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9 Characteristics of Thriving Ministry Teams



For five years, I worked as an office administrator at a Christian Elementary School. I loved my job. The actual day to day work of administration (and school nurse, which was basically just applying ice and bandaids to small playground wounds) was something I felt called and gifted to do. But the bigger reason I loved my work was the people.


It was a small staff and we were very close. We spent hours together each day and worked towards a common mission of discipling kids and pointing them to Jesus. We shared openly about what was going on in our lives, during morning devotions, at monthly staff meetings, and informally in the lunch room. We weren’t afraid to be real with one another, to ask for prayer, and to speak into each other’s lives. We laughed together, cried together, and did life together. It was such an amazing environment to be immersed in for five years.


As I think back to my time in that school community and what made the environment so rich, nine characteristics of thriving ministry teams come to mind.


1. Common Goal: Glorify God


All humans were created for the same purpose: to bring glory to God. Isaiah 43:7 clearly says God created people for His glory. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Life is wasted when we do not live for the glory of God, but on the other hand, life is full of meaning, joy and purpose when we do all things for God’s glory. The Westminster Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”


This all sounds lovely, but what does it mean to glorify God? To glorify God is to honour Him with praise and worship. God is glorious and when we acknowledge Him as such, we bring Him glory. Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, or you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”


But to glorify God doesn’t mean to add more glory to God – He is already infinitely glorious. His glorious presence causes us to reorient our lives around this common goal: to glorify Him. We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life. God created us to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that He really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God. We are meant to image forth in the world what He is really like.


All of time is steadily marching toward this goal: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess the name of Jesus to the glory of the Father.


2. Common Mission: Make Disciples


The second characteristic of thriving ministry teams is being engaged in a common mission: to make disciples. The words of Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection in Matthew 28:19-20 are commonly known as the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." The Great Commission instructs us to make disciples while we are going throughout the world.


In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The reason God didn’t immediately take us to heaven the moment we were saved is because we have work to do here on earth. We are to be engaged in a common mission of making disciples. It’s the work of the church, it’s the work of individuals and it’s the work of thriving ministry teams. Jesus wants us to carry the message of salvation to all the peoples of the world.


We may have a few questions around this mission of making disciples. First, what is a disciple? A disciple is someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus. A disciple is a learner – someone who is learning from Jesus. And then perhaps the most important question, how do we make disciples? First we must be where the people are. And as we go, we walk as Jesus walked, loving people, serving people, and talking about Jesus and the salvation He offers whenever we have a chance. We teach Scripture in formal ways and in informal conversations. We point people to Jesus in all circumstances of life, and share with others the things God is teaching us. Disciple-making is entering into relationships to help people to trust and follow Jesus. And in all of this, we trust the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of people.


3. Common Plan: Prayer


The third characteristic of thriving ministry teams is following a common plan: prayer. Prayer is always the highest and best strategy for any ministry team, because without the power of prayer, our efforts often fall flat. Thriving ministry teams pray, but ineffective, unfruitful teams skip this important part of being on mission for God.


Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. We are to be devoted to prayer; it is our first line of defense, our first action when we don’t know what to do, our first response when something good happens.


God has chosen to act in this world based on the prayers of His people. We have to remember that we are joining God in His work here on earth, He is not joining us in our work. We are not making plans and then begging Him to stamp them with His rubber stamp of approval. Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth.


Sometimes we don’t know what to pray, but in those seasons we can know that the Spirit Himself intercedes for us. Romans 8:26 says, ”Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”


A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our work abundantly. Prayer is a beautiful privilege, and as we pray we are changed. Our hearts become more in tune with His heart.


4. Sacrificial Love


The fourth characteristic of thriving ministry teams is sacrificial love. We live in a world consumed with self - just look at the number of selfies posted on social media. It’s safe to say that self is at the root of most, if not all, of our sin. Selfishness is that attitude of being concerned with your own interests above the interests of others.


However the Bible commands us to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). This passage tells of the ultimate example of selflessness – Christ. Even though He was in the form of God, equal to Him in every way, He emptied Himself, and took on the form of man. He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. This was the ultimate act of sacrificial love.


Sacrificial love is an important characteristic of thriving ministry teams. Christ calls us to put the needs and desires of others ahead of our own, denying ourselves. The call to love our neighbour was certainly present in the Old Testament, but Jesus called us to a new level of love by His example. John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus presented the command to love in a new and fresh way. The actual command to love wasn’t new; but the extent of love displayed by Jesus was new, a love that drove Him to lay down His life on a cross. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." First John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”


What does it look like for the members of a ministry team to demonstrate sacrificial love towards one another? And how does this impact the work they are doing in the world? It comes back to putting the ideas, the desires the well-being of others ahead of your own. It involves the laying down of our own ideas, thoughts and desires. This isn’t easy to do, but this is what God has called us to.


5. Servant Heart


The fifth characteristic of thriving ministry teams is having a servant heart. There is an amusing little story in Mark 10. James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples who were brothers, came up to Him and asked Him if He would do for them whatever they asked. Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Their request wasn’t small. They asked if each of them could sit beside Jesus in glory, one on the right and the other on the left. Jesus told them they didn’t really know what they were asking. A position like that required that they suffer as Jesus would suffer. Brazenly, James and John said they were willing to suffer. Jesus agreed that they would indeed suffer for His name, but to sit at His right and left was not for Him to grant. Now the other 10 disciples heard that James and John asked Jesus this, and they were not impressed. In fact the text tells us that they were indignant. And then in the verses that follow it says this: “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).


Jesus used this opportunity to teach His disciples about servanthood. Their desire for position and status showed they didn’t know the nature of Jesus yet, in respect to leadership and power. This is a stinging rebuke to the manner in which Christians look to the world for position and power. Disciples of Christ are not to operate the way the world does.


In the Kingdom community, status, money, and popularity are not the prerequisites for leadership. A servant heart is the greatest prerequisite, as displayed by Jesus’ own ministry. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Real ministry is done for the benefit of those ministered to, not for the benefit of the minister.


Jesus also gave the disciples a picture of servanthood in the upper room as they were about to share the Passover meal together on the night before He was crucified. Jesus knew His hour had come. The cross loomed before Him, dark and ominous. On that night Jesus did something that must have almost seemed crazy. He began to do the job of the lowest servant in the household. He began to wash the disciples’ feet. It was customary that the lowest servant of the house would wash the feet of the guests as they came into the house, especially for a formal meal like the Passover meal. According to the Jewish laws and traditions regarding the relationship between a teacher and his disciples, a teacher had no right to demand or expect that his disciples would wash his feet. So it was absolutely unthinkable that the Master would wash His disciple’s feet.


Luke 22:23 says that the disciples entered that room debating who was greatest. By washing their feet, Jesus turned the idea of greatness upside down and illustrated true greatness. When He wanted to teach the proud, arguing disciples about true humility, He didn’t just say it — He showed it. This evening before the torture of the cross, Jesus did not think of Himself. He thought about His disciples. He served them in the most basic, humbling way. We too are called live with a servant’s heart, joyfully serving those God has put in our path.


6. Surrendered Will


The sixth characteristic of thriving ministry teams is having a surrendered will. We want what we want, don’t we? Our flesh often demands to get its own way. But this is not the way of Jesus. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If you are a follower of Jesus, you have died. You have been crucified with Christ. Your old self, with all its passions and desires died when you identified with His death at baptism. It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you. This is true of us positionally, but we also have a choice to live with a surrendered will every day.


How do we surrender our wills? First we surrender ourselves to God. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” When we surrender our whole lives, the people we love, the work we do, the things we want, to God, we are surrendering our wills to Him. We are saying that we want what He wants regardless of the cost to us.


Second, we surrender ourselves to others. In the second half of Ephesians, Paul describes how we should live as followers of Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 says, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul calls us to submit to one another. This idea of submitting is similar to surrender. We voluntarily choose to position ourselves under another person, to yield to another person’s advice.


As in everything, Jesus is our ultimate example of surrender. After that Passover meal in the upper room, Jesus and His disciples crossed the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus wrestled in prayer. He knew the cross was coming and He was in agony. This is what it says in Mark 14:35-36: “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Notice that Jesus asked His Father to take away the cross. He asked if there was any other way for the work of redemption to be accomplished. But then He surrendered to the will of the Father. He said, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”


What if we ended all our prayers like this - surrendering to the will of God? Aa surrendered will on a ministry team looks like surrendering to the will of God in your work – seeking His kingdom first and not your own. It looks like laying down your own plans and thoughts and ideas in favour of the plans and ideas of the greater group.


7. Humility


The seventh characteristic of thriving ministry teams is humility. The way of Jesus is the way of humility. But pride, the opposite of humility, is often one of the core sin issues in the hearts of people. Pride is a heart-attitude that overflows into a person’s motivation, decision-making, and activities. At the centre of pride is a focus on “self.” Prideful people believe they deserve better than what life has brought them. They become resentful, and even jealous of other people and their successes. Pride breeds self pity, which is a major component in depression. Typically, people who struggle with pride will live life based on how they feel and expect everyone else to accommodate them. Two key characteristics of pride are independence and rebellion. Human nature is to want our own way about things, and we usually will do almost anything to have it our way. Then we rebel at the thought of being under anyone’s control or authority.


Scripture says that God hates pride. It goes against the very nature of Christ, who humbled Himself, leaving the glories of heaven to walk the dusty streets of this earth. He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. This is the kind of humility God calls us to walk in, and when we don’t, make no mistake, He is able to humble the proud.


James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." The path to greatness is humility.


Jesus is the ultimate example of humility. We took a look at a couple of verses from Philippians 2 before. Let’s read a few more. Philippians 2:3-8 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." We are to follow Jesus’ example by walking in humility.


8. Unity


The eighth characteristic of thriving ministry teams is unity. On any team there are a variety of ideas, priorities, skills, and goals. But yet, if the people on the team are in Christ, they are unified in Him. When we come to Christ, we are all baptized into one body – we become one in Him. In the psalms, David said, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Unity is like a breath of fresh air in an increasingly divided world.


Paul said to the church in Corinth: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Then he said to the Philippians: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). Paul begged people to get along - to be unified.


Shortly before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for unity among His twelve disciples. Think about their differences for a moment. Matthew was a tax collector, and by nature of his position, he was hated by the Jews. He worked for the Romans and collected the high taxation from his people. Simon was a Zealot, who had extreme beliefs and were quite literally assassins. And then there were simple hardworking fishermen. These men were so different, and yet, unified as they followed Jesus.


Jesus also prayed for unity among all believers. John 17:20-23 says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Obviously Christian unity is important to Jesus.


When Christians are united in Christ, the world sees two things clearly: Jesus was sent by the Father, and Jesus loves His church. Christian unity comes with Christian maturity, and it is always something that we strive to attain. Paul instructs us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). So we are called to strive for unity.


9. Community


The ninth and final characteristic of thriving ministry teams is community. A community is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. A Christian community is a group of people who love Jesus and fellowship with each other, and in the context of a ministry team you can add the idea of working together. Really, the other eight characteristics of thriving teams lead to this idea of community.


A thriving team is a community of people who are working towards the same goal, with the same mission and plan, characterized by sacrificial love, servant hearts, surrendered wills, humility and unity. When these characteristics are present you have true biblical community.


The Bible instructs believers on how a Christian community can love one another (1 John 4:12). Believers are called to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), “spur” one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), honour one another (Romans 12:10), be patient with one another and forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and speak the truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25).


I would suggest as well that close biblical communities do life with one another. They know what is happening in each other’s lives and they care. They rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. They celebrate together, attend significant life events for each other, they serve together, they play together, and they pause in the lunch room to pray for each other.


This was the beautiful part of my experience on staff at the Christian School. We truly did life together. When you are thriving in these areas as a ministry team, it will inevitably have an impact on the people you are serving. Your efforts will bear fruit in their lives. And you will be actively building the kingdom of God, bringing glory to His name.

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