Six questions about missionary teams often arise.
1. Why form church planting teams?
- Jesus and His apostles always worked in groups except when in jail. To work alone invites burnout, discouragement, harmful decisions and moral failures.
- Younger Americans, like most non-Westerners, prefer to work in a closely-knit community. Include nationals on your team in foreign fields. Form several task groups, so that expatriates do not outnumber nationals. Let nationals lead teams as soon as possible.
- A team ensures a variety of gifts and skills.
- The spiritual DNA from a mother church body is best carried also by a body ? a team. The genetic code of a loner worker’s DNA, being incomplete, engenders churches that are deficient from birth, lacking vital ministries and spiritual virtues.
- A team can model loving, unifying interaction for new workers and churches.
- Lone workers often foster individualism, especially if they hold the common North American, individualistic worldview. This view describes faith as “personal” which is foreign to Scripture and stifles church planting movements, because it makes faith a private matter. God does not see seekers as isolated individuals; the apostles went at once to seekers’ families and friends, treating them as a bloc.
- A team better endures opposition. A lone worker that gathers people in homes of seekers or new believers often leaves there at the first hint of opposition. Team members can uphold one another, to deal confidently with paganism’s inevitable counterattacks. Thus, a team more easily works within homes and within a culture, rather than retreating to a neutral zone where it starts a culturally irrelevant church that cannot multiply.
2. What do effective teams do when entering another culture?
- Teams see themselves as a temporary scaffold, not the edifice—the national church—that Christ is building. (He did not say, “Upon this rock I will build my missionary team.”)
- Teams are small, having fewer then six workers.
- Teams have the skills to do all the things that Jesus sent them to do.
- Teams change intermediate goals and methods as they adapt to culture. If they do not make at least one radical change during a year, then they are probably stuck in a rut.
- Teams keep learning local language and culture.
- Teams have a gift balance that allows a wide variety of ministry efforts. Caution: Some agencies require so much education that only academic types join the team—a devastating mistake!
- Team members agree on vision, goals and general methods.
- Teams reorganize as short-lived task groups at least annually.
- Western teams keep their worship style separate from the emerging churches’ style.
3. What can be done to have an effective mixed team with both expatriate and national workers?
- Maintain a ratio of one expatriate to five or more nationals.
- Call in someone temporarily to model needed skills that team members lack.
- Have expatriates serve mainly in the background as coaches.
- Have experience in cross-cultural understanding and adopt local cultural expressions.
- Provide a forum to discuss ideas safely without risk to their teamwork or to local cultures.
4. What common pitfalls must teams avoid?
- Danger: Spending more time maintaining the team than working with new believers.
- Danger: Pushing nationals into an expatriate team’s mold, forcing them to repeat missionaries’ mistakes and culturally irrelevant practices.
- Danger: Seeking to increase the numbers of expatriates on the team instead of nationals.
- Danger: Expatriates wanting to pastor the national church as it emerges.
- Danger: Recruiting team members without regard for a healthy balance of spiritual gifts. For example, often a team is an excessive weighted with teachers.
- Danger: Agencies assigning personnel without regard for field realities and needs.
- Danger: Settling in for the long term to accomplish short-term projects.
5. Does it work simply to send Western dollars to poor workers that will serve for only a few dollars a day?
- This has worked well in some circumstances and failed miserably in others.
- Westerners can provide training and resources to “jump start” movements. To collaborate this way requires genuine, mutual love and respect and unselfish sharing of authority.
- Sending money without strict accounting inevitably leads to…
Greed. Dollars attract money-hungry workers and national organizations that crave wealth.
Fear. National workers, fearing that the “pie” (funds from the West) will be cut into smaller portions if they start new churches, fail to sustain a church planting movement.
Dependency. National pastors relying on Western aid often neglect Christian stewardship.
Independent spirit. National agencies with expatriate resources often operate without regard for the national churches that trained and supplied their personnel.
Division. If some workers receive pay from the outside and other coworkers do not, resentment occurs.
6. What do good team leaders do?
- Good team leaders have the gift of leadership; they know specifically what all members of the team should do, and help them do it.
- Good team leaders are tough-minded enough to offend coworkers when they need it. That often is the most loving thing they can do. If you cannot do this, then ask a co-worker to lead the team, and be content with coaching in the background.
- Good team leaders keep workers focused on the task, make it fun, welcome feedback, do not criticize an absent team member, recognize work done, measure progress and take bold steps to escape ruts.