Key #2 – KNOW YOUR GOAL
If you are the leader of a ministry in the church, you may feel that you already have a pretty good handle on what your goals for that ministry should be. You want your praise team to consistently lead the congregation into the presence of God. Or you want your greeter ministry to share the welcoming love of Christ with everyone who comes through the door. Goals like these are very appropriate, and when they are effectively accomplished, the whole ministry of the church is enhanced.
But such goals, important as they are, must not be your primary focus as a ministry leader – not if you want to minimize the confusion, strife and upheaval that inevitably result when someone on the team gets their feelings hurt. If your ministry is to achieve its primary purposes, which, as we have seen, are to honor God and to help team members become maturing disciples of Christ, there is another goal to which you must be committed as your first priority:
Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The apostle Paul says that if we are to walk worthy of our calling, we must be committed to keeping “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The Greek term he uses to describe that commitment, translated in verse 3 as “endeavoring,” is a very strong word. It is spoudazó, and it means to be diligent, fervent, to hasten, to exert oneself, to fully apply oneself. In other words, put everything you have into it!
My #1 goal as a leader is to maintain the unity of the Spirit in my ministry.
Sometimes leaders feel that in order to accomplish the task entrusted to their ministry, they have to do what they have to do and let the chips fall where they may, because, to complete the triplet of clichés, you can’t make an omelet with breaking some eggs. But Paul is clear. If we accomplish the mission but at the cost of allowing disunity and strife to develop, we have failed to live up to our calling.
But how is that possible? I’m sure you’ve noticed that people, even saved people, can be downright ornery! How can any leader avoid all strife while pulling together a group consisting of individuals with disparate personalities, strong opinions, and a disdain for authority bred into them by the rebellious age into which they were born? Of course, no leader can guarantee that. Even Jesus had disunity on His team, instigated by a fellow named Judas. That’s why I’m grateful that the command is not that we must maintain unity, but that we must endeavor to do so.
Actually, Scripture gives us some explicit direction on how to go about endeavoring to maintain unity. To get a more complete picture, let’s add to the Ephesians passage above two more passages from Paul’s teaching:
2 Timothy 2:23-26 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
Now, let’s pull some points of guidance out of these passages.
1. I must have a “NO STRIFE!” policy for my life and ministry – Paul says “a servant of the Lord must not quarrel,” and, “as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” So my personal commitment is to do everything I can to stay out of strife in my life, and keep it out of my ministry. I must have a zero-tolerance policy toward strife.
2. “NO STRIFE!” should be the stated policy of the team – team members should know up front, before they accept the invitation to join the team, that strife simply will not be tolerated. If someone becomes so perturbed about team practices or the leader’s decisions that they continually cause disruptions, they cannot remain on the team (Proverbs 22:10). This is not, however, an excuse for a “my way or the highway” type of attitude. Christian leaders are called to walk in humility.
3. I will endeavor to exemplify and model the attitudes that maintain unity– We are all called to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” And as a leader, it is my calling to demonstrate an even greater degree of humility, gentleness, patience and love than others may show. When leaders make it clear that they are not attempting to “lord it over” the workers (1 Peter 5:3), the chances for hurt feelings are greatly diminished.
4. I will do my very best to stay away from unnecessary (foolish and ignorant) disputes– many times, it’s OK for Christians to agree to disagree! Every difference of opinion doesn’t have to be settled (see Romans 14, especially vs 5). Leaders need to be prayerfully discerning about which battles need to be fought, and which issues can be overlooked (Proverbs 19:11).
5. I will guide my team with gentleness, humility, patience and respect– everyone in my ministry, under all circumstances, should sense these qualities in me as their leader. If there are misunderstandings or even disagreements, I will gently teach, depending on God to change minds and hearts. Even if it becomes necessary to remove a person with a disruptive attitude from the team (after all efforts to help them change have not borne fruit), I will do so with gentleness, humility, and respect.
All these are steps that are wrapped up in that term “endeavoring.” I must work hard at them, with great diligence and commitment. But there is another step that is more important than all these.
Psalms 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
On my own, my very best efforts will utterly fail. Only God can maintain peace in the midst of the devil’s earnest efforts to stir up confusion and strife in the church and in my ministry. I need to pray! The prophet Samuel accounted it sinful for a leader not to pray for those under his leadership (1 Samuel 12:23). Jeremiah counseled those exiled in Babylon on how to have peace even in that very difficult circumstance: “seek the peace of the city … and pray to the LORD for it” (Jeremiah 29:7). So, from start to finish, I as a leader need to be praying for the peace of my church and of my ministry, and leading my team to do the same. For indeed, if the Lord builds the ministry, we will not labor in vain who build it!