X-teams on the mission field

Part 5 on a series about teaming 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.

But there is yet a third type of team that is commonly found on the mission field.   We call this an X-team or an expedition team.    X-Teams have at least two members, a guide and an explorer.  We think of expedition teams such as Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay who made the first successful ascent to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953.  The team was made up of a New Zealander (Hillary) and a Nepalese (Norgay), and their expedition leader back at base camp was Englishman, John Hunt.

Hillary and Norgay
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hillary_and_tenzing.jpg

X-teams on the mission field are found where an expatriate missionary and a national Christian worker (pastor, missionary, or a lay Christian) or multiple nationals work together closely in ministry.  Together they learn how to penetrate new areas or find creative ways to engage an unreached people group.  An X-team is often small and nimble, takes calculated risks, and connects deeply with the local culture.   Often the expatriate missionary works with no other expatriates, and all their ministry and communication with the team is done in the national language.

Biblical examples of X-teams can be found in the partnership of Paul with Priscilla and Aquila in the very early days of Paul’s ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:2-3).  Priscilla and Aquila are considered “locals” and provide a home for Paul, and then for the local church, as well as help Paul establish his business platform.   But they are also very ready to pull up stakes and move on to other locations to fulfill their calling as church planters.  This tent-making couple accompanied Paul to Ephesus and began the church planting ministry there (Acts 18:18-26), even as Paul went back home to Antioch for a short home service.  Paul rejoins them in Ephesus for a tremendously fruitful couple of years of church planting in the entire region.   We don’t know all the details of their adventures together, but in Romans 16:3-5, Paul speaks highly of this couple,  and says they risked their necks for Paul.  Obviously a deep bond of friendship had been established between Paul and this couple.   It is also clear that this couple was not afraid to take risks for the Gospel.

Robert (on left) with Russian co-workers in Magadan

Retired SEND missionaries, Robert and Robin Crane served on a variety of X-teams when they were planting churches in the far northern regions of Far East Russia in the 1990’s and early part of the 21st century.   During most of the years that they were in Chukotka and then Magadan provinces, Robert and Robin had no SEND teammates.  But they bonded deeply with the Russian brothers and sisters who joined their ministry teams, and together they served very effectively in the harsh climates of the Far North.

Effective X-teams are built around the concepts of cross-cultural partnership, deference, and respect.   The team members are generally quite mature and experienced in life and ministry. They respect and depend upon one another’s strengths and graciously accept one another’s weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.  They are willing to accept the challenges of a multi-national team because they realize that as a team, they can accomplish far more than if they were to work only with those from their own culture.

Both the expatriate team members and the national team members need to learn to act and communicate in ways that make sense and build trust in the other person’s culture.    Forgiveness and grace will need to be constantly demonstrated to one another.  They will need to defer to one another, and be willing to learn from one another continually.

Keys to success for a X-team:

  1. National believers who understand and are willing to adapt to work with expatriates
  2. Mature and experienced expatriate missionaries who understand and respect the culture, and are able to win the deep trust of national co-workers.
  3. Fluency in a common language. Either the missionary can easily communicate in national language or the national can communicate in English (and serve as translator)

Leadership of an X-team can be provided by either the expatriate or the national partner, depending on experience and gifting.   Whoever takes the lead needs to be adept at cross-cultural communication, and making sure that conflicts and misunderstandings are addressed before they blow up and destroy trust on the team.

Working on an X-team is challenging, and involves a high degree of discomfort and cultural stress, at least initially.  But a team like this can be amazingly productive, very creative and provide a very rewarding teaming experience.  I would venture to say that most first-term missionaries are not ready for an X-team upon completion of language school.   Would you agree or disagree?

 

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