August 23, 2023

We Are Wiser Together: A Conversation with Debbie Lamm Bray on Collaborative Leadership

Rosa Gonzalez

How does your ministry team collaborate? Dr. Debbie Lamm Bray, Program Dean of NU Oregon and auditor on the OMN Presbytery, oversees our Student Leadership Team, a small group of students selected to lead various aspects of campus activities and help shape a culture of belonging. At their annual retreat, Debbie facilitates a process she calls collaborative discernment to develop a theme for the following school year. She says that the process “allows each person in the group to participate in hearing God’s voice directly as well as through others, then helps them reach a conclusion about what God is saying.”  

Q: In your opinion, why is collaboration important for leadership development and team building?

Debbie offers three specific benefits of collaboration that impact the intellect, spiritual development, and theological understanding of those involved. First, collaboration is one way to honor people made uniquely in God’s image and gifted differently by the Spirit. As Debbie puts it, collaboration “ensures that we will steward all the ways God has equipped our team for the task he has given us.” Ministry teams can be full of diverse skills, perspectives and opinions. Collaboration allows this diversity to flourish. Second, collaboration raises the total IQ of the group. When all members of the team participate fully, the group has a higher collective intelligence than any single member on their own. “We actually are smarter together!” Debbie says. Third, collaboration reinforces our belief that the Holy Spirit speaks to every person who is born of the Spirit. God’s wisdom awaits every Jesus-follower who desires his guidance.

Q: What are the key factors to practicing collaborative discernment as a ministry team?
Whether it is a pastoral staff team, board of elders, or group of student leaders, the practice of collaborative discernment requires some careful planning and consideration. Debbie emphasizes the keys of who, when, and where in her approach.

WHO should you involve in this process? Look for people who are ready to learn collaborative discernment:

  • They spend time with God and recognize his voice.
  • They are actively developing in leadership, humility, and teamwork.

WHEN & WHERE should your team practice collaborative discernment? Location and atmosphere make a difference.

  • Set aside a few days for your team to focus on the task at hand. Debbie recommends scheduling a retreat to give ample time and space for the team to engage in the process together.
  • Seek out a gathering space that minimizes distractions and encourages communion with God in solitude and collectively.
  • Segment your schedule into portions that create space for listening to the Spirit, processing ideas, building trust between team members, and reflecting on what God has spoken. Debbie says, “The first night of the retreat, I have them pray individually over the possible directions for our theme.  The next day, they get another chunk of time to pray and listen.  In between, they are not allowed to discuss what they are hearing from the Lord.  We save that for the second evening of the retreat, when we come together to hear what everyone is sensing.  The final product is more rich than any one person’s thoughts.”

The process of collaborative discernment practiced by our student leaders yields powerful results each year. Not only does this process produce our campus theme for the year, but it also deeply forms our Student Leadership Team and profoundly impacts their understanding of the voice of God in a team environment. Collaboration is what the body of Christ is designed for.

Curious about our campus theme? Experience it for yourself this fall.

Do you long for a Jesus-first community as you pursue God’s direction for your life? NU Oregon’s campus community is full of working adults (ages 18 to about 70!) who are creating space for deeper learning and fellowship. There is room for you here! Apply for Fall 2023 Session B by October 13th!

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Oregon Ministry Network

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