Leading a Team

The Work of the Ministry

Eric Swanson


The apostle Paul exhorted the believers in Corinth. “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:51). Sometimes it is easy to forget that amidst the fun of ministry, the real nature of ministry is nothing short of hard work. “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of the rest, – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me..” (1 Corinthians 15:10).


In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul writes, “For we are God’s fellow workers...” In reaching lost students, we have a part and God has a part. We can’t do God’s part and God has chosen not to do our part. It was Augustine who said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” We are privileged to be invited into the work God is doing.


In John 17:4 Jesus makes a remarkable statement. In praying to the Father, the night before his crucifixion, he gave the Father his progress report. “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” The rest of the chapter is simply a description of the work that God gave him to do. Looking closely at the verbs in the past tense reveals exactly what that work was through which Jesus glorified the Father.

  • Winning – “I have revealed you to those you gave me”
  • Building – “I gave them the words you gave me...”
  • Loving – “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe...”
  • Sending – “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

Jesus also saw that an integral and probably most important part of his work was praying for his disciples. Jesus distinguished what he could do, in his earthly limitations, and what only God the Father could do. John 17 is fundamentally a prayer for his disciples. What does he pray for? Protection (11, 15), Spiritual growth (17), Unity (23), Intimacy with himself (24) and Spiritual Multiplication (20). What can we conclude? Simply this – anytime I am telling people about Christ, giving them God’s word, caring for others, helping people bear fruit and multiply or praying, I am glorifying God and doing the work of the Lord because it is the exact work that Jesus was sent to do.


Let’s never forget this – amidst all that Jesus did, his purpose was clear. He came to “seek and save the lost.” This also is our high calling. When we are involved in winning lost people to Christ and helping them grow or sending them to reach others, it is most like what Jesus came to do. When we are able to do this as a vocation, it is an awesome privilege and stewardship usually described as a “calling.”

In Matthew 9:37 Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” The vast shortage is that of workers for the harvest. Workers are the solution to the plentiful harvest. Evangelism (working in the harvest) and discipleship (training future harvest workers) is our high calling. Linked to working in the harvest is “asking the Lord of the harvest” – the work of prayer. Prayer recognizes that God is able to work as powerfully when we are away from a person as when we are by his side personally discipling him. God can do in a moment what men cannot achieve in a lifetime of labor.


Is other type of ministry work important? Without a doubt it is. Acts 6:3 records that deacons were appointed to take care of food distribution. “In Galilee (some) women had followed (Jesus) and cared for his needs” (Mark 15:41). Is administration necessary? Are creative prayer letters more effective than dull ones? Does someone need to arrange rides to the Fall retreat? Do we need a sharp weekly meeting? The answer to all of the above is “of course.” But let us not forget that our highest priority is directly helping to accomplish our primary result: that of “turning lost students into Christ-centered laborers.” Other “support ministries” are necessary only as the means to this greater end. Let us never perfect the means while woefully neglecting the end.


Having looked at the work of the Lord from a biblical viewpoint, it is easier to cross the bridge to defining our work. The work of a full-time campus laborer is primarily to be involved in winning students to Christ, building them up in their faith, training them in the ministry, and sending them into the “harvest field” to do likewise. It is to be a kingdom laborer, for it is “laborers in the harvest” that are in short supply not necessarily program managers. Any work that does not directly contribute to this objective is work that is secondary to the task.


We measure the effectiveness of our ministry, by measuring the impact we are having on the campus. Peter Drucker in Managing the Non-Profit Organization, writes, “We need to remind ourselves again and again that the results of a non-profit institution are always outside the organization, not inside.” Research by social scientists has concluded that a working group (or missional team) has only a limited amount of energy. That energy is spent in two areas: maintenance energy and production energy. Maintenance energy is the work we spend on maintaining relationships – making sure everyone is happy, motivated, and in good fellowship with one another. Production energy is what we expend on accomplishing the task. Often so much time and energy is spent on the maintenance side that we have little energy to spend on the production side.


Expectations have to do with what your team is expected to accomplish on campus. Most team members would rather know exactly what is expected of them than to continually play a guessing game regarding what it is you are hoping they would do. You and your team should be able to answer the following questions with clarity and precision:

What do we do?
Why do we do it?
How do we do it?
How often do we do it?

It is difficult to write or talk about specific expectations without coming across as a task master. But as you read through the following expectations, try to grasp the reasonableness of the heart and logic behind them. Adopt them or adapt them but don’t ignore them.


Hinge points are those small things we do, that when done on a consistent basis make a very big difference in the outcome. If you, as a team leader, can monitor these few areas that you can measure and control, you’ll reap a myriad of positive results and benefits.


Because the nature of our work is primarily spiritual, it is imperative that we are developing the spiritual resources that are sufficient for the task. To attempt to do spiritual work in the energy of the flesh is futility. As a team leader, you need to hold your team accountable for walking in the Spirit, systematically getting into the Word and praying.


Virtually every good thing that happens in the campus ministry happens when we are on campus. If that is true then it is imperative to get your team out onto campus. Try to think in terms of 100 of 365 days actually being on the campus – fifty campus days each semester. On an average, this means four campus days (of 5-6 hours) per week. Once you are on campus, stay on campus. Don’t come home to do your laundry, play with your computer, check your e-mail, etc. Unstrategic activity is almost always more fruitful than strategic inactivity.


All ministry begins with contacting students – looking for any door to get to the heart of the unbeliever. All evangelism begins with exposing students to opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel. There is something inherently good about saturating the campus with the gospel. Regular and broad exposure opportunities till the soil, soften hearts, and makes Christ an issue on campus. The broader and more frequently we throw out the net, the more students we can expect to share the gospel with. This is the beginning of the process that turns lost students into Christ-centered laborers. Broad exposure does not have to be time or labor intensive. Regular full-page adds or two column testimonies in the student newspaper can go a long way towards regularly exposing the literary audience of the campus community.

A hundred years ago, John R. Mott wrote, “It is easier to attempt and carry to success large and exacting undertakings than small ones. It is the impossible situations which bring out our own latent powers.

If we do not have tasks that we honestly know are too difficult for our own wisdom and strength, we are by no means so likely to avail ourselves of our superhuman resources. The heroic appeal makes possible the heroic response. The strongest men can be inspired to accomplishment by putting before them something that is really baffling and truly significant.” The point is this: you want this number to be so large that you and your team can’t achieve it through business as usual or from singular strategies. Once a large goal is set, then you can ask God for creative and relevant strategies and the finances to reach those goals. And the chances greatly increase that God will give you additional opportunities, resources and strategies. It is better to attempt something great and fail than to aim at nothing and succeed. We will more often than not, get from God what we ask for. As a ministry, think in terms of campus saturation. Individual team members should think in terms of reaching a target audience.


This is the critical event of our ministry – to share the gospel with every student who positively responds to our initiation. Your job, as team leader, is to keep evangelism a priority in emphasis and action. Help your team do evangelism by emphasizing follow-through on all contacts and perhaps by setting aside blocks of time for evangelism.

It’s easy to conclude that since “evangelism isn’t working” on our campus that we should stop doing evangelism. Evangelism really falls under the value of “faith” more than it does under our value of “effectiveness.” Director Rich Swanson has said it well: ”If we’re going to be living by faith, we need to be sharing our faith.”


Each team member should work toward leading several small groups at all times. They should become experts at beginning and leading small group studies at a variety of levels. This is part of learning to sow broadly. We often commit ourselves to too few people way too soon and conclude “I’ve found the students I will pour my life into” only to find that half of them transfer by their sophomore year. We need to keep throwing out the net. Often times, because you are teaching the same material, teaching two or three groups takes little more effort than leading one group.


Each team member should work toward impacting personally (and through his or her disciples) around 25 students every week – either one-on-one or in groups. This is a good “mile marker” for your missional team to shoot for and is a very reasonable expectation for a full-time laborer. Working with at least 25 students is our part of building a ministry that greatly increases the odds of God transforming this critical mass into a movement.


As the team leader, you not only set the expectations of how your team spends their time but you also must impart the ongoing values that will help them become effective laborers. You set the pace, not just in the expectations but in imparting hope and expectancy. As you adopt and embrace the values of faith, effectiveness, and development and wrap your life around the Word, you will be nothing less than contagious. John R. Mott wrote, “The people do not go beyond their leaders in knowledge and zeal, nor surpass them in consecration and sacrifice. The (leader) holds the divinely appointed office for inspiring and guiding the thought and activities of the (movement).”

Eric Swanson is a former Cru staff member who now serves as a Leadership Community Director for Externally Focused Churches. He received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Bakke Graduate University.

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