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I asked Kari Stainback some questions about how she builds a diverse group of women into a team. 

Kari, tell us a little about your position and the teams that you lead.

I am Director of Women’s Ministries at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. I’ve had this position for over 15 years and am still crazy in love with this role. I oversee our ministry area from top to bottom, and I do a fair amount of pastoral counseling. But in regards to leading teams, I lead three of them. One, a staff team of four women; a team of volunteers we refer to as “Women’s Ministries Team”; and last, a group of young women leading our Young Women’s Bible study.

Why do you make the effort to build a team? What are your goals?

You build a team because no one does well on their own for long. Jesus knew this and modeled this when He called his “team” of disciples and then when He sent them out, it was in pairs. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).  We do everything in our women’s ministry per this model.

Teams reflect the wisdom and gifts of God as they come together in their diverse gifts, callings and wisdom to pursue the unity of a common goal in Christ. One of the things I enjoy most about being part of a team is seeing how God has been at work before we ever came together to perform a task or decision. The wisdom of the whole is so much more beautiful than any one of us could have ever dreamed when each has been in prayer and seeking to abide in Christ. I certainly could never lead this ministry area on my own nor would I ever want to; who would ever want to sacrifice the beauty of the Body of Christ at work simply to be the “queen bee” of it all?

Our goals are implied in this approach, to seek the wisdom and unity of the Body of Christ through humbling working and serving the Lord together. We can all trust the results of that goal to be good, however God chooses to work in and through us.

What has worked best for you in building a strong team?  

When we begin the new year each fall, we take time to get away from the church building for a day long retreat together. Sometimes we go to a lovely home, sometimes we go to a member’s lake house, with the key purpose to launch our year pursuing Christ and the unity He gives us together. We hear the theme for the year and descriptions of upcoming events. We have some fun together, share good food, and have time to talk about things besides just Women’s Ministries. But most importantly, we take time to listen to what is on each other’s hearts, both personally and for the ministry they represent. We pray together for each other and for our upcoming year. Praying for one another and for our ministry efforts is the most important thing. We spend most of our retreat on these two things:  hearing from one another and praying together.

Following our retreat, we meet monthly over lunch at the church. This year we did something different, we shifted from a “reporting” model to a “narrative” model. Each month we asked the team members to share a story of hope, something they saw God do in their area of ministry that only the living God could accomplish. The women were asked to share the main points of this story prior to our meeting so we could include it in our agenda. The stories shared were powerful and deeply encouraging. Our meetings went from slightly boring, to a worshipful experience for all!

Another thing we did to change the meeting is that each month I shared with the leadership team the things I was learning by attending the weekly senior leadership meetings with our pastors. That gave the women an inside look into the heartbeat of our church’s leadership and gave them necessary leadership direction.

Both ideas have increased the joy in our meetings. Everywhere else in meetings we report and do business with efficiency and effectiveness as the primary goals. But when we do ministry together, it needs to be about women called to a specific role by the Lord, abiding in Christ to produce fruit, and sharing the experience together. We share in the process and in the joy as we see the Lord do His work in and through us. That is our primary goal. Isn’t that a wonderful grace?

How often does a team need to meet to connect well? What have you done outside of meetings to encourage them to see themselves as a team?

That is a good question. Certainly, rule of thumb is that the more often you participate together in ministry together, face to face, the closer is the bond between women. We have Bible study leadership teams that meet weekly that have formed life long bonds in Christ. Yet for other ministry teams, we can only meet monthly, so how does that work to form bonds? By sharing intimately at the beginning of the year at the retreat I mentioned before, by continuing to share prayer requests and stories of how God is at work in their lives and ministries and taking time to pray together at each meeting. The more time we spend praying together, even though we meet monthly, the deeper our connection to one another and to the Lord.

In addition, it’s my goal to meet with the leaders on that team at least once a semester over coffee or a meal. Some women I meet with in pairs, others we see each other on a more regular basis. At the end of each year we treat the women to a thank you luncheon, again, sharing those stories of how God has been at work and praying together. Giving thanks together for all He has done unites our hearts deeply.

Do you build a team differently if they are all of one generation or life situation?

The principles for connection that I have mentioned above are true for every woman at every age. Yet, the reality is that our young women’s Bible study leadership team is limited in their time. They range in age from 26-33 and are working hard in jobs where they do not have a great deal of flexibility; a few are in graduate school which offers another set of limitations. We started out meeting with that group of women every other week at 6:45 a.m. for an hour to disciple and help them grow. That went well for two years and then it just became difficult for everyone. Now we are meeting for a long dinner at one of our teacher’s homes each semester and we are meeting with the women individually to check in on them. I’m praying about new ways to strengthen that team though.

The rest of our leadership groups are intergenerational. We have women on the team from 81 years of age to 28 years old. I love the discussions that end up being “more caught than taught” as the wisdom is shared across the spectrum of the ages. That is definitely one of my favorite things to soak up in leading women’s teams!

What would you say to a woman leader who is just beginning to work with a new team?  

Pray for those women, regularly and personally. I don’t do this perfectly but I strive to. A principle of ministry is that as we serve, our own growth in Christ is occurring. God has sovereignly brought this team together and you want them to not look to you for all the leadership guidance, but to look to the Lord and listen to one another for godly wisdom and insight. Foster ways they can pray for one another and celebrate the lasting fruit God gives. As the leader, it’s often tempting to think, “I’m not enough”. Our pastor often quotes Robert M. M’Cheyene “the greatest need of my people is my personal holiness”.  I just love that. Because every time I get discouraged in ministry, remembering that my greatest responsibility is to lean into Christ and let Him transform me gives me peace. It is there that leadership begins and ends. It is just an amazing thing that as we follow Christ, He works wonders in us and through us.

Thank you, Kari, for your helpful tips. Leaders, as you plan ahead for the fall, go ahead and schedule regular team meetings so that it’s on everyone’s calendar now.

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