I spent 20 years serving overseas in a developing country. Arriving in country at age 24, it was there that I learned how to be an adult. I learned how to be a wife. I learned how to be a mother. I learned more about my faith than I thought possible. It was truly a joy to serve.
Now that I have moved to another season of life back in the United States, I find myself reflecting quite often on my time overseas. Although we enjoyed our time overseas, we did face some challenges. Oddly enough, the challenges we faced were rarely with the living conditions, the infrastructure, the local food, or even the local culture and its people. Our challenges were generally with the other international workers like us who had moved overseas to serve.
We were appointed the leaders of all the internationals and were responsible for mentoring them, training them, and making sure they had meaningful work to do that contributed to the vision and mission of the organization we served. We were responsible for walking with them through their own good times and bad, often being a sounding board for them when things were not going their way. Serving overseas is rough! And we were there to shepherd these folks in both the significant events of life, as well as in the mundane tasks of every day.
As leaders dealing with the ups and downs of our teammates, it became very clear to us that some of the team members were not actually the right fit for the ministry. They tried diligently to fit in, but in the end they simply didn’t have what it took to thrive. This was difficult for us because we saw potential in so many of them and wanted them to experience the same success and prosperity in the mission that we had experienced. Unfortunately, for some (dare I say most?) it simply didn’t work. They left the field disappointed, sometimes disillusioned, and definitely with expectations that had gone unmet.
It was through those challenges that we learned about what it means to be the right fit for a ministry. Every ministry team must find people who will not only serve with good motives, but also actively thrive in their position and move the ministry forward simply because of the presence of their gifts, skills, and experiences. Defining what it means to be the right fit is often difficult because it is generally based on a list of intangibles that do not necessarily appear on a job description and cannot necessarily be measured in traditional ways.
Nonetheless, the right fit is essential to building a good team. Here are a few thoughts on what that might mean.
1) Non-negotiable: Shared vision.
It is absolutely imperative that team members share the same vision for the work and ministry to which they feel they have been called. There can be no personal agendas. There can be no half-hearted commitments. There must be a clear understanding of the calling and the desire to live out that calling alongside others who are moving in the same direction. Without a shared vision there can be miscommunication, unmet expectations, disappointment, and conflict. Shared vision is the glue that binds the team together and is absolutely essential.
2) Value their roles.
In order to thrive as a member of a ministry team, people must clearly understand their role in the organization, know what to do, and derive great value from the privilege of serving in that role. In any organization or ministry, there are a variety of roles to be played, some seemingly more important or certainly more high profile than others. Without a firm grasp on the value of the part each individual plays and the inherent value residing therein, jealousy and competition can abound, playing havoc with the goals and objectives the team is trying to accomplish. Every team member is important, and every role is valued. Team members must understand that to fit well into the team.
3) Willing to endure ambiguity.
Many times in the life cycle of an organization, there are times of uncertainty and ambiguity as the ministry goes through changes or evolves from one season to the next. These times can be frustrating and seemingly plagued with a lack of direction. However, times of ambiguity do not need to be viewed negatively. In fact, they can be seasons when personal development flourishes as we seek the Lord for His guidance. Those who cut and run during uncertain times ultimately hurt the organization and add to it’s level of instability. Team members who are the right fit will endure even when the future seems undefined.
4) Derive energy from one another.
Perhaps one of the most intangible markers of a person who may fit well into your team is the extent to which team members make each other better simply through the act of serving together. This happens both naturally and intentionally. Personalities can be compatible and spur one another on to deeper ministry commitment and greater ministry success. The ability to respectfully challenge one another and disagree in love can also produce positive results in people who want to learn and grow. Ultimately, team members who energize one another, who enjoy serving together, and who genuinely want to walk alongside each other generate results that grow the Kingdom of God.