Building an overseas team is easy, right? Just put a few sent ones in the same city and call one of them the leader. Then watch as they love one another really well and lock arms on mission. I’m sure there will be neither conflict nor confusion. And they’ll live happily ever after.
Ok, too much sarcasm.
If you’ve ever been involved with any sort of overseas team, you know it can be one of the most worthy endeavors, and also one of the most volatile. Unified missionary teams are a little mirror of the Triune God. They embody who he is, and the very message they’ve been sent to proclaim. And that’s exactly why the enemy wants to sabotage them. Unfortunately, team members can easily do the sabotaging for him, whether it’s through outright sin, personality differences, or culture stress.
Take Paul and Barnabas, for example. In Acts 15 they have “such a sharp disagreement” (v. 39) over John Mark that they completely part ways. Sure, God ultimately turns it for good. But this is one of the saddest breakups of the Bible. And if it happened to this powerhouse duo- an apostolic team forged in years of pastoral and missionary service- it’s no surprise that today’s teams are just as hard.
So meet Jesse Eubanks. He knows teams are worth the drama. His nonprofit Love Thy Neighborhood moves young adults into at-risk neighborhoods to do social justice internships. In the places they serve, no one’s making it for long without deep Christian community. In the past ten years Jesse has developed a way to build teams that’s so old-school it feels fresh. We caught up with him for what I thought would be a few pointers. After scribbling down the fourth page of pure gold, we just pretended like we didn’t want him to push back his next meeting.
Don’t worry, over the next two posts we promise to share the wealth. One quick disclaimer, it is assumed in these articles that teams on mission are knitted together by the Holy Spirit through prayer, worship, Scripture, service, and commitment to the local church. The following framework doesn’t trump those activities, it only admits that teams denigrate them into a checklist as things get rough.
Here’s a crack at what just might hold it all together:
Basic logistical training and philosophy of ministry
“This is where we lay out the basics of what it means to be on the team. It’s our ‘day time’ training so to speak. Yet it also contains our philosophy of ministry. Love has to be embodied. Doctrine alone isn’t enough. To be a lover of God, you must know you’re loved. That only happens when we are known. This is the only way to proclaim a true gospel. The basic foundation of being on the team is that they will know and be known by one another, so that they can love and be loved by one another.“
“This is our ‘night time’ training. We gather as a team and take turns sharing one another’s life stories. This isn’t just a testimony—we want to hear everything. And we give as many nights as it takes to hear everyone’s stories. The goal is two-fold. One, it’s meant for them to verbalize their story, to unpack the story that has made them who they are. And two, it’s meant for the group to learn active listening. We try to keep this phase as compact as possible because people tend to build off one another. It’s profoundly bonding.” (For more on this, download Jesse’s free ebook, Known: How to Connect with God and Other People Through Your Life Story.)
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re not focusing only on team relationships. Even at this stage we go ahead and mobilize team members into ministry. This helps balance out digging into one another’s life stories. People can’t handle focusing only on getting to know one another. And from the beginning it models both community and mission as wrapped together.”
“We then utilize some of Donald Miller’s Storyline concepts to help team members write out their stories. This helps them get it organized. We also have them label emotions that are connected to their stories. It helps them to not only engage with the memories cognitively, but also emotionally. Otherwise, they disengage and turn off the pain of memories, which withholds parts of themselves from one another.”
“After all this we have everyone share two memories that they didn’t previously unpack or two new realizations they’ve had about themselves since joining the team. Here I’m asking people to roll the dice. The team has already established basic boxes for one another. This is an invitation to move beyond those assumptions. It’s a reminder of our team commitment: if you want to be loved, you have to be known.”
“This is a great time to then consider personality. We use the Enneagram, a really helpful personality test. It helps team members understand how they relate to each other. They begin to see one another as different and unique, and they learn to give grace.”
The Relational Soul
“Finally, we have the team read The Relational Soul by Richard Plass and James Cofield. It really ties all these steps together. It drives home that everything is about relationship—God, life, mission, family. If we don’t know how to relate to one another, we offer the world nothing.”
According to Jesse, this is when amazing things start to happen. People are wide open to one another. They’re known, but they’re still fearful of whether or not people will love them as they are. “Mistrust and resistance naturally kicks in here, but that’s when the team can truly love one another. People on mission preach and teach and obey well, but they’re often so driven that they’re harsh people—hard on themselves and hard on others. As they become recipients of embodied grace as a team, they become gracious people.”