I recently assembled a leadership team to lead, vision and plan for adult discipleship programs and events in the congregation. The team members knew one another beforehand, so team formation has been easy and exciting from the get-go. We open every meeting with a Scripture reading, five minutes of silence and story sharing. Telling the stories of our high and low points from the week has taken this team to a place of depth and intimacy. Our willingness to be honest with one another at the beginning of the meeting leads to a more meaningful time of praying for one another as we close.
I have six and a half years of pastoral ministry under my belt. In those six years, I have led productive teams as well as teams that struggled to get moving. One of the marks of the more productive teams was an excitement in attending team meetings. One reason is that those teams had meaningful work to do and felt momentum grow as we met. But, the other reason was a desire to be with one another. These teams seemed to have a spirit of affection. They enjoyed being together, even if they were gathering to work.
I believe that relationships of honesty, trust and accountability help us mature spiritually. Spiritual formation – growing in the likeness of Jesus as we move toward intimacy with God – happens everywhere, in the whole of our lives, but especially in the context of relationships. I forget that formation, then, happens in the context of things as “boring” as planning teams. The project at hand can consume me to the point that I fail to nurture the relationships on the team. When this happens, it not only negatively affects the project, it also means that volunteers burn out (and don’t want to serve again). But, when we attend to the relationships and the real stuff in people’s lives as they serve, not only do team members grow in their commitment to the team but they grow as followers of Jesus.
This is true of me as well. This discipleship leadership team includes wise and mature Christ-followers. One of the tensions with which we consistently wrestle is a lack of substantial congregational engagement in the resources, programs and events we offer alongside the articulated desire from congregants to grow (or at least to have programs in which they can grow). The proverb seems to hold true: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force the horse to drink.
One team member reminded our team that the movement of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives is what leads people to seek water to quench their spiritual thirst. So, our team committed to closing every meeting in prayer for our congregation – for people (including ourselves) to pay attention to our thirst and to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If not for this team member, I would have blown by what is truly my most important work as a pastor: to pray for my congregation. In this gentle reminder to pray, I have grown in my capacity to trust God with the outcome of my work as a pastor.
I wonder if the articulated work of a church team ought not be the primary purpose of the team, whether it’s taking care of the church finances, caring for hurting church members or leading programs. Instead, what if the main purpose and starting point for every team was the spiritual formation of its team members? How might things change on that team and in the congregation?
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.