I’m not gonna pretend I know anything about American football. I’ve seen a few games, I’ve even been to a live college game, but honestly I have no earthly idea what those tough guys on the field are doing. Yet I do know this about American football: in general, the teams rely heavily on their star players.

It’s the same in soccer (now there’s a game I actually do know – I can even explain the offside rule!). Many soccer teams consist of a bunch of good players and one star. They are lone-star teams.

But when the star is injured and can’t play or when the star is not allowed to play because of too many violations, the team is in trouble. They have never learned to function without their star. All they know is how to make the star shine, they don’t know any other way to win.

soccer team

Unfortunately, we see the same happening in many churches and ministries. There are many volunteers, but there’s one star, one key-leader without whom nothing happens, who makes all the decisions and everyone knows it. It’s a lone-star ministry, a lone-star church.

One of the things that struck me in Mike Breen’s book Building a Discipling Culture (I reviewed it earlier), was his insistence on working in teams of at least two. He shows Jesus sending out the disciples in two’s, not by themselves. As Breen says: the smallest unit in the Kingdom is two.

I’ve been guilty of being too much of a lone-star and I’ve seen the devastating effects of a lone-star church up close. That’s why what Breen said hit me so hard: we should never do any kind of ministry alone, we should always have at least one partner. A team would be even better. And that goes for each level of ministry, including leading a ministry or a church.

Any ministry run by a lone star will sooner or later get into trouble. Without a partner or a team there is no humility, no sharing, no accountability, no healthy criticism, no fresh ideas. A lone-star ministry will always run itself into the ground, with devastating effects for all included.

I know that many lone-star churches or ministries didn’t want to become one. It just happens. It happens when you have a gifted leader, when there’s too much to do and too few people willing to do the work. The leader will step up and do it himself and slowly but surely a pattern emerges where it’s simply easier to do everything yourself. Sure, there are volunteers but it’s clear who does the real work and takes the real decisions.

Many strong leaders have the urge to be a lone-star leader. It’s just so much easier, because teams are messy and cost time and never seem to do it just quite as good as you. I can understand that because I have been there.

But I also know in the end, it doesn’t work. Because even when your ministry is the best there is because of your hard work and efforts, you will still be alone, stressed out, overworked and completely lost. And if something would ever happen to you, if you had to quit or leave, your ministry would crumble.

How then do you prevent a lone-star ministry?

1. Delegate

“Leaders must always be looking to give away their jobs to people who can do it as well or better than they.”

That’s what Mike Breen advices and I agree. You prevent solo run ministries by constantly being on the lookout for people who can do what you do, maybe even better. And then you delegate and transfer responsibility.

2. Create a leadership team

Working with a leadership team is another good way to get a healthy mix in leadership. It needs to be a ‘real’ leadership team though, not just a bunch of people whose only function is to sanction everything that you do. Leadership teams are sometimes tough and messy and you won’t always get what you want. But they are also inspiring and encouraging and challenging and they’re absolutely worth it!

3. Stay accountable

There are circumstances when there’s no leadership team possible, for instance when you can’t find anyone willing to serve or when your church is too small. In that case you need to make sure you stay accountable to someone. Is your senior pastor willing to spend an hour a week talking through your major decisions? Can you find a mentor or coach who will ask you the tough questions?

Lone-star ministries are not what God has in mind for us and for our churches. Let’s do everything we can to prevent them.

Can you think of anything else you could do to prevent a lone-star ministry or to change a lone-star ministry into a team-ministry?