You may have heard about it. On June 4 several members of the Coopersville High School junior varsity baseball team were expelled from school for hazing. According to the June 24 Grand Rapids Press, the Coopersville hazing included restraining students by holding down their arms and legs, applying pressure to the victim’s rectal area, putting their rear ends in the faces of victims, and using their hands in the victims’ genital areas.
I was astonished. I’ve heard of hazing at fraternities and on professional sports teams. It’s a way to “initiate the rookies” into the team. A study of high school hazing done at Alfred University in 2000 defined hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” Actually, I can’t think of a worse way to engage in team-building than humiliating members of your team.
The coach claimed not to have been aware that any of this was going on over a four to six week period, culminating on May 18. Certainly, the coach can’t be everywhere and cannot monitor everything that goes on in the locker room. But the coach is responsible for being the leader and for creating a culture of safety and comraderie.
The Coopersville experience set me to thinking about what it means to be part of a team. How do we create, lead and sustain healthy teams in the church? Ministry is not a lone ranger task of the pastors. Ministry is done in teams. The pastor and professional staff form a team. Pastor, staff and key lay leaders form a team. The SPRC is a team. The church council is a team. District and Conference committees are a team. Clusters of churches in a particular area form a connectional team. The Detroit and West Michigan Conferences are soon going to be a team. We cannot make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in isolation. Even Jesus modeled teamwork for us by creating a team of twelve disciples to work with him.
I read a book recently by Patrick Lencioni called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He writes that there are five characteristics of teams that, if present, prevent the team from using the best talents of each person on the team to move forward the business or church’s mission. These characteristics look like a pyramid. The broad base of this pyramid of dysfunction is the absence of trust. Working seamlessly as a team doesn’t just happen. It’s hard work, and it all begins with building relationships of trust and vulnerability. Without trust there is no team.
The second dysfunction of a team is a fear of conflict. If we don’t trust one another, we cannot engage in constructive conflict, and voices are silenced, resulting in artificial harmony.
The third dysfunction of a team is a lack of commitment. When people’s ideas and opinions are not allowed to be heard, they do not buy into group decisions, which results in ambiguity. On a team, we don’t always have to get our way. We can commit to decisions and express solidarity outside the board room without undermining or criticizing our colleagues… as long as our voice has been heard.
The fourth dysfunction of a team is an avoidance of accountability, which results in low standards. When we are all committed to the team, we gently hold each other accountable for decisions and challenge inappropriate behavior. At the same time, we actively support those outside our specific area of responsibility because they are part of the team.
The fifth dysfunction of a team is an inattention to results, which happens when we seek individual recognition instead of focusing on collective results. When we are only concerned about our own performance, we don’t care about the team, and the group suffers.
Think about athletic teams. Great sports teams are not built around one superstar or individual egos. It’s usually teamwork and collective egos that win championships.
How is your church functioning as a team? Do you take the time to build relationships before jumping right into business? Do you begin meetings with prayer, devotions and checking in with each other? Are you united in your mission or working at cross purposes? Do you trust each other enough to become vulnerable in your strengths as well as growth areas? Are staff members protecting their own turf or committed totally to the team? Do you encourage healthy conflict or avoid confrontation? Do you engage in active listening? Do you tap into the collective wisdom of the group? Do you encourage team members to hold each other accountable for results? Will you support the decisions of the team even though you may not agree?
Have you thought about creating a staff covenant to guide how you work with your staff? Do you take time to have fun together with teams in your church? Do you model servant leadership which is focused on the mission of the church and not your own agenda? To whom do you hold yourself accountable as a pastor? Are you continually seeking feedback on your leadership role?
Make no mistake. It takes time to create healthy teams. And it can be pretty messy. It doesn’t happen without intentional time spent developing trust and commitment, fully engaging every person, embracing productive conflict, and becoming collectively responsible. It may seem easier to just “get down to business.” And it may seem more fun to engage in hazing by devaluing our colleagues and asserting our power.
However, as Paul reminds us I Corinthians 12, every believer has unique talents and gifts to offer to the body of Christ. If we do not cultivate those gifts, we diminish the body of Christ. If we do not create an environment where all people are treated with respect and where we welcome new people to assume leadership, we set the scene for “church hazing” to occur. If our ego needs prevent us from celebrating the fact that others are more gifted than we are in certain areas, our mission will not be fully realized.