Five barriers to team unity

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NLT)

I was a student pastor in Phoenix for almost five years. During that time, we saw tremendous growth and had an amazing bunch of volunteers. After a few years there, we began to sense that some tension was growing in our team. We were not as unified as I had once thought. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we are DISunified. In fact, in some ways I’d bet other ministries would be envious of the team unity that we had. But I was becoming keenly aware of some little things that were becoming a barrier to maximum unity on our team.

Here are FIVE Barriers to team unity:

#1: Fear of Confrontation.

You should talk to someone about a problem, but you’re afraid of how they may react. This could be because you once confronted them and they rejected how you felt, or because you have been told that they aren’t so “approachable.” Have you ever felt this way? First, I have found that if you approach a person with grace and compassion, most people are far more approachable than I thought. Regardless, if you have something that needs to be dealt with, the responsibility falls on you to confront the person in question and nobody else. This can be difficult, but the fear of confrontation is only overcome through repeated healthy confrontations over time. With each one, you will build trust with the person in question.

Question to ponder:

Have you ever been afraid to confront a person about a problem, but you worked up the courage to approach them? Did it work out?

Tip:

When you do confront a person, do so alone and in person before you bring it up to someone else. Only let someone else know about your problem if the person in question doesn’t receive your input the first time (Matthew 18:15-16).

#2: Gossip.

In the “old days,” gossip was always described as something malicious or out of bad motives. But today most gossip actually happens out of good intentions. Did you read that? Most gossip today occurs while having good intentions. Consider this example: Johnny is bothered that Jack didn’t put him on the worship leader schedule, so he goes his friend Ronnie to vent about his frustration instead of going directly to Jack. Even though Ronnie thinks highly of Jack, he can’t help but question Jack’s motives, methods, discernment, etc. Implore your team members to never share personal matters with a third party until they have been shared with the person in question.

Questions to ponder:

Have you ever gone to vent to someone about a problem you had with another person without going to that person directly? Have you ever thought about this as gossip?

#3: Lack of Approachability.

You struggle with being approachable. As a result, it is difficult for people to come to you with something that bothers them. Sometimes your pride gets in the way and you just don’t like hearing their concerns because it exposes your flaws. One thing you can work on is this simple statement: “I’m sorry.” It’s amazing how powerful these two little words can be. It shows the person you realize that you’re not perfect, you know you have problems, and you know you need to work on them.

Questions to ponder:

Do you have this same struggle? What do you think would happen if you were willing to apologize the next time someone confronted you?

#4: Lack of Accountability.

Hold people accountable to Matthew 18 conflict resolution. When a person comes to you to share a problem they have with another person, your first question should be, “Have you talked to that person already?” If they haven’t, do not let the conversation go any further. Instead, encourage the person to go directly to the person in question and talk it out. Let the person know that if they don’t get anywhere with that person, then they are welcome to come to you and share the situation. Then you can join them to talk it out with the other person. This can be especially difficult for you if you thrive on drama and knowing the “dirty little secrets” about others.

Questions to ponder:

Has anyone ever come to you to share a problem they had with another person? How did you respond? Did you ask questions and “find out more” or did you challenge them to talk to the person first?

#5: Lack of leadership.

In Jesus’ model for handling conflict, the first step is approaching the person in question. The second step is taking a person or two with you to talk to the person in question. But the third step (if all else has failed to this point) is going to a church pastor. If you are a church leader, you will need to resist the temptation to get into people’s “messes” before it is appropriate. When you do this, you create co-dependency by developing a culture where people don’t approach conflict without your involvement.

Questions to ponder:

Have you ever done the first two steps toward unity in Matthew 18, then had to go to a church leader? If so, how did that work out? Why would it be difficult to do that if you needed to?


Given all of the potential that you have to make a huge kingdom impact, it’s important that you relentlessly strive for unity. When you choose to vent to others or avoid confrontation out of fear, you invite the Enemy to attack your team’s unity and divide you against one another. It’s important that, as a team, you not only assume the best in each other, but that you constantly seek to play out your roles with Kingdom-mindedness and Godly integrity.

For Discussion: Which unity barrier is your ministry dealing with most?

About the Author

Brian is a husband, father, pastor, speaker and strategist. He helps youth leaders reach their full potential so they can take their ministries to the next level without burning out in the process. Brian lives in Nashville with his wife Sarah, daughter Shiloh, and their dog Henry.

  • Maudrian Mychelle

    Simple yet direct.

  • Cheri Atwell

    I feel that I deal with approachability and gossip are the areas I have to deal with the most. Our church is small and so is the problem, but we should strive to “nip it in the bud.”

    • Totally Cheri. The problem with each of these barriers is that they’re so easy to slip into. The Enemy really knows what he’s doing! We definitely should strive for more God glorifying things. I think you have a unique opportunity serving in a smaller church. I have served in both small and large churches, and it was sometimes easier in larger churches to float by without people really knowing the nitty gritty about me. But in a smaller church, you are forced to reveal your true colors. It can be scary in one sense, but it also means that you have stronger accountability. Blessings to you as you pursue God’s best for you and your ministry.

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