The basketball team on the mission field

In our last post, we talked about the three main types of teams found in our mission organization. Now I would like to discuss each of these three types in more detail.

Basketball teams work closely together and interact frequently with each other about their various ministries. Planning must be done as a team, because most of the key ministries involve more than one person on the team, and each ministry role is interconnected with what other team members are doing.
Biblical examples of this type of a team would be Jesus with his disciples and Paul with his missionary band of Silas, Timothy, Luke and others at various times.   These ministry teams did ministry and life together, side-by-side experiencing both the joys and hardships of proclaiming the good news.
Women's basketball team scores victory over Hunter College.
When new missionaries use the word “team”, most often they are thinking of a basketball-type team.  Their previous short-term experience was likely an intensive experience of a basketball team type of ministry, in which the entire short-term ministry experience was founded on the premise that the team eats, sleeps, worships and does ministry together. Hence new missionaries’ assumptions about how their future team will function are often based on this model.
My first experience in teaming as a first-term missionary was on a basketball-type church planting team in Baliwag, Philippines.   Our team grew to a size of 14 full-time people, including Filipinos, Americans, Canadians and even one German.   Almost all of our team members were first-termers, just out of language school, experiencing church planting for the first time.   We all had our assigned responsibilities, but we met for a full morning every week to coordinate these various ministries, and provide help and encouragement to one another as needed.   We spent lots of time thinking and dreaming about the big picture – the resource-sharing, mission-centered congregation we were planting.   Although few of our ministries would require every member of the team to participate, many of the ministries were jointly led by two or more team members.
Effective basketball-type teams are built around complementary strengths, emphasize collaboration and experience synergy.   Team members must be willing to sacrifice their time and individual autonomy to accomplish something together.
Keys to success for a basketball mission team:
  1. a common well-defined objective that is bigger that what one person can accomplish individually
  2. a committed team leader, able to give up to half of their time to leading the team and coordinating its ministries
  3. regular communication.   They generally means frequent team meetings, preferably weekly, but also effective means of resolving conflicts and making collaborative decisions.
Basketball teams are best suited for new missionaries who are lacking in confidence and experience, and need mentoring, frequent constructive feedback and encouragement.   The team provides a supportive environment in which first steps in ministry in the new language and culture can safely be taken.   Fellow team members are able to connect the new member to ministry opportunities, and accompany them on their first few ministry ventures.
What strengths are particularly crucial for a team leader of a basketball-type team?  In my opinion, vision and empowerment.   The team leader of this type of a team needs to be able to focus the team on the vision, the objective that binds all these ministries and team members together.    Then he or she needs to help each team member identify their role on the team, and equip and encourage them to pull their weight for the good of the whole.
Basketball-type teams can be a lot of fun and produce much lasting fruit.  But they are not for everyone.   This type of a team can be a very frustrating experience if personality clashes are not resolved, if the vision is not clear or if one’s contribution to the bigger goal is ill-defined.   Missionaries often have a strong independent streak, and an effective basketball requires team members to sacrifice a great deal of their independence.  More experienced missionaries can feel restricted and hampered by the time basketball team members need to spend in team meetings or in helping new missionaries get on their feet.
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