Teams in Mission: Are They Worth It? (Part One)

TEAM missionaries research teamwork.

Do teams work? What does it take to develop and maintain a healthy team? Is it worth the effort? Does a healthy team really produce better results than a dysfunctional team?

Teamwork has been a popular concept in missions theory and practice for decades, but there is a persistent sense among missionaries that teams may be more work than they are worth. Working alongside others, especially those of different cultures, is no easy task. It takes time, effort, and energy to work in a team, and it doesn’t always produce the fruit we look for.

We’ve all heard this comment: our younger generation values teamwork, but the older generation doesn’t get it. Twenty-five years ago, as a member of the new generation of missionaries, I nodded my head in agreement. I thought, Yes, we value teamwork and the older generation doesn’t get it. Today, I am a member of the “older” generation. When I hear the familiar refrain, I’m tempted to respond, “Yes, the younger generation values teamwork, and we don’t get it.”

Why is that? Is it because veteran missionaries have learned from experience that the ideal of teamwork is unrealistic? Personally, I have experienced enough frustration and disappointment in working with others that I have justifiable cause to question an idealistic view of teamwork in missions. And yet I always come back to the principle I have believed since I started my missionary journey: We can do it better than I can. I believe we have more to gain by working together that we have to lose.

In this article, I share my own missionary journey of working with others in teams. It is a journey characterized by both joy and frustration. This prompted a search for a deeper understanding …

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