partners investigate starting a company together. He is always looking for collaborators.

In contrast, many clergy are equipped for ministry to be a solo sport. Our sermons, just like our school papers, are written in isolation. We minister “to” a congregation and don’t have many models for ministry “with” a congregation. Yet most of the ministers I know have high levels of social intelligence that our educational system does very little to build upon.

Based on our core convictions, it seems Christianity should have more reasons to train its leaders in community.

Many ministers respond to Faith & Leadership’s vision that the end (purpose) of Christian leadership is the cultivation of thriving communities that are signs, foretastes and instruments of the reign of God. It seems logical that one of the best ways to learn how to lead community is to be a part of a community. Yet the individualization that characterized late 20th-century higher education has set the standards for what it means to train clergy.

Many are worried about how Christian congregations and institutions will deal with the rapid pace of change in our society.

Bill Drayton, founder of the social entreprenership funder Ashoka, recently argued that in the face of an exponentially accelerated pace of change, the future of innovation lies not with solitary brilliant leaders or with rigid hierarchies , but with a fluid constellations of teams.

Teams empower and support the work of individuals. Teams, when equipped to collaborate effectively, bring more eyes and far greater capacity for self-correction to the complex problems facing organizations.

Perhaps recovering understandings of Christian community and practicing leadership out of those understandings can position the church to be increasing responsive to the 21st century.

As New Testament scholar Kavin Rowe describes in his study of the patterns of life in thriving communities as seen in the book of Acts, Christians have been learning about such practices as networking, processing disagreement and incorporating the weak since our beginnings. These are some of the very things that are of deep concern to young people today.

We can also learn from engineers that working on focused project with a concrete objective and a robust evaluation system can do more than just accomplish a task. As a freshman, my son wondered if his school was teaching him engineering or how to lead engineers. Maybe the processes are the same.

What would it look like to prepare and encourage clergy to practice ministry as a team sport?

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