The track team on the mission field

In a previous post, we talked about the three main types of teams found in our mission organization.   When new missionaries think about teaming, they are generally thinking about what we have called a basketball team.  Basketball teams work together closely and interact frequently with each other about their various ministries.
But many of our mission teams are more like track teams than basketball teams.   Track teams have a common purpose and team members support one another, but each person on the team works independently. They generally do not do ministry together.  For many of our track teams, each team member works in a different church, a different ministry project or even in a different town.  While they are geographically close enough to one another to make it feasible to meet together regularly, team meetings are relatively rare, because there is little need for ongoing coordination of ministries.

Biblical examples of track teams might be Jesus and John the Baptist, Paul and Apollos and OT prophets like Isaiah and Micah who were contemporaries addressing the same people (the kingdom of Judah).  

My SEND U team is essentially a track team, although as a virtual team, we are geographically remote from one another.   We live in 7 different countries (if Michigan and Alaska could be considered 2 separate countries).    We meet once a month on Skype, and once a year in a face-to-face leadership retreat.   Occasionally we work together to lead training workshops, but most of the year, we are working independently on the various projects each of us has accepted.
Unfortunately, often what we call track teams do not really fit the typical understanding of a ministry team. On some so-called track teams, missionaries live in relatively close proximity to one another, but they do not have a well-defined common purpose, there are no common goals, and they do not hold one another accountable for accomplishing their ministry goals.   Instead, the “team” functions more like a support group or “fellowship cluster.” Team members look to one another for  friendship, encouragement and support in times of crisis.   They are bound together primarily because they are members of the same mission organization and share similar experiences as expatriates in this country.  Now there is nothing wrong with fellowship clusters, but I would argue that we should not call them teams.

Admittedly, many of these same missionaries are also part of another team composed of mostly national believers who work alongside of them in their ministry assignment.   For many, this team more fully fulfills the purpose of teaming that the team that their mission has assigned them to.

But track teams can be very productive and effective, even without the interdependence of a basketball team.


Keys to success for a mission track team:

  1. Clearly understood job descriptions and goals for everyone 
  2. Confident, self-motivated team members 
  3. Intentional planning of social events for team members.   

Since team members don’t work together, they need to plan other ways to spend regular time together in non-work environments.   This might involve hospitality (hosting one another for meals), small prayer groups or Bible study groups.   Picnics, game nights and group camping trips are also great relationship-building times.  

What are the most critical functions of a team leader of a track team?   The team leader unites the team, and makes it a team rather than just a group of missionaries who happen to live in the same geographical area or work in the same department.   A track team leader needs to facilitate the member care on the team, making sure that team members find opportunities and ways to minister to one another.   The leader also needs to find ways to ensure that team members are working toward their common purpose, despite limited opportunity to observe team members in ministry.   Motivating them to craft and update their job descriptions and create annual plans, and then holding them accountable for those plans are all part of providing oversight for a good track team.

Who is best suited for a track team?  Probably experienced missionaries who already understand the culture and language, are highly self-motivated and have a clear understanding of what they need to accomplish.   When I polled the new missionaries in our latest Member Orientation, the vast majority said that they wanted to be on a basketball team rather than on a track team.  But many senior missionaries prefer the independence and freedom of the track team, and if they have a clear understanding of what God has called them to do, this type of a team might be the best fit for them.   But if all our senior missionaries serve on track teams, who will coach and mentor the new missionaries?

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