Thursday, June 7, 2007

1.1 on "team is the vision"

My good friend Rick left a comment on my last post, requesting more details about my six convictions. Thanks, Rick, for showing an interest. I’m happy to have the chance to fill in the blanks a bit more, since I think this will be a good exercise for me to articulate more fully what’s behind each statement. And, who knows, perhaps some of my comments and observations will help someone else…

The first conviction that drives my life right now—and hopefully always—is the statement “Team is the vision.”

At first glance, this statement seems either:

a) unremarkable
b) awkwardly phrased

but there are reasons for putting it that way. I’d like to explain now why I put it that way.

Initially, what comes to mind in unpacking this little phrase is a story.

In 2000, we were living in Barcelona. At that time my mentor Brian Newman served as the Europe Director for our mission, Christian Associates. Brian approached me sometime during that year, asking if I would pray about becoming a team leader for a new church planting project somewhere else in Europe. After Heather and I prayed about it and talked with some other people about it, we decided to take on the task.

Immediately, I had tons of ideas flooding through my head and heart about how I would like this new church to be different from the church in Barcelona of which we were then a part. To be more precise: at that time I was thinking of our future project in terms of “vision”.

In specific reference to leadership in ministry, George Barna defines vision as: “A clear and challenging picture of the future of a ministry as its leaders believe it can be and must be.” (from The Power of Vision) In that sense, I felt God was giving me a concrete sense of “vision”.

There was just one problem with this: the "vision" I had was terribly ego-centric. In my mind (I’m embarrassed to say this) I had dreams of becoming somebody—what’s the word?—somebody…uh…pick a term:

dare I say there was an element in all this that tells me what I really desired was to be worshipped in my own way.

See, all the great, creative ideas I had were, in the end, about me. Again, I’m embarrassed to say that, at the time, I thought that:

I was a good preacher
I was accepted by the “young, cool people”
I could write, perform and direct drama with excellence
I could organize well
I could even sing and lead worship equally well as most people.
In short, I could “do it all” and “do it all well”.

Basically, I was full of myself. And, if planting a new church involved a team, my thoughts on team leadership had more to do with the idea that anyone who served on “my” team would provide the “extra help” needed to “get more stuff done.” There was no real awareness in me that, actually, I needed these people in the same way that the shore needs the waves to shape, mold and tame it. I didn’t even have an awareness that…well, actually:

I wasn’t that great a preacher,
my acting, writing and directing were mediocre at best,
I wasn’t terribly organized
I often went flat.

But, never mind all that: I was going to change the world, by golly! Look out world, here I come!


Just get out of my way, and let me go for it.

I thank God for my mentor. I learned a lot through him. For starters, he ripped my preaching to shreds. And that was just what I needed.

Somewhere in all that (I don’t remember exactly when, but I’m thankful to God that he showed me this) it dawned on me that my main job was to support and empower the team. My job was to do what I could to simply give them what they needed (whether time or resources or prayer or a listening ear or whatever) and then let them loose.

Now that I think of it, I think this hit me when I read the book “Leadership is an Art” by Max DePree. He has a chapter called “Participative Premises” that describes specifically the importance of empowering people by serving them and creating space where team members can actually participate in the imaginative and generative processes of any given project/task. In one chapter of that book (was it that chapter? I don’t remember) he describes what it takes to create this kind of space for folks and he basically boiled down his job as a “boss” to “providing his team what they need to do their job well.”

It’s not rocket science. What he’s talking about here is servant leadership. We lead by serving others. I realized I needed to put aside my self-serving attitude to team leadership and adopt a more Christ-like posture/attitude if I was going to get anything at all accomplished. So, during my internship in Holland (probably it was in the autumn of 2001) I adopted as my motto: “Team is everything.”

This was my way of reminding myself: “If you do only one thing, Troy, do this: empower your team. Give them what they need and then get the heck out of their way and let them go for it.”

Now, this sounds good and, to be sure, it was a step in the right direction, but there were a couple of problems that still needed to be dealt with:

1. My motto, though good in itself, served to hide at times a utilitarian purpose in my soul. See, whether I realized it or not, from time to time I held this conviction primarily to serve a practical function. That is to say, at times I held on to this maxim as a means to “get stuff done”. Put another way, I could sometimes put the “task” before the “relationship”.

This way of doing team and church planting, however, if left to itself and allowed to run its course to the extreme end, can produce some devastating consequences. In short, it leads one to think that if the vision is getting accomplished but the team is suffering, what does that matter? After all, team is a means to an end. And if I need to empower the team “X amount” to get the job done, then so be it. But, if I can get away with empowering the team “X minus ten” and still get the job done, then…why not? Utilitarian mottoes produce life-sucking conditions.

2. The second problem with my motto is this: I’m human, for Pete’s sake. There are going to come times when I don’t get it right. There are going to come times when, instead of living out of the idea that “team is everything”, I live out of the idea that “I am everything.”

Now, lest you think I’m being too hard on myself, you should know that I do think that, as a general rule, I have lived and do live out of the good side of that motto, but, of course, from time to time I have blown it and that hurts people.

So, somewhere along the line, during the past, say, four years, I’ve gradually seen other dynamics to the whole team-vision relationship. You’ll notice I’ve sort of “dumped” the motto “team is everything” and replaced it with the idea that “team is the vision.” Here’s an explanation of why I made that shift…

First, I have been reminded that, since before time began, there was team. That’s right: God, the source of all reality is, within Himself (by His very nature) team, or (to be more precise) family.

The Bible says that “God is love.” St. Augustine points out that this simple statement helps us understand the nature of the Trinity. See, love requires an object. We could think, then, of God the Father as “the Lover” and of God the Son as “the Beloved” and the Holy Spirit as the love that proceeds from the Father to the Son and back again, in an eternal expression of self-emptiness and intimate community. (This, of course, not only explains the nature of love but also of other virtues such as humility, grace, and joy. Further, it explains things like service and even the concept of “play”, since play is restful activity—God resting within Himself, at peace, yet still moving.)

At any rate, I have realized that I should value team not because it helps me “get stuff done” (as merely fulfilling a utilitarian purpose) but because it makes us more like God.

This, by the way, is why marriage is a sacrament. It is an arena in which we have the chance to empty ourselves for the sake of another in, yes, sacrifice, which is a necessary component real love. Marriage, then, is team. It is mutual submission.

This is why Paul says in Ephesians, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

We revere and remember Christ and his ways when we empty ourselves for the sake of another. This makes sense because…

2. I’m still mulling this over, but sometime in the past six or seven months I’ve come to the conclusion that “one of Jesus’ main purposes in ministry was to create family where it didn’t exist.” Now I’m beginning to wonder if it wasn’t His ONLY purpose. I mean, think about it:

A. Jesus’ final prayer, on the eve of his crucifixion, was that we would be one. He goes on to say that he wants us to be one in the same way that the Son and the Father are one. That’s pretty vivid language, relating the concept of unity to the only thing that’s eternal and final.

B. Jesus’ earthly ministry backs up this notion. Question: why on earth would Jesus ask Simon the Zealot to follow him, while at the same time asking Matthew the tax collector to follow him? Because he knew that, under any other circumstance, Matthew would be trying to exact a little extra money from Simon, while Simon would be trying to figure out how to kill Matthew. Jesus knew what he was doing. He wanted to show that, through faith in him, enemies could become friends.

This is why the Bible tells us that the ministry of Christ is the “ministry of reconciliation.”

Often, Christians think of this ministry as one among many ministries that we have. But Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5 that the “ministry of reconciliation” is not one among many ministries God has given to us—it’s the MAIN ministry God has given to us. Why would this be? Because, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

Think about it this way:

3. Before creation, there was only family, there was only perfect, loving community. So, when God created the world, his intention was to bring into existence more of that which characterizes him and expresses his unified perfection (that is, he wanted to create more perfect, loving community). God is harmony; he cannot cause disharmony. So, at the beginning of time, God created things to live in harmony with Him and to live in harmony with each other. In the beginning, man and woman related harmoniously with God; similarly, man related to woman harmoniously; and people related to the earth—and even animals—harmoniously.

Then, sin came. Basically, since the Fall, creation has been splintered, divided because of sin. Where once we were friends with God, we have become enemies through our own deliberate choice. Where once we were friends with each other, we have become enemies. We have even become enemies with the earth and we are reaping the consequences of our abuse of the entire created order in our day.

But, God is good and he will not give up on us or his creation. Ever since the Fall, God has been gathering up all things back into himself by forgiving, extending grace, and calling us to follow him once again. The ruptures and splinters can be mended. The wound can be healed. We can be "liberated from our bondage to decay" (Rom. 8).

The apostle Paul talks about this in Ephesians when he says that the Father “purposed in Christ…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” See, God is the Great Gatherer.

Again, in Colossians: God, through Christ, intends to “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Paul goes on to say that: “Once you were alienated [note the word!] from God and were enemies [note again!] in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you [yes!] by Christ’s physical body…” In other words: sin splinters; Christ reconciles.


And we treat this as “just another side thing”.

See, this is the Enemy’s tactic. He figures he can get us distracted on “this, that and the other thing” still. He figures he can even use “vision” to divide us. Because, what happens when one person has one idea about “what should be done” and another person has another idea? They separate. They divide. They fight. (Please note: This hypocrisy eats away at what could be genuine ministry, changing it into a farce!)

But, this runs counter to the very essence of the Gospel. This should not be. And we do this in the name of God. We split and split and split again “in the name of Jesus.” Of course, when we split, we are not really doing it “in the name of Jesus”, because to do anything truly “in his name” is to do it “in the Spirit of Jesus”, as an accurate representation of the intention of Christ to reconcile the splinters. This is what it means to be “an ambassador” for Christ: to make peace.

You see? When we think of “vision” and we think of “team” (or, we could also say, “family”) as two separate things, we’re thinking about it all wrong.

In other words, family IS God’s vision. It’s what he wanted to do in the first place. It’s why He sent His Son. In fact, it’s the MAIN thing He wanted to do, not just one among a whole list of other good things.

Unity, peace (not just an interior “feeling” of peace, but an actual peace accord) is what God’s after.

So, when we divide over “strategy” or “church structure” or any other number of incidental matters (and believe me, the issues are without limit), it makes God sad.

That’s why now, people will hear me say things like:

“Managing conflict is actually my main job. The other stuff—preaching, teaching, leading Bible studies, mentoring—that’s what I get to do. On the side, so to speak.”

That sounds like an outlandish way of putting it, but I really think it’s true, because “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation”.

So, to go back to Barna’s definition of vision, I would say this:

“The creation and protection and propagation of family is the clear and, yes, very challenging picture of the future of my ministry. Yes, because of Christ, this vision can be. And, yes, because of Christ, this ministry must be. In short, team is the vision, family is the vision.”

Believe it or not: all of that is behind that simple sentence of four words. That’s why it’s my top conviction.

Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll write a little more on this topic. Stay tuned, because, believe it or not, there’s more to think about.

To read the next part, click here.

To read a similar, but slightly different piece on today's considerations, click here.

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