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Leading Teams: You Belong

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Ever felt like you were not part of the team, family, school, church?

That feeling of rejection or not being seen aches in our bodies. Humans are wired for belonging. Research has found humans experience social exclusion in the same region of the brain where they experience physical pain.

So, one of our roles as leaders is to cultivate a sense of belonging. Most times I’ve invited laity to be on a team or help with a project, they downplay their gifts and rarely have people claimed to be leaders. In fact, most shy away from that title altogether. From the onset, they don’t believe they belong.

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." Ephesians 2:19-22

Perhaps more than showing someone how to execute a task is tending to their sense of belonging. Speaking words of affirmation, being direct in our statements that they matter to the mission and how, that God sees them and knows them and no longer are strangers. So much so that God chooses to dwell in us through the Spirit.

As you think of who to ask to support the ministry in a new way by joining your team. Literally, this can be one person who helps fold bulletins or creates the altars or the ad hoc group you put together to help with Advent and Christmas, whomever they are speak belonging to them. That they belong to God and they matter to you and the church. That by their actions, tasks, they are making it so that others, too, can experience the feeling of belonging.

Now, I don’t know how you’re wired but the tension in this is that we can sometimes get folks who need affirmation but have no skills. Or we’re just not all that touchy feely and are not sure what to say. First, you want to assess the skill set of the person serving. Never commit someone on a team until you’ve seen what they can do. Always say, "Let’s try for x weeks and see if it’s a good fit for you and me." Then say something like: "If not, we will take a break and pray to discern what might be next." During that trial time, you’ll want to offer clarity, instruction and feedback. Notice how well they do or areas of concern. It's trial time, so share generously. If you don’t, you shoot yourself in the foot by not maximizing the non-committed stage. And you are more likely to end up with someone you can’t redirect because you were not honest in the beginning. (Been there done that, way too many times).

Not sure what to say?

  • I’m glad you’re here.

  • I see (insert gift) in you.

  • This task is important because _________ and it impacts people not here yet or who come for the first time. (Always tie back the importance to new people so that value is cultivated around reaching and inviting new folks).

If we look at our congregation as team members, we want to cultivate a sense of belonging among them. In one study, a high sense of belonging at an organization was linked with a 56% improvement in job performance and 50% reduction in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. (research) I know this is based on companies/businesses and it’s easy to dismiss it. But imagine what a sense of belonging means for your congregation. Might people invite people to a place where they feel they belong? Might their “performance” in attendance, giving, serving increase when they feel accepted. Might they hear your invitations to invite differently?

Listen, I know there are some churches out here where the people feel they belong to a negative degree. So much so that no one else belongs but them and they have a negative view of anyone in the community belonging. (Now, they might not say this, but they feel it and they act on it).

Assume and speak positive intent about your congregation's desire to reach and invite new people. To see themselves as leaders who serve alongside the pastor. Preach this. Share in board meetings. Treat and speak a new narrative in your church and watch it catch on. Set the tone.


Action Brings Clarity:

  1. Identify one person you want to invite to serve. Even before asking, speak belonging into their lives this week.

  2. What new narrative are you cultivating in your church?



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