Building an Amazing (Elder) Team

Because health is trickle-down, as goes your elder body, so goes your church. And because elders are a “plurality of equality” in which one person can’t make a unilateral decision, it’s impossible for an elder team (any team, really) to be healthy unless they master disagreement. This is why the Scriptures so strongly stress an elder MUST NOT “be quarrelsome“.

Here are three practical outworkings of “not quarrelsome” we’ve found are mission-critical to building an amazing elder team…

1) Avoid the following landmine false dichotomy…

FALSE DICHOTOMY: If you don’t allow critical, contrarian guys onto your elder body, all you really want are “Yes Men”.

Some guys, out of a noble desire to avoid one ditch of having Yes Men, fall into the opposite ditch of allowing critical / contrarian men on their teams, and all it takes is ONE of these men to ruin the culture of your elder team. You don’t have to choose between either Yes Men or Quarrelsome Men. You want men who are neither.

2) Only allow men on your team who are Jedi-Masters at “disagreeing agreeably”. Here are some bullet-points to put flesh on this concept…

  • You’re looking for men full of positive energy and relentless optimism that are critical thinkers, but not at all critical people.
  • When evaluating a candidate, ask, “Is this a man who seems to GAZE at what’s wrong and only GLANCE at what’s right, or a man who GAZES at what’s right and GLANCES at what’s wrong?” If there are 100 things going right and 1 things struggling, is he captivated by the 100 or the 1?
  • You want men who sometimes disagree, but are not disagreeable –– people who will disagree, but don’t seem to enjoy disagreeing.
  • Do they naturally bring positive energy and a unifying spirit to the room even when expressing dissent?
  • EMOTIONAL POSTURE: Does this man’s emotional posture and manner of expression ENCOURAGE or SHUT DOWN other points of view? Does he make it easy or uncomfortable to disagree with him?
  • Does this man use declarative, shut-down statements like, “There’s just NO WAY we should…” or “I would NEVER be on board with us…“. Those statements leave no room for anyone to disagree. Or does this man go out of his way to make space for other viewpoints by prefacing his disagreement with with comments like, “Here’s what I see, but I’d love to hear from you guys on this…” or “I could totally be wrong here, but…” or “Shoot holes in this for me, guys…” Those statements make space for healthy disagreement.
  • Look for men who are solution-oriented, not problem-oriented. Do they only ever point out problems that need fixed, or are they constantly bringing helpful solutions to the table?
  • Discern between “organizational drive” (I want the church to win) and “personal ambition” (I want to ascend / get ahead / advance my cause). Is he good at letting the BEST idea win, or is he always fighting for HIS idea to win?

3) Create a culture of “filling the gap with trust.” As Andy Stanley has pointed out, on any team there will sometimes be a gap between what happens and what was expected, between what someone thinks and what you expected them to think. In those moments, every person on your team makes a choice about whether they’ll fill that gap with TRUST or SUSPICION.

  • Filling the gap with suspicion: “They did that because they’re either immoral or incompetent.” (They are late because they’re lazy.)
  • Filling the gap with trust: “I’m sure they had a good reason for doing that I just don’t know about.” (They’re probably late because traffic was bad.)

When there is suspicion, team members start assuming ulterior motives in others, ever-so-subtly begin viewing each other as The Bad Guy, conversations become HEATED instead of HEALTHY, and toxic “sides” begin to form. But when there is trust, disagreement becomes nothing more than a pursuit of finding the best possible answer.

Stanley on how to create this culture: “A good habit of a leader could be to always come to the defense of someone at the verbal receiving end of an expressed SUSPICION GAP.  When you hear someone talking about someone else, challenge the person talking that there might be a reason that the other person in acting that way.  If you create a culture where people come to the defense of others, people will tend not to publicly fill these gaps with SUSPICION – they fill with TRUST.