Effective Co-laboring Using Biblical Team Norms

In our training resource, “The Biblical Basis for Co-laboring Team Ministry,” IBL highlights an important truth in God’s plan for leaders in the church: God calls for His people to co-labor as they serve in His kingdom.

God sets the standard for co-laboring in the perfect collaborative work of the Trinity. In both creation and redemption, God’s Word reveals the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit co-laboring together in diverse ways and in perfect unity (Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 1:3-14).

When Moses’ father-in-law Jethro observed Moses’ judging “from morning till evening,” he told Moses, “what you are doing is not good.” “You are not able to do it alone.” Listening to Jethro, Moses “chose able men out of all Israel,” and divided the labor (Exodus 18:13-27).

The apostle Paul presents the church as the “body of Christ,” each part chosen and arranged by God (1 Corinthians 12:18). Typically, Paul ends his letters recognizing and thanking his co-laborers in ministry, referring to them as fellow servants, fellow prisoners and “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Colossians 4:7-11).

From beginning to end, the Bible reveals a co-laboring team culture in God’s kingdom!

In our “Team Culture” articles, IBL will share practical ways leadership teams can thoughtfully develop a more biblical culture. One practical tool IBL recommends to leadership teams to strengthen their culture is biblical team norms.

What are Biblical Team Norms?

What are “norms?” Webster defines them as “an authoritative standard, a model, a pattern.”

Within the context of a ministry team, norms are the mutually agreed upon biblical standards of behavior that team members can expect of one another. The team members agree to the norms explicitly and utilize them consistently in order to pursue unity and effectiveness. They govern each member’s personal posture toward God and the team; they guide how team members relate with each other; they establish the process for making decisions; and they set standards for how we communicate with people outside the team.

In the past thirty years, IBL has served hundreds of leadership teams across the US and around the world. What we typically encounter are hobbled leadership teams struggling to function effectively. They have no explicitly-defined team norms based on biblical standards of behavior. Instead, they function within a hodgepodge of sinful or ineffective patterns of behavior borne out of worldly practices.

In contrast, when biblical norms are introduced to a team, agreed upon by each member of the team, and practiced with accountability from all team members something much different occurs. Struggling teams become more unified, more efficient in their decision-making, and more effective in their leadership practice.

Agreed-upon team norms should be in writing, located in a place of visibility for every team meeting, and reviewed on a regular basis, so that each member keeps these practical guardrails in focus as they relate and function in the team.

Now that we have defined what they are, let’s look at an actual example of a biblical team norm.

A First Team Norm: Humility Before God and Man

“When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

“…all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” (1 Peter 5:5b-6)

“Christ… humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

A team that practices the biblical norm of humility is exemplified by leaders bowing before God in spirit and in prayer. The leaders function within the team with open palms, they let go of any personal agenda they may have and they set their hearts only on God’s desires for their church or organization. It is the team, not the individual, that is explicitly seeking the mind of Christ regarding the decisions before them. It looks like Christ in Gethsemane when, in complete surrender to His Father, He prayed “…Yet not my will but what You will” (Mark 14:26).

What does it look like when a team doesn’t have the biblical norm of humility? Pride invades the space. A spirit of arrogance and self-will becomes present. Pride is quick to speak and does not listen; it “knows it all;” it “digs in its heels.” God hates and opposes it (Proverbs 8:13).

How does a team embody the norm of humility? It begins with an individual leader who has been convicted by God about a need for a change, and who has the courage to bring it before the whole team. As the leadership team bows before God in a posture of open palms, asking God to expose and remove any attitudes of pride, arrogance, and self-will, a new season of openness to God’s desires enters the culture of the team.

Humility freely admits, “I do not have all the answers. I need the collaborative strength of the team to serve the way God intended.”

By establishing and practicing a team norm of humility, expect God’s blessing, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)