Our family arrived in Spain in August, 1984. At the time, we knew that God had led us very specifically to work with another family who were veteran missionaries. We worked very closely together as a two-family team for twenty years. The last ten years we were in two separate churches with close ties between them. They retired last year.
I’ve known many missionaries in team ministries over these thirty-one years. I’ve asked a lot of questions, observed other works, and learned a thing or two. I’m hoping that some of the tidbits I’ve picked up will help you in your ministry.
- Let God bring your team together. One of the factors in our working together for so many years was the obvious leading of God. Our co-workers were looking for someone to work with them, and we were looking for God’s leadership at the same time. There were unforgettable “coincidences” that confirmed to us that God was bringing us together as a team. Our co-workers were praying very specifically, and it was amazing how, unknown to us, God answered their specific prayers with us. When God puts the team together, it’s more successful than when men orchestrate teams.
- Have a team mission statement. It doesn’t have to be written down necessarily, but everyone should be aware of the ultimate goal. We are “planting a church in City X with the aim that someday a native pastor will take it over.” We are “starting a school for grades K-4 through 8, and it’s to be Christian and soul-winning.” We’re “founding a Christian camp ministry something like the one we knew at Camp Z in the States.” We are “training university students for the ministry.” Know your team goal so everyone can work toward it.
- Consider others’ gifts. Many years ago, I asked a woman in a very successful team ministry how they had worked together for so long. She replied that everyone was allowed to exercise his own gift. It only makes sense to consider people’s spiritual and natural gifts when divvying up tasks. Also, make sure each member of your team understands his “job description.”
- Have team meetings. This is so important for keeping everyone on the same page! Make sure you share ministry ideas, goals, and general information. Also, make sure everyone has a voice, every time (if he so desires).
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. This means talking, team meetings, listening, and all the rest. Make sure the whole team knows what’s expected and is aware of all the things he needs to know.
- Listen to others’ ideas. If you’re the team leader, of course, you will lead. But, it’s important to at least listen to and consider other angles of thinking and others’ ideas. (Sometimes, they’ll be great!)
- Pray together. No one can do God’s work effectively without God’s help and guidance. Prayer is vital! Plus, people who pray together naturally become closer.
- Work. Pull your own weight. Do what you find to do. Do what you’re asked to do and do it well. Be a witness to your own friends and acquaintances. (You don’t need an assignment to do that!) Be willing to work hard.
- Be kind. No matter what, speak to your co-workers kindly. Be considerate.
- Solve problems rather than letting them slide. If you really and truly have an issue, work it out with your co-worker. Talk it over in private, and solve it. A lot of team problems are simply misunderstandings and/or due to poor communication. Talk through problems, and get them resolved. If you’re the leader and need to tackle an issue, help your co-worker understand why you’re speaking to him.
- Celebrate some purely social occasions with all of the team together. We used to have a meal with our co-workers after our families distributed tracts on Saturday mornings. Both families contributed to the meal—the same menu every week—and it gave us some quality time together. When our children were younger, we celebrated American holidays (Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July) together with them.
- Honor each other in public and in private. Nothing chops a team apart faster than harmful talk. When you speak of your co-worker, only speak positively. Praise him, if you can. Never publicly criticize someone you work with. (Deal with any genuine issue privately.)
When things don’t go according to plan, we need to joyfully embrace Plan B. Many years ago in Spain, a veteran missionary told us he thought he would start a church every few years, be able to turn it over to a national pastor, and move on. To his dismay, the first church he founded was twenty years in the growing before it was ready to call a pastor. He started a new one after that, and now, it too has called a Spanish pastor. If at first things don’t work like you thought they would, ask the Lord for guidance. Sometimes, all you need is perseverance.
What if the team doesn’t work? Of course, there are ministries where partners just can’t work together. They have more issues than solutions. They don’t agree, and they don’t fit! It’s time to seek God’s leadership. Be humble, analyze the issues, and look for a satisfactory solution. If you have irreconcilable differences, bow out gracefully without bad-mouthing anyone. Make sure you don’t harm the cause of Christ on that field. If your team can’t work together, leave sweetly and quickly.
What if there’s a moral or legal issue? Moral issues should be taken care of by the church, according to the guidelines in Matthew 18:15-17. Legal issues should be taken care of by government authorities.
Team ministries can be very effective in serving the Lord. We need only to read the book of Acts to see how the apostles and disciples went together on many of their missionary journeys. We watch Paul being evangelistic and father-like while Barnabas gave people special help as they were finding their way in their Christian faith and ministry. We see great orators like Apollos learning doctrine in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. We watch Dorcas making clothes for widows, Lydia opening her spacious home, and Rhoda keeping the door at a prayer meeting. Each person counts. Every role is important.
Whether your particular part in the team ministry is great or small, the Lord appreciates everything that's done in His name, His power, and for His glory.
So then neither is he that planteth any thing,
neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one:
and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
For we are labourers together with God:
ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
According to the grace of God which is given unto me,
as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.
But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if any man build upon this foundation
gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
Every man’s work shall be made manifest:
for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire;
and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon,
he shall receive a reward (1 Corinthians 3:7-14).
So run, that ye may obtain (1 Corinthians 9:24b).
May the Lord find us faithful!