by Chris Holmes
Published January 2019
Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices Publication
You have surely experienced teams that were life-giving and productive, and I’ll bet you’ve also served on teams that were energy-suckers and a waste of your time. What caused those to be such different experiences? Which kind of team is your vestry?
Life-giving teams build community and synergy around a higher purpose while utilizing the gifts of each member of the team. This kind of a team doesn’t just sort of happen. It is the consequence of a process of careful selection, intentional development and team leader training.
The first thing to realize about teamwork is that a team is fundamentally different from a group. Groups come together for sharing or learning and then apply that learning to their individual lives. Teams develop a common vision with established goals, and rise or fall together because their members share responsibility for the results of their work.
The church vestry is innately designed to function as a team with shared responsibility for church governance, structure and selection. It holds a place at the top of the local congregation’s organizational structure, with the purpose of helping the congregation fulfill its mission. The best of vestry life happens when the organization functions as a team accomplishing its work productively and collaboratively. The worst of vestry life plays out when it behaves as a group of individuals protecting their silo areas, fighting for turf and refusing to budge for the greater good of the congregation.
A research study involving thousands of teams identified as effective, found these six common factors:
The study on Team Effectiveness found that when the first five of these factors are in place, there is a 60% chance that the team will be effective in doing its work. The other 40% chance of success in effectiveness depends upon the quality of leadership provided to the team.
This research suggests that it is imperative for the vestry to have a clear sense of purpose, membership that is chosen with intention and leadership that is capable. These elements are sometimes challenging in volunteer organizations with limited resources. However, they are essential for vestries in the process of becoming life-giving teams.
Strong leaders are shaped, not born. In vestry life we have the great opportunity to help increase the leadership ability of those placed in positions of leadership in the church by teaching them the skills needed to succeed.
Consider holding a vestry workshop for new church leaders called, “How to Lead a Stellar Church Meeting,” covering these essential ingredients:
Very often, this kind of workshop can be led by a vestry member who learned team leadership skills in their workplace.
Vestry service does not have to be contentious, frustrating drudgery. Who wouldn’t rather serve on a vestry that works joyfully as a team and focuses on God’s amazing work in the world as the body of Christ? Life-giving vestries don’t just materialize on their own, they happen on purpose when attention is given to careful election of membership, clarity of purpose with a focus on mission and intentional training of leaders.
Chris Holmes leads The Holmes Coaching Group, Inc. specializing in coaching church vestries, pastors and denominational leaders. He is a United Methodist Pastor, consultant to the Episcopal Church Foundation, and author of The Art of Coaching Clergy.