by Dan Bacon
Recently the team concept has been emphasized in mission circles. Although most missions view themselves as a team and the concept of teamwork is not radical, a growing number of people are advocating a team approach with a new wrinkle.
Recently the team concept has been emphasized in mission circles. Although most missions view themselves as a team and the concept of teamwork is not radical, a growing number of people are advocating a team approach with a new wrinkle. Envisaged is a team formed on the home-side, of several couples and/or single people, who commit themselves to each other and to a specific task in evangelism or church planting overseas.
The New Testament apostolic missionary band in structure and function is the biblical basis claimed by advocates of the team concept. A number of young people today feel that this is the more natural biblical pattern, without necessarily denying other current mission structures.
The team concept is not so much a new discovery, however, as an expression of a felt lack in present mission structures and work patterns. The current emphasis on body-life and the need for sharing within the security of small groups is probably at the root of the team-concept movement. The growing stress on church-to-field missionary teams is also playing a considerable part. No doubt this is but the growing edge of something dynamic and significant in church planting and missions. The team concept is definitely in keeping with the Western cultural revolution, with its emphasis on personal relationships, experimentation, freedom and change.
There is no doubt that this new emphasis does have much to contribute by way of positive, helpful principles with respect to mission structures, organization, relationships, and even recruitment patterns. A small group unit such as the team envisaged in this concept does have a homogeneity and a cohesion that are desirable. Furthermore, where members of the team are fully committed to a specific goal, as well as to each other, this brings strength and support that is helpful.
There may also be a greater mobility with a small team and a flexibility in deployment of their gifts and resources. How much better to start a new work with a group of mutually supportive and encouraging team members than the traditional "dynamic duo" of singles or a married couple who face the new challenge more or less alone. The team concept does, however, call for evaluation. Assessment is needed both from biblical and pragmatic grounds, particularly in the areas of the proposed recruitment pattern and in relations to established mission structures and the national church.
First of all, proponents of the team approach stress that the formation of the team must be on the basis of compatibility, gifts, and group-goal commitment. Furthermore, the team is usually formed on the home-side and the inclusion of members is determined by the group. Work patterns, as well, are a product of group planning. This intimate, interlocking fellowship pattern is contrasted frequently to the more traditional mission pattern of hierarchy, impersonal relationships, rigid categories, and a "pullup-your socks and get-on-with-it-by-yourself ‘ mentality.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CONCEPT
Although some of the above reactions to current mission structures would be legitimate, yet I see dangers as well in the formation and functioning patterns of new teams of this type. The following are possible criticisms:
1. The small apostolic-missionary-band pattern was only logical in terms of the prevailing conditions of New Testament times; e.g. , no churches to receive them or clear sending structures at home. Thus, it would be a bit oversimplistic to standardize automatically the small-team pattern in today’s context and claim that it is the only viable approach.
2. Paul’s ministry was primarily M1, M2 evangelism, and there were not nearly the cultural or linguistic barriers that most missionaries face now. In recruiting new members of the "team," Paul did not confront as many unknown factors, such as aptitude for language acquisition, ability to adjust to a totally new culture, and competency in adapting skills and experience to new situations.
3. Selection of team members at the home-side by the group before overseas experience may be risky. The assumption is made that each member has the same ability to work in a cross-cultural situation and make a contribution. But this is an assumption made from a totally non-field set of circumstances, without the pressure of language, climate, and cultural tensions. In other words, how well can a team assess the suitability of fellow workers to weather the storms of a cross-cultural ministry and acquire the target language, etc.? Obviously, any mission board faces the same problem in recruitment, but the difference is that the team is formed and committed by its own criteria and judgment, which may or may not be sound.
4. Paul’s team was chosen by those actually doing the work, not by a group sitting at home. The suggested team pattern of recruitment, however, stresses that the team which is being formed on the home-side has the final say in who will be included. But is it not more logical in following the so-called biblical pattern for the current team or mission board on the field to select, rather than a home-grown product coming with explicit terms and conditions?
5. What may prove to be a compatible team at home may not in fact prove to be so in the field situation. Isn’t there also something to be said for the international team that is forged together in the actual field situation, with interlocking gifts, compatibility, and a proven contribution?
6. The problem of continuity and cohesion of the team would be compounded with the passing of time. That is, problems of children’s education, sickness, and the like may make it difficult for a team to continue to function together. Could this not conceivably discourage team members from continuing on if the team as such were dissolved? In other words, some would no doubt feel that without the support of the team they could not continue to carry on with the work at hand, and this, I feel, could work against strategy and effectiveness in the long run. So far I have raised questions with regard to the team concept in recruitment patterns, but I would like to look at the concept in relation to present mission structures and the national churches as well. Obviously, there is nothing sacrosanct about current mission agencies which says that they and they alone have the right to east and any new group to emerge must relate to them. But any new team should take into consideration the Body of Christ m the target culture, whether it be a mission board or the national church.
POTENTIAL AREAS OF DIFFICULTY
The following, seem to me, to be potential areas of difficulty for modern "apostolic bands."
1. If team members choose to live close together, an independent foreign ghetto could easily emerge, with a minimum of identity with nationals. Furthermore, exclusion of missionaries from other nations or national Christians from the team could be a hindrance to effectiveness in cultural penetration and evangelism.
2. The assumption that a team should start a new work in an unoccupied area may be warranted in some circumstances, but certainly not in all. In other words, initially you would have largely inexperienced, untried people working in a new situation. It is assumed that the team would do research and decide then how to function from that point on. But how open would the team be to outside guidance and help from those who already have done the research or learned it the hard way through experience? (I’m not assuming by any means that current missions know it all already!)
3. The team idea may be a new form of the old problem of rugged individualism in corporate disguise. Does a self-contained team really harmonize with a biblical view of the church as the Body of Christ?
4. If many new teams go out as separate from mission boards, we risk the duplication of much of what has already been done and further the splintering of our Christian testimony. Granted this need not be, but proliferation of mission structures does not generally help our image with immigration, or national churches for that matter.
In raising questions about the team concept I realize that many of the same objections or problems could be leveled against present mission structures, which by and large started off as apostolic bands themselves. And in fact, most modern mission agencies derive their justification biblically and pragmatically from it.
WHAT TO LEARN FROM THE CONCEPT
How then should established mission boards view the apostolic band, or team concept? I would like to suggest the following as a starting place.
1. From within our present structures it is imperative to foster closer personal relationships and to make it possible for people to relate to smaller groups rather than totally to the whole. The team concept underlines the need, then, for greater personal communication and sharing of life, needs, understanding and fellowship within our missions.
2. We need to stress the importance and desirability in some situations for groups of people who have interlocking gifts and who are compatible to work together for specific ends. While our typical approach in church planting is very much station by station, I feel that there is a place and need to create teams of people who can concentrate together on specific targets.
3. A "team" approaching a mission board should be taken seriously and every consideration given to finding a mutually satisfactory way of including the new team within the "larger team." But the "team within a team" does present problems with regard to mission policy, ethos, and strategy, and these factors cannot be minimized if a realistic working relationship is to be forged and maintained.
4. The traditional application by singles and couples may be altered somewhat in the future by increasing applications by teams. Flexibility is necessary, but standards of acceptance should still be applied on an individual basis, I feel, and final inclusion into a given team be conditioned upon proven ability and performance once on the field.
5. Although "multiplication of structures" is seen by most of us as undesirable, yet the Lord of the harvest is sovereign in his methodology and we should be willing to express the same tolerance and appreciation of the formation of new "apostolic bands" as we desired for our own structures in their formative periods. After all, what really counts is the evangelization of the world and the building of Christ’s church, and not the agencies that he uses to accomplish that end.
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