Who in the World is the “First Team”?

After decades of working with leaders, and potential leaders, we have observed that trying to build strong teams of leaders without the marriages of those teams being strong is counterproductive. The “team” that needs primary attention is the marriage team; it is the first team. So nearly ten years ago we developed some marriage training, that was specifically designed for leaders.

Foundational to all Christian leadership is Jesus’ teaching that leadership in the Kingdom is all about serving others, not being served. Paul picks up this theme in Ephesians, teaching that the foundation of a marriage is mutual submission (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 5:21). From the original creation in Genesis, man and woman were created equal partners in access to God (correcting the Pharisees, Jesus admonishes, “in the beginning it was not so…” Matt. 19:4) and it actually takes both genders to accurately represent God. Both were created in His image and together they best reflect his personhood.

In order to be consistent with our leadership training, in the First Team seminar we apply what mutual submission actually means within the marriage relationship. It is to be a safe, nurturing place where neither the man nor the woman is to dominate the other, but rather to serve each other as if serving Christ. As with our other servant-leadership training, this is often counter cultural, as Jesus’ Kingdom values are in stark opposition to those of this world.

Since first introducing this material, our network of coaches have continued to use this material as premarital teaching, couples coaching, and one-on-one counselling. Tanya, who is from Moscow but serves in various capacities in Russia, sent the following to our office:

Dear Phil and ICM team,

Thank you for this marriage material, it is my favorite one and I use it a lot. I collect student’s reflections after my seminars, so I have some understanding of the impact of the material. One pastor from Yakutsk wrote that the biggest impression from the seminar was the idea that women were created according to the image of God. Hallelujah! 

 I use it in my class for the pastoral or ministerial training. I also have a class on family in the on-line course that is called, “Family and Marriage.” One part of it is about harmonisation of ministry and family from your First Team material. So, it is used multiple times when on-line students take it. Now it is even “beyond my control,” as the course has taken on a life of its own as others all over are now using it. 

 Our traveling to various parts of Russia has been significantly reduced due to pandemic. Many churches do not gather for anything but Sunday service. Just two latest activities I held offline were Women Conference in the small town of Kostroma last September in one of the churches there and a Family seminar with Alexey in the Moscow region in March. About 40 couples participated. It was Saturday retreat, with my presentation on the Biblical foundations of marriage (covenant) and Alexey’s presentation on the art of listening. We include various practical exercises to get the couples to work together. Later we had time with the pastor and leaders, and discussed how to work with the families and the younger generation.

 I am planning to develop an on-line program for counseling and family training and it’s in the process of discussion with our partners. We want to develop it in such a way that it will be self-supported and focused on equipping leaders to work with families in the church and outside the church. Due to the pandemic, many families are experiencing many challenges and difficulties and so we are receiving even more requests for family ministry.


MCNet Coach, Russia

Maxym and Anya organized a marriage seminar several years ago in Ukraine. At that time, Phil and Nancy participated in launching the materials in that country with a group of couples.  Maxym recently sent the following report:

     According to statistics every other marriage in Ukraine ends with a divorce. In Churches the situation is not as bad, though far from good. Many couples struggle with unresolved conflicts and various marriage issues. Pastoral couples experience a double stress because of the (felt) need to be role model for other couples in Church. The added stress sometimes even results in health issues in either the husband or wife, or both.

     The First Team material that Phil and Nancy presented a few years ago in Ukraine turned out to be a great tool to use with the leaders and lay couples in churches. The workshop helped to establish right priorities. The manual showed how to serve one’s own family, and gave some good tools to access quality marriage relationships and deal with specific issues. 

     In a way, First Team became a challenge for some husbands who were used to serving others, but not their own families. It challenged theological thinking about what “head” in the family means and gave better perspectives for those who were open to learning and changing.

     We were able to use the marriage workshop in various training occasions for couples in the last few years reaching more than 50 families. Personally, we were able to use the materials to serve several families as their marriage mentors. In this case we went a bit deeper and helped families to cope with specific challenges and get back on God’s track for marriage.

     What I personally like about the First Team materials is the focus on servant leadership. As Christians we need to learn to practice it first in our own marriages and families and then in churches and local communities, not vice versa!

Maxym and Anya,

MCNet Coaches, Ukraine

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