So, imagine yourself as Paul sitting in prison in Rome. Not exactly sure what’s going to happen to you … planning your appeal. You’re thinking back to a few years earlier when you’d spent three years and a couple of trips building a church of Christ followers in Ephesus. You’d followed God’s instruction as He carefully timed your visits to that city. Ephesus was a Greek city located in part of what we now call Turkey. You’d learned to love the people there. While you were there, you got embroiled in a dispute with the local silversmiths because they wanted to keep making little statues of Artemis and her temple. She was a goddess that the locals worshipped, the goddess of the forest and the hills, of virginity, fertility and childbirth. She carried around a bow and arrow. I’m not quite sure what role those played in childbirth but she had them. The locals liked her – those were all good things that they attributed to her. But God blessed your ministry, built up a team of believers … and now you’re in prison in Rome.
What do you do? You want to see God’s work continue to grow in Ephesus … you want to see the city continue to be transformed. You want to see all those silversmiths have to find a different line of work. You want to see them have to start making little silver Jesus statues that people put on the dashboards of their chariots. You remember the team you left behind there. These were people you’d baptized. They’d seen you heal people and cast out demons. But certainly they’d heard that you were now in prison. What were they going to do? Would they keep the faith? Would they keep things going?
You were the leader of their team … and now you’re miles and miles away in prison. Too far for them to visit regularly … no phone calls. All you can do is write them a letter … so what are you going to put in your letter? I mean, talk about a team in transition – this is the ultimate example of that! Paul really had to wonder what he could do to encourage these folks. What would you do in this situation? Well, undoubtedly you’re going to try to inspire your team … and you’re going to give them your best stuff about how they can work together to be an effective team. You’re going to pull out all the stops.
In this case, the letter Paul wrote was such an important one that it is called an “epistle” which means basically that it was meant to teach others – to provide instruction. Of course, we know it as the book of Ephesians. Let’s take a look at what Paul said, starting in Chapter 4 and see what advice he is giving them on how to work as a team. I’m using The Message translation.
1-3In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.
What do you hear in there? Urgency and purposefulness – don’t sit around on your hands – get out there and make things happen! Paul is conveying to his team in Ephesus just how important what they’re doing is. Dan was telling me about a podcast that Andy Stanley has out on high performance teams and one of the big points Stanley makes is the importance of passion – the team has to be passionate about what they’re doing. And what causes passion? A clearly defined problem. In this case, Paul’s problem was that he knew that continuing to overtake Artemis and build a church of Jesus followers in Ephesus was an uphill battle. Their problem was that they could not lose momentum. They had to have passion … they had to have clear direction … and they had to keep moving … they had to make things happen. If they didn’t, no one else would! If they suddenly thought the problem was solved, then the team would fall apart and Artemis with her bow and arrow would win. Think about your team a bit – what is it that you’re really called to do? What will the ramifications be if you’re not successful? How do you keep that message continually in front of your team so that, even if like in Paul’s case, you’re locked up in jail, the good work goes on.
And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
Wow. What do we see in there? I see humility and discipline. The King James version says “with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Seems to me he’s telling them that they need to be filled with the Fruits of the Spirit – those things Chuck talked about a couple of weeks ago. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. They needed to be filled with the Spirit and act from the Spirit. Paul is also saying that this whole thing they were trying to do was far bigger than any of them individually. As a result, they needed to keep the big picture focus and be willing to give their “selves” up a bit – be willing to pour themselves out for each other because building a church and defeating the chick with her bow and arrow was far bigger than any one of them individually. How do the members of your team need to support and encourage one another? What happens when they don’t? Things can sometimes go downhill pretty quickly when a team stops supporting each other.
4-6You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
This probably sounds pretty familiar to those of you who went through the Team Leadership class we had a couple of years ago because what Paul is talking about here is alignment. Spiritual alignment certainly but there are other types of alignment as well – philosophical, organizational, and methodological. Members of an effective team really need to be all on board with one another in these areas. In the podcast Dan was telling me about, Andy Stanley talks about how a team must all be around an agreed-upon solution to the pressing problem at hand. Teams must be willing to hear out each others thoughts on the subject and reach a point where you’re not all just going along with the actions of the team but they’re really committed to them. If your team is having issues with alignment, then re-visiting things like your Mission and the problem you’re solving can help to get everyone onto God’s agenda. Having that prayer cell going to undergird your ministry that we have talked about will also help to ensure and protect alignment. Sometimes with spiritual alignment, team members need to evaluate where they are on their individual faith journeys. A component of that is appropriate accountability which we will talk about in a bit. If your team is having issues with philosophical, organizational, or methodological alignment, some good healthy discussion within your team may be called for … a great resource for learning how to do that is some of the books written by Patrick Lencioni. He doesn’t let things be swept under the rug to fester but instead encourages teams to get things out in the open for healthy and productive discussion. In order to have those discussions, though, you must build trust within your team and that comes greatly as a result of spiritual alignment – all clearly being under one banner. This comes through open sharing and respect for the big picture – making sure that your team members are all off of their own individual agendas and onto God’s agenda.
7-13But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,
He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.
Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
Okay, in his podcast, Andy Stanley calls this “clearly defined roles” and having a sense of interdependency between members of the team. Did you notice how Paul talked about this, though? He talks about how God climbed down and climbed back up … how He humbled Himself to reach out to us. Just like how we are called to humble ourselves to others when we work within the roles in which God has placed us. We give up ourselves to serve Him. Once all members of a team have done that, then they can begin to work together rhythmically and easily, efficient and graceful. The way Paul writes this is also kind of interesting because he isn’t really phrasing it to say that God simply gives some people the gift of being an apostle or a prophet or an evangelist or a pastor-teacher. No, He’s far more involved than that. Instead, as Paul points out, God actually sends our team individuals with each of those talents and skills to work within the body of Christ. God had your team planned way before you ever thought of it! He knew exactly who He was going to send to you to play those various roles. That’s a little humbling in and of itself, isn’t it?
There used to be a Quaker theologian by the name of Elton Trueblood. He died a few years back but, when he was in his mid 80s he spoke at my college graduation. I wish I would have paid attention to him because now I keep running across things he wrote. One of those, though, was that “The Reformation opened the Bible to the common man; a new Reformation will open up ministry to the common man.” When Paul talked about God sending our teams people specifically as evangelists and preachers and teachers and things, he wasn’t talking only about professional clergy … he was talking about you, about me, about all of our team members. He has roles for all of us to play and He’s brought us together specifically to live into those roles.
Another thing we talked about back in our Team Leadership class was about how, on a well functioning team, all members of the team are leaders really. How they all have particular roles to play, are interdependent on each other, and will all be leaders in their own way. God has sent your team the right people – part of your job is to make sure those roles are defined, and everyone is aware of them, so that your team works together harmoniously. Having problems with your team working together? Oftentimes that is because roles have not been clearly defined.
14-16No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
People who read my FaceBook page will probably say that I need to pay some serious attention to Paul’s admonition here to grow up but isn’t this great? “We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do.” Christ is the head of the body – He is who we all are to follow. This is Spiritual Alignment, yes, but I believe that a healthy part of this is appropriate accountability. We’re all on journeys here to follow Christ as the head of the body. We need to respect and appreciate that. And part of that is allowing ourselves to be mentored and held accountable in healthy ways. We have talked a lot about mentoring and discipling in the past. Being willing to really lay yourself humble to another and asking them to hold you accountable is a huge thing. But it is part of living the Spirit-filled life. Members of an effective and healthy team will have the trust and willingness for two-way sharing of their journeys … supporting and encouraging one another … no longer being babes in the woods but being mature Christians knowing the whole truth and telling it in love. Working together to grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
Wow … there’s so much in Ephesians 4 about healthy and high performing teams … I am sure I have barely touched on what all Paul was trying to convey but let’s summarize and look at the attributes of a high performance team that we have talked about.
1) Urgency and Purposefulness – A clearly defined problem. What captures and holds your team’s passion?
a. Able to hold a team together
2) Humility and Discipline – Pursuing the “big” picture instead of one’s own interests.
3) Alignment – Spiritual, Philosophical, Organizational and Methodological
a. Prayer Cell, Trust, Open Discussion
4) Clearly Defined Roles and Interdependency
a. Everyone is a leader
5) Healthy and Appropriate Accountability
a. Mentoring and Discipling
b. Personal Spiritual Journey Plan
c. Following Christ as the head of the Body