0206151730 I’ll never forget the day before I left for Bible College.  My dad, a lead pastor for 24 years at the time, put his hands on my small eighteen year old shoulders, looked into my eyes and said, “Kid, if you are going to survive in ministry, you need to remember- people are CARNAL. They are broken and sinful.  ALL people.  People in the church and outside the church.  Jesus and His apostles loved those people enough to confront, forgive and lead them anyway, and so must you.”  I guess that’s not your usual pre-college pep talk, but I am so grateful for his words, because they have proved true time and again in ministry. I have seen some dysfunctional ministry teams in my “career” and if you’ve been in ministry more than a week, so have you. During the years I have seen a LOT of ministry team BAD behavior- and I’ve seen good solutions and BAD solutions. If you are in a broken system, you probably already know it. By definition a “dysfunctional team” is a team that is NOT functioning properly- it is not reaching it’s goals. A word of caution: if your team is left to itself, allowed to be dysfunctional for too long, the end result is an abusive, acidic situation that will repel quality, high capacity leaders. Great leaders will not stay for long. Kind hearted team members will get run over, chewed up and spit out. This should not be happening in our churches- and yet it so often does. So what are the main indicators that your team is operating in a dysfunctional manner? Here are a few major red flags:

1. Too much turnover- Some staff and key volunteer turnover is normal and to be expected. But when that becomes too much, there is a problem.  I can understand one or two “bad eggs”- or wrong person in the position.  But when too many people are leaving, this is clearly a systemic problem that should be addressed. Steps must be taken to correct the underlying issues that are causing people to leave.

2. Too many excuses- When a problem is clearly identified, what is your team’s FIRST response? Is it problem solving or excuses? Excuses do not fix the problem. And your ministry team is supposed to be working together to solve problems-  not to come up with better excuses. Anyone can give excuses. A dysfunctional team goes on ignoring, placating, and even rewarding all the excuses instead of confronting complacency and rewarding those who get their work DONE.

3. Constant blame- Again, the focus must be on solving problems and achieving our goals TOGETHER. A dysfunctional team’s main focus is “who’s fault is this?”.  The team spends whole meetings on finger pointing and trying to place blame. Finding fault still doesn’t solve the problem or get the job done. In fact, constant blame makes your team reluctant to take on any new responsibility, or challenges, or risks.  And you MUST risk in order to grow. Now the atmosphere is fear, hiding, and putting on fronts. The focus MUST shift from “Who are we gonna blame for this?” to “How will we solve this together?”

4. Leadership will not take responsibility- It is always “someone else’s fault”. The leadership will not take ownership and responsibility for the decisions they make. As a result, the team will not have trust or confidence.  A team will only put up with blame, excuses and weak leadership for so long…then they will either shut down or leave. If you are the leader, then lead. Make the decision, then stand by it.  If you make a mistake, then admit it.  This will actually cause your team to respect you more, and will foster a team that accepts a new challenge and risk- and owns up to the responsibilities of it.

5. No accountability- The team cannot ask questions about where they are headed and how money is spent and why decisions are being made.  Usually a dysfunctional ministry team says, “If you ask about my motives or my decisions, then you don’t trust me. Just trust me and let me do whatever I want to. Christians let Christians do whatever they want.  That’s grace.” Actually, accountability is BIBLICAL. Do not trust any leader who refuses to be accountable, open and transparent. Accountability protects YOU and your ministry. Nothing destroys a church/ministry like a money or sex scandal. Protect each other!

6. A toxic environment is ALLOWED. This is a ministry team that allows, and refuses to confront, very bad behavior in its members.  Gossip, pouting, shouting, threats, silent treatment, sharing confidential information, lying, hurtful talk- all of these are NOT Christlike and should NEVER EVER be allowed on a ministry team. And yet they so often are. If you go home in tears more than once a year, or you are losing sleep often- you are probably on a dysfunctional ministry team. If you are the leader of a ministry team like this, it is your JOB to confront this bad behavior head on. You set the tone that your ministry team will be a safe place, to encourage each other, pray for one another, share ideas and solve problems. Not a shooting range to humiliate anyone. If you do not put a stop to toxic activity in your group, you will lose great leaders who no longer feel safe. “Grace” does not mean you allow a wolf to shred your sheep to pieces in the foyer. And what if you are not the leader of the group? That does not mean you are powerless! This is the time to use your passion for that ministry and lead UP! Write out your thoughts in a concise manner, and book a meeting with that leader. Have an uninterrupted frank discussion with that leader. Tell them exactly what you want to see change, and ask for action. Too many leaders say, “Well I had to leave because the leadership wouldn’t do anything about the dysfunction.” But they never actually met with the leadership about the issues; and that really isn’t fair. Don’t assume, if you haven’t tried.

7. Only a fraction of the team is engaged. Sometimes only a “cool table” club of the team is engaged in idea sharing and decision making. The rest of the team is not included, or used to their full potential. Your whole team should be engaged and contributing. Are you developing each other, growing as a team? Or are you letting one or two louder ones dominate every meeting? Your quieter ones probably have amazing ideas too; and if they stay quiet they may feel useless, frustrated and it will begin to show in their ministries. Intentionally engage each member of your team; do not allow it to become an “us” and “them”.

8. You do not pray together. The focus becomes blame, excuses and cool clubs- not doing ministry together.  The best way to start correcting that is to start MAKING time to pray together, learn together, grow together, do service projects together, and have RUN together.

Now this is just a start- only some of the possible dysfunctions that can seep into a one dynamic team. What are your thoughts on a dysfunctional ministry team? What is your best tip for becoming a better ministry environment?