In mission work, when engaging unreached people, working in teams is essential. One person cannot do it alone. However, not all mission teams are the same. Over the years, we have observed four main types of teams on the mission field: basketball teams, track teams, X-teams (expedition teams), and combo teams. Each type has its own unique characteristics and purposes. I have written about each of these in a series on types of mission teams, but I thought it might be helpful to summarize our thinking into one post.1 The SEND U wiki also provides a Word document summarizing these 4 different types of teams in point form.
Basketball Teams: Working Closely Together
A basketball team is a tightly-knit unit, where five players work closely together on the court to defend and score. Similarly, in mission work, a basketball team consists of team members who interact constantly with each other, sharing a common goal. They live near each other and target the same people or neighborhood. This type of team emphasizes collaboration and synergy, with each member playing a specific role in achieving the team’s objectives.
A biblical example of a basketball team is Jesus and his disciples. They worked and lived together, experiencing both the joys and hardships of proclaiming the good news. Like the disciples, missionaries on a basketball team rely on each other, hand off responsibilities, and watch each other’s backs. They sacrifice their individual autonomy for the greater good of the team.
To ensure success, basketball teams require a well-defined objective, a committed team leader, and regular communication. Team meetings, conflict resolution, and collaborative decision-making are essential for the smooth functioning of the team.
Track Teams: Individual Excellence, Collective Support
Track teams, unlike basketball teams, focus on individual excellence while still supporting each other. In a mission team that functions like a track team, team members work independently but share a common goal of evangelism and discipleship. They may be in different churches, ministries, or even towns, but they come together to support and encourage one another.
An example of a track team from the Bible is the partnership between Jesus and John the Baptist. Although they worked independently, they shared the same purpose of spreading the gospel. Paul and Apollos are another biblical example of a track team, as they worked independently, addressing the same people but with different roles.
Track teams require the job descriptions and goals for each member are clearly understood. This type of team thrives when team members are confident, self-motivated, and able to work independently. While they may have fewer team meetings, track teams prioritize planning of social events to foster relationships and build camaraderie.
X-Teams: Cross-Cultural Partnerships
X-teams, also known as expedition teams, consist of an expatriate missionary and a national Christian worker or two partnering closely in ministry. These small and nimble teams take calculated risks and connect deeply with the local culture. The expatriate missionary may work with no other expatriates, relying solely on the national partner for ministry and communication.
In the Bible, Paul’s partnership with Priscilla and Aquila exemplifies an X-team. Priscilla and Aquila provided support and a home for Paul while also actively participating in church planting. They risked their necks for the sake of the gospel, demonstrating the deep bond that can be formed within an X-team.
This type of team require national believers who are adaptable and willing to work with expatriates. Mature and experienced expatriate missionaries who understand and respect the local culture are also crucial. Fluency in a common language, whether it be the national language or English, facilitates effective communication within the team.
Leadership within an X-team can be provided by either the expatriate or the national partner, depending on experience and gifting. The team leader must excel in cross-cultural communication and address conflicts promptly to maintain trust among team members.
Combo Teams: A Fusion of X-Teams
Combo teams are a unique blend of X-teams, where missionaries serve on multiple teams simultaneously. One of their teams is their ministry team, consisting of the missionary and national workers committed to a common purpose. The missionary is not the team leader but works under the leadership of a national pastor. Additionally, the missionary is part of another team, composed of other missionaries from their organization. This second team functions like a track team, while their first team is a classic X-team.
Combo teams allow for a comprehensive approach to mission work. The ministry X-team focuses on specific goals and provides direction, while the mission track team offers support and collaboration among fellow missionaries. This combination creates a synergy that enhances the overall effectiveness of the team.
To succeed as a combo team, clear communication and coordination between the ministry team and the mission team are essential. The missionary must balance their responsibilities and commitments on both teams, ensuring that they contribute effectively to each.
Choosing the Right Team
Each type of team has its strengths and advantages. For new missionaries lacking experience and confidence, a basketball team provides a supportive environment for learning and growth. The close collaboration and mentorship available in a basketball team can be invaluable to first-term missionaries.
Track teams are best suited for missionaries who are self-motivated, experienced, and have a clear understanding of their goals. These teams allow for individual excellence while still benefiting from the support and encouragement of team members.
X-teams require a deep level of intercultural partnership and are suited for mature and adaptable missionaries who are willing to take risks. The combination of expatriate and national perspectives can lead to significant impact and fruitful ministry.
Combo teams provide a comprehensive approach to mission work, combining the benefits of both ministry and mission teams. Missionaries on combo teams must navigate the dynamics of multiple teams and balance their commitments effectively.
In conclusion, the mission field requires different types of teams to accommodate the diverse needs and preferences of missionaries. Whether it’s the close collaboration of a basketball team, the individual excellence of a track team, the intercultural partnership of an X-team, or the fusion of multiple teams in a combo team, each type offers unique opportunities for ministry and growth. Choosing the right team depends on individual strengths, experience, and the specific goals of the mission. By embracing teamwork, missionaries can work together to fulfill the call to spread the gospel and make disciples of all nations.