The wisdom of teams
Posted on May 31, 2017 by Jon Trotter
Have you ever tried playing baseball by yourself? Or singing four-part harmony alone?
There are some things you simply can’t do without the help of others. And we believe mission is one of them.
One of the guiding principles for our work at VMMissions is that team is our preferred mode of engaging in mission. We organize our staff into teams, we mobilize Ministry Support Teams to get behind mission workers, and we prioritize mission assignments where a healthy team is present. David Shenk and Ervin Stutzman outline five reasons teams are essential to ministry in their book, Creating Communities of the Kingdom.
First, a team itself constitutes a “church” in its most basic form: a community of disciples committed to the worship, way of life, and witness of Jesus Christ. Even just two followers of Jesus can model together what life in God’s kingdom looks like, and Jesus promises to be present among them (Matt. 18:20). As Shenk and Stutzman put it, “The team working together in repentance and harmony reveals to people the nature of the church which it desires to create.”
Second, a team can be a place where cross-cultural differences are bridged through the gospel. Creating a team that includes both outsiders and insiders to the host culture demonstrates the reconciliation made possible through Christ (Eph. 2:14). Insiders bring expert knowledge of the host culture. Outsiders bring a new perspective that can spark change. They can challenge each other’s cultural blind spots, creating a clearer picture of the kingdom life that commends and critiques aspects of all cultures.
Third, team leadership exemplifies the upside-down approach to power in God’s kingdom. Rather than the top-down power of our world, team members can practice the servant leadership of Jesus. They die to self, speak truthfully in love, listen attentively, exercise patience and humility, and seek God’s will together. This does not mean clear roles are not assigned. Even the early church saw the wisdom of distinguishing between ministries of the word and ministries of compassion (Acts 6:1-7). But teams harness the various strengths and gifts of each person for the common task of mission.
Fourth, a practical advantage of team ministry is that the workload is shared and thus lightened. The needs of a given community can feel overwhelming. Delegating responsibilities among teammates, and supporting one another through prayer and fellowship, can make all the difference between breakthrough and burnout. As a wise teacher once wrote, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12).
Fifth and finally, a team can have the synergistic effect of accomplishing much more than the sum of the parts. That overused buzzword, synergy, actually is quite biblical. Paul refers repeatedly in his letters to to his synergoi, his coworkers for the kingdom of God (Col. 4:11). Shenk and Stutzman write, “As persons work together, there is a strength and creativity which cannot be matched by the efforts of persons working alone.”
The next time you watch sports or hear a music ensemble, think of the church in mission. What would happen if we all adopted the wisdom of working in teams?