At Frontiers, we aim to keep our rulebook small. We have a few non-negotiables, such as only ministering among Muslims and that everyone must be on a team, either by joining or starting one. Right now, we have about 275 field teams, with 1,300 people from 50+ countries.
We insist on teams because we believe God uses them for his work to be accomplished and we find the concept of teamwork throughout scripture.
Missional teams in the Bible
The New Testament names over 30 pioneers for the gospel. None of them worked alone. The 12 disciples left everything to follow Jesus on his ‘team’, which later expanded to at least 70 people ministering in the towns and villages. (1)
Later, the Holy Spirit tells the church in Antioch to send out Paul and Barnabas, not just so they can get more done but because anyone by themselves would be lonely, vulnerable, and ineffective (2). John Mark joins as their helper. Paul is often seen as a super-pioneer but it’s important to note he was always on a team. In fact, the only time we find him alone in his ministry is in Athens waiting for his team to arrive. (3)
I want to offer three reasons why Jesus modelled teams, why the Holy Spirit assigned teams in the early church, and why we insist on ministering as teams today.
1. It takes a team to make disciples and plant churches
God uses a mix of gifts to both plant and strengthen churches. In pioneering settings ‘apostolic’ types are needed to open doors, gifted evangelists to lead seekers to faith, pastoral types to care for people’s needs, and so many more. (4)
No individual can do all these things. It requires the diverse gifts and personalities found within teams. In Turkey I had the joy of leading a few Muslim men to faith in Jesus. They'd often come with problems that I couldn't help with. But I had teammates with gifts to counsel, care for, and disciple the new believers and their families. It was a joy to minister together as a team.
2. Pioneering teams can model true love.
When a group of foreigners moves into a non-touristy neighbourhood they draw a lot of attention. Often our workers talk about ‘living in a fishbowl’. In fact, anyone who openly identifies as a follower of Jesus will be watched. Jesus encouraged being watched when he commanded us: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”(5). He also said that the world would recognise us as his disciples by the way we love one another. (6)
An individual Christian's Spirit-empowered witness is wonderful, but a community of believers uniquely reveals Christ. The early church started off well, sharing with those in need, eating together and praising God with glad hearts. The result? Acts 2:47 tells us “They enjoyed the favour of all the people.”
3. Pioneering teams support each other.
During our first few days on a Frontiers team one of our experienced co-workers said, “Welcome to the warzone. Now that you’re here, expect to lose time, friends and money.” They weren’t the most encouraging words, but he was right. Frontline workers face challenges such as homesickness, language barriers, health issues, and unwelcome situations. As one of our co-founders said, “We’re attempting a humanly impossible task in a sometimes-hostile environment.”
However, bleak as this sounds, I’ve observed something interesting: when our workers return to their home countries, almost all of them (my family included) long for the intimacy we had on our pioneering team; carrying one another through difficult times, laughing and celebrating together, and always pointing each other back to the Lord. We needed each other. Pioneering missions work is a hard place for lone rangers.
Team relationships aren’t always easy
Romantic as teams sound, the reality is a challenge. The greatest source of pain can sometimes come through interpersonal conflicts with teammates, clashing opinions, unmet expectations and, as Jesus experienced, even betrayal. Paul, the model missionary, had a falling out with Barnabas (7) but both went on to form new teams.
In Frontiers we give utmost importance on knowing how to deal with conflicts, recognising God’s will is that we should, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (8). All teams in Frontiers are required to have a peace-making strategy. Most use a model called Peace Pursuit, which we highly recommend. https://peacepursuit.org/
You’re on the team too
How can you be involved in supporting our teams on the field? Could you write an encouragement or send a gift to a worker you know? Or could you offer yourself to join a team and allow the Lord to use the gifts he’s given you? As our founder Greg Livingstone said, “We shouldn’t be asking ‘Am I the missionary type?’ but rather, ‘What contribution can I make to a team effort to establish churches in a Muslim city?’” Get in touch with us if you want to be involved.