Six Behaviors of Effective Ministry Team Leaders

This is a guest post by Ryan T. Hartwig who teaches small-group, organizational and leadership communication at Azusa Pacific University, where he serves as associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In addition, he frequently speaks to groups of pastors and ministry leaders regarding senior leadership teams, teamwork in ministry, and small-group ministry design and leadership.

What do great team leaders do? And what differentiates the leaders of the best teams from the rest?

In our recent study of nearly 1000 leadership team members at over 250 churches (fully reported in our just-released book Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership), we found that leaders of the highest-rated and the lowest-rated teams in our study differed significantly on the following six leadership behaviors. Here’s how the leaders of the best teams act:

  1. They are biblical. Leaders of top teams remain fiercely committed to the authority of God’s Word and allow it to guide every facet of their leadership efforts.
  2. They are transformational and motivational. Classically defined by James MacGregor Burns, transformational leadership “occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.” In other words, transformational leaders motivate followers to do more than they previously thought they could do. That results in personal and organizational transformation. These leaders effectively motivate their teams to dream and accomplish big dreams.
  3. They cast vision and see and focus on the big picture. Flying atop the trees, leaders of great teams keep their eyes on the horizon and focused on discerning the church’s vision and accomplishing its mission. They avoid getting too involved in the details, at least to the extent that they distract from the most important matters.
  4. They are not laissez faire or hands-off. While great leaders are focused on the big picture, they still remain involved in the team’s work. Even if they have delegated operational leadership to another staff person (often the executive pastor), team leaders remain involved and hands-on in the team’s work. Moreover, theydo real work themselves, the kind of work for which other team members can hold them accountable. Even if that is work is primarily teaching, we saw many lead pastors submit their teaching to members of the leadership team for review and critique. As another example, at one point circumstances necessitated that the senior pastor of a 5,000-attendance church step in to lead the small groups program for a time, even though that wasn’t a typical aspect of his job description.
  5. They are not autocratic. Leaders of top teams recognize the folly of “my way or the highway.” Instead, they value the wisdom of the group, welcome dialogue and engage the team in making key decisions, even when that is messier than going it alone.
  6. They prioritize relationships. Great leaders see team members less as tools to accomplish their purposes and more as persons made in the image of God. And they expend the effort needed to develop relationships with the members of their teams.

If you want to provide better leadership to your leadership or ministry team, we encourage you to focus on these six attributes of great team leaders.  You just might enable your team to thrive!

For more about what to focus upon as you lead your team, as well as a host of other tips to help your team thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.