One of the things I am learning is that there are as many definitions of “Team” as there are definitions of “church”. When we use the word “team” we need to recognize that every group, and sometimes every individual, hear and understand this word differently. The most extreme definitions of team are often found in missionary settings.
The following is an over exaggerated description of a mythical team. But, as in all myths, there may be a bit of truth from which we can learn.
Traditional Missionary Teams often represent the worst of the modern mission movement. These Expatriate Teams invade territories where they think there needs to be a church or churches, and establish a Christian outpost. These teams often interfere in each other’s family lives as well as personal and work lives. It can be as extreme as the team making the decision for what color of paint one uses, or the kind of car one buys, or how one must educate the children, or when vacations may be taken, or how much time one can spend with locals and in what settings, or what one’s job must be with no deviation, or how much time one must spend with other team members in family events, personal encounters, and work. I have even seen teams where curfews were established for adult members of the team.
These traditional teams are made up of people who don’t know one another. These teams have endless meetings all the time. Friction is common. Frequent turnover is expected. Power struggles fill up the time between meetings. Effectiveness is limited or nonexistent, and very expensive.
Now that we have our caricature, let’s examine the reasons this kind of team cannot reach a nation for Christ.
The entire team process is indicative of the idea that church is a community drawn and separated from numerous local communities, in the same way the Expatriate Team was drawn from different communities and expected to get along and work together. Instead of placing the Gospel in an existing community, individuals are drawn/won from various communities and a new community called “church” is formed. I find it interesting that most tradition mission organizations talk about incarnational missions, but instead of placing Christ in the community through the Gospel, they extract and isolate new believers from the very communities they are attempting to reach.
In the same way the Missionary Team established an enclave in the foreign land, the Missionary Team attempts to establish a church that withdraws from the community. As new believers are incarcerated in the new church building and prevented from being salt and light in their own families and communities, they are indoctrinated in all manner of behaviors and judged on how well they can mimic the expatriate team’s model of building a fort to protect themselves from the locals, and interfering in each other’s lives to the point that no local would ever want to be a part of what this team may call “church.”
I didn’t become a missionary to hang out with other missionaries in a foreign country. I didn’t become a missionary to have other missionaries as my best friends. I became a missionary to build lifelong relationships with the people in my host country so that by all possible means I might see some of them come to Christ as obedient disciples who will establish the local church.
The more successful expatriate teams I have observed are those who have existing relationships, usually in the same church, and choose to become engaged in missions together. These teams understand their task is to make disciple-makers and catalyze self-replicating culturally relevant local churches that will reach communities, people groups, cities, and nations. They pour the Gospel into families and do their best to limit cultural overhang from their own church experiences. The source of all curricula is the Bible, not denominational or denominational-like doctrinal materials.
These teams quickly incorporate called local leaders that come out of the harvest. From the very beginning these emerging leaders are in mentoring relationships with team members. These mentoring relationships focus on:
- Relationship to God
- Relationship to Family
- Relationship to Community and Church
- God’s Call in their lives
- Relationship to their jobs
- Relationship to self (mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical lives)
We have found that when teams operate as mentors in deep relationships with local Disciples, in two to four years they can move on to new areas or focus on new jobs.
Blessings!David Watson Irving, Texas