Many campus ministers work solo, without a staff, without an on-site boss, without a building, without an office, without much of a budget, and with little more in resources than a laptop and a cell phone. My early years in campus ministry were like this (sans cell phone), and while challenging, these were exhilarating years. With age and new contexts come additional responsibilities, with all of the associated advantages and challenges. So here are a few thoughts about working in a multi-staff context for those who may be new to that reality, or like me, still learning.

1. Be slow to hire. Most organizations hire quickly and fire slowly. Arguably, the reverse is preferable. Add team members only when necessary and remember that employees represent long-term fixed costs. Take time to hire correctly. Get proper training to do this well. Hire attitude and teach skills. Businesses often know more about hiring than most ministries and non-profits. Learn from the business world, but apply it to a ministry context appropriately.

2. Adding staff increases complexity. With each new staff member, the number of relationships to manage grows exponentially. A team of two people have only 2 working relationships to manage (mine with him + his with me). When a team of two adds a third, the relationships involved increase from 2 to 6 (3 people x 2 relationships each). The increase in relational complexity means that, for example, adding a part-time staff person who works 20 hours per week will not increase productivity by 20 hours.

3. Adding staff increases supervisory demands. As a supervisor, it is tempting to think that adding a staff member will save you time. It does, but not as much as you might initially think. If you do them well, training, oversight, and evaluation take time. With each new staff member, a supervisor will spend less time doing campus ministry and more time supervising campus ministers.

4. Teamwork takes time. A cohesive vision and unified mission take time to build, time to maintain, time to tweak, and time to change. Regular meetings, retreats, and informal conversations are needed for a team to thrive. Some teams require more time than others, so leaders must manage their expectations about the time they must devote to nurturing an effective team. Teamwork at its best is a beautiful thing, and like all beautiful things, it doesn’t happen by accident.

5. Disagreement is good. Consensus is ideal. Disunity is destructive. The more experienced and talented your team, the more you will have disagreements. Some view disagreement as a negative. I do not. Disagreement can yield the kind of dynamic tension that results in better decisions. I encourage disagreement. I expect it. I am comfortable with it. I see it as a positive sign that my team is thinking deeply and engaging passionately in our work together. Ideally, disagreement eventually yields compromise and consensus. Occasionally, a leader must make a decision in the absence of unanimity, but this should be rare and should involve minor issues. Once the decision is made, each member should be able to stand behind it in unity with a clear conscience. Otherwise the decision should be delayed or, as a last resort, the team restructured.

5. You don’t always choose your team. In most situations, you inherit a team that you did not hand-pick. Sometimes they pick you. Ministry is not like college football where the head coach brings his entire team with him wherever he goes. Usually teamwork in a ministry context is a patch-quilt project, and for this reason it can be both more difficult and better. Teamwork that you build typically outlasts and outperforms teamwork that you attempt to buy. Shall I cite the most recent NBA finals as an example? I think that I work with the San Antonio Spurs of the campus ministry world. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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