• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Six characteristics of a team

Within the World Team Global community, we talk about the six (6) characteristics of an effective or fruitful team.  Stated simply, these characteristics are: common purpose, appropriate division of labor, accepted leadership, agreement on the plan, solid relationships, and good communication.

HumilitySomething struck me as I was reading through that list again recently.  All six are linked by one essential heart attitude or motivation.  Humility.

To agree to a common purpose and to share the workload means that we as team members will need to ‘give up’ something for the benefit of the group.  To stand behind accepted leadership, we must take our hands off the proverbial ‘steering wheel’ and allow ourselves to be led by another.  To agree to a joint plan means that we choose to stand behind the direction we as a group have taken.  And obviously, solid relationships and good communication can only occur on a team when each of us is willing to be transparent with others, acknowledging our mistakes, seeking forgiveness, and offering forgiveness to others.

Each characteristic seems to call for humility.

Humility though is often somewhat elusive to us.  No one has ever ‘explained’ how to go about growing in humility by certain action steps.  Maybe that is why it might be better to talk about ‘gospel humility’. It’s the humility that is the fruit of God’s work of driving the Gospel deeper and deeper into our hearts.  It’s not something we do, but something that is cultivated.  It’s about a heart that allows God’s Spirit to search us, pull us up short, and enflame our hearts with the overwhelming good news of the Gospel again and again!

So monocultural and multicultural teams can be fertile contexts wherein God works that gospel humility into our lives; where we learn the richness and depth of His love as we rub shoulders in team ministry with brothers and sisters who may not be like us but are committed to the same vision and calling.

A question on which to reflect: how has God used team members to further your understanding of and growth in grace?

Multicultural teams don’t work

Now that I’ve got your attention, neither multicultural nor monocultural teams work in the long run if team members don’t work hard to understand the ‘world’ of each member.

Teams do not work because team members do not take the time to understand another’s ‘culture’ or way of working.  I can be from the same culture as other team members, but if I am a ‘thinker’ and another is a ‘feeler’, I could be frustrated by his/her lack of being able to ‘make a decision’. It may feel like he/she is always stalling our team and never wanting to come to closure.  However, that is not how this person is ‘thinking’ or processing. Failing to understand another’s way of thinking will cause dissonance and conflict in a team.multicultural conflict

Teams fail, not because of the cultural make-up of the group, but because we believe our way of seeing and dealing with reality (for example, how to do ‘team life and ministry’) is the best or ‘biblical’ way.  Our own culture can create a sense of right-ness in our hearts, and keep us from humbly learning from others on our team.  We can miss the opportunity to experience team in a deeper way.

It is true that when you add the ‘multicultural’ card into a team, it adds another dimension that the team must address.  However, the ‘multicultural’ card will also add a dimension to any team that enhances its cross-cultural ministry capacity.

When two or more cultures come together to work on a church planting team, they must learn how to ‘bridge’ between the cultures represented on that team.  They learn not only how to ‘divest themselves’ (Philippians 2), but how to ‘translate and contextualize’ what another is saying.  This allows them, as a team, to be even better prepared to contextualize the message into the cultural context of the people group to whom they have been called.  In other words, they gain valuable experience for their ministry from learning to work together and minister to one another as a team.

So, whether your team is monocultural or multicultural, each of us needs to start by asking at least two questions so that our team can be built on grace and honesty:

  • What do I need to ask another to better understand how they think and process?
  • What heart barrier (cultural, emotional or spiritual) keeps me from hearing and learning from another who seems very different from me?

Taking part in TC4u

I believe that each of us, as World Team workers, could benefit significantly from a mentor, a coach, and a community. 

TC4uBack in 2014, we re-introduced one another to the idea of building community with others for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.  A small working group put together the document: “TC4u: Transformational Communities“.  If you have never seen this document or can’t currently find it in your files, drop me a note and I’ll make sure to send you a copy.

This document describes how a Transformational Community (TC4u) is one that:

  • believes and holds Christ as the Head of the community
  • believes that God is relational and has created mankind in His image as relational beings
  • believes that the community is a provision of the Lord for their transformation and growth
  • believes that they are secure and confident in justification through Christ
  • believes that the Trinity lives in community, chooses to include us in their community and that community is part of the mission
  • believes the NT church voluntarily practiced sharing all things (koinonia), in response to God “freely giving us all things”

One of the statements that struck me the most in re-reading this document was the following:  “TC provides a broader source for discernment about our lives, relationships, and ministries. Our own sins and weaknesses deeply affect our discernment about ourselves. God often provides better perspective and protection through others’ involvement in our lives.

That work of discernment can occur individually as we meet with others; that work can occur as we meditate on the Word together and the Spirit speaks to our own heart; and that work can occur through the insights and words of others in a community of which you and I are an active part.

Outside of community, each of us can be easily blinded to our own shortcomings and sins.  The role of community is to remind us of, drive us back to the Cross.  At the Cross, we hear again those words that are so precious: ‘your sins have been forgiven; you are my child

I honestly look forward to getting together regularly with the community that I am a part of with my wife and others.  What we do, might not look the same in your context or situation.  However, because I and others in the group see community as so vital to our growth in grace, we’ve worked out the best way at this point for us to be ‘in community’ as often as we can.

Team or community?

What is a team?  And what is a community? 

To put it in as simple terms as I can, a team is a group formed around a task and a community is a group committed to life together as the people of God.  In our World Team Global network, we can easily confuse these two, mixing them so closely that they create misunderstanding and ministry stagnation.

Much of the confusion arises from false expectations that we may each bring to a team or a community.false expectations

One false expectation is that one’s team will automatically be his/her community.  This may or may not be the case.  One’s community might be best found outside of one’s team.  It’s a discussion we should not shy away from; one that would probably help our teams process and discern what community would look like for each member.  It would give us insight as to what kind of community would serve to best enhance each one’s ministry growth.

However, when one ‘demands’ that his/her team be the needed community, and when that ‘need’ is not met by the team, a good deal of heartburn can occur; frustration that derails a team from its primary mission.

A second false expectation is that we will only find true community with people from one’s same culture.  As cross cultural workers, we have chosen, following God’s call, to ‘adopt’ another people and culture.  Yes, it’s not easy to make the transition.  And yes, it’s not easy to worship and to ‘live in community’ in another language that is not one’s own heart language.  However, the richness of His grace is so much sweeter when one enters into and engages in community across another culture.  One’s heart can learn to worship in another heart language.

A final false expectation is that team and community are places where we will ‘feel good’ all the time; it will be like a ‘family’.  Both team and community, according to the Scriptures, call for robust and honest dialogue and can at times pass by moments of tension.  However, a good team and a good community know how to work through conflict and tension; just as a good family does.

 

Community and the Gospel

In his groundbreaking book on the history of revivals, Richard Lovelace makes this insightful comment: “Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude. In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.”

gospelcommunityIn our World Team Global circles, we are used to hearing the phrase: “preaching the Gospel to yourself every day”.  By that we mean to say our hold on the Gospel is tenuous and our hearts need to be reminded of the deep love of Christ each and every day in order for us to live out of the Gospel.

However, when we say that we must ‘preach the Gospel to ourselves every day’, I think we often read that reminder as an individual effort.  Whereas, the Scriptures appear to place this act of remembering in a community context.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty year in the wilderness that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart.”  (Deuteronomy 8:2)

And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””  (1 Corinthians 11:24)

We can easily miss this truth as our English translations of the Bible do not distinguish between an individual ‘you’ and a collective ‘you’; something that many other languages have embedded in their structure and grammar.

The Bible underscores the critical importance of the community in preaching the Gospel to our hearts. Others are part and parcel of the process by which the Gospel is driven deeper and deeper into our hearts.

So if community is that important in the remembering process, then we need to go looking for that kind of community where we live and minister.

Yet we hesitate from seeking that kind of community.  I know I don’t, and I know you don’t like it when others try to ‘speak into our lives’; when the community seeks to be part of our growth process.  Oftentimes people just do not do a very good job of ‘speaking the truth in love’.  Yet, there is always some element in the words of others that can cause growth in our understanding and application of the Gospel.  Living out the Gospel in community and living in community through the Gospel is not an event, but a process whereby we learn to discern God’s voice to us through others.

I need to preach the Gospel to myself regularly.  I also need to call on others to speak the Gospel to me out of our community bond in Christ.

Gotta go all the way

go all the wayOkay, I know that’s not proper English (neither British nor American).  However, my point is simply that learning to talk with others in a language that is not our heart language is a work of perseverance in order to get to the objective of sharing our faith with others in a cross cultural context.

Perseverance calls for several actions or heart attitudes that are not natural to our hearts.

For one, the work of perseverance pushes you to always keep the endpoint in mind.  We should not be satisfied with ‘almost there’.  90% is still 10% short, we could say.  The problem here is that we are good at talking ourselves into accepting ‘half-way’ work.   Other concerns begin to weigh in on us. The main concern in cross cultural life, we believe, is to ‘get out into ministry’.

For another, the work of perseverance presses on the humility quotient.  Coming from ministry experience in our own cultural context, we can feel ‘child-like’ in cross cultural life and ministry when we recognize that it takes a whole lot longer to talk, to get a sentence out then it does in our own culture and language.  Perseverance drives us see our need for grace even in language learning and cultural acquisition.

Finally, the work of perseverance can highlight (regularly) our weaknesses. The problem for me (and most of us) is that I don’t always see the benefits of this ‘highlighting’.  However, the psalmist saw this benefit (Psalm 139:23-24) and maybe his prayer should become our prayer.

It is true that at the 30 kilometer mark in a marathon, one ‘hits the wall’.  The temptation to quit is so strong when one ‘hits that wall’ that it’s hard to resist.  When I ran the Paris marathon, one of my teammates here in France stepped on the course at the 30 kilometer mark and ran with me for two kilometers.  The words of encouragement that teammate shared were just what I needed to ‘go all the way’ to the end of the marathon at 42 kilometers.

Perseverance is hard work, but it is a community work.  Struggling in language and culture?  Tempted to ‘call it quits’ before the language acquisition finish line?  Feeling discouraged at not being able to express yourself like you would want?  Call on a friend. Call on a group of friends.  Call on the community to help because we ‘gotta go all the way’ to learning the language and culture of those God has called us to serve.

Do you understand me?

Happy Reformation Day (one day late)!

Today is Reformation Day on many of our calendars.  One of the crucial elements that the Reformation ushered in was the opportunity for ordinary people to read and understand the Word of God in their own language.  People who had to ‘hear’ the Word through another who served as their translator, could now take the Word in their own hands and speak it out loud in sounds and words that would cause their own hearts to be warmed.

What the Reformers did was, in part, to give validity to the necessity and value of Bible translation.  Even more than that, though, the work of the Reformers created a paradigm shift in the then known world of Christianity.  Cultural understanding and contextual application would become vital to the spread of the Christian faith.

language learningWe as workers in God’s mission must give the time and energy necessary to understand another’s world (language, culture, worldview and context) in order to ‘put the Bible in their hands’ for them to discover, learn and apply for themselves in their culture and context.

The possible pitfalls or detours along this road of working to understand another (and his/her culture) are numerous.  Here are a few that come quickly to mind:

  • Global comprehension is adequate”: in other words, as long as I understand the gist of the conversation, I’ll be okay. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always worked for me when it comes to handyman projects. I need to know each step, each detail along the way.  Otherwise, I might find myself with water spewing all over the kitchen floor rather than the faucet correctly attached to the pipes.
  • They are happy I’m trying”: and the truth is, that many times people from another culture are happy you are trying. However, they also long for you to go farther in your abilities the longer you live among them.  The main reason being, so that you will be able to better understand their hearts and struggles.
  • It’s all about ministry”: our vision together is to see multiplying disciples and communities of believers among the unreached. It is about ministry.  However, here’s the rub with cross cultural ministry. It’s not only about what God is doing through us, but it is equally as much about what God is doing in us.  It’s often the ongoing cultural learning piece where God does a lot of work on our hearts.  Short circuiting the work of cultural learning may get you into ministry ‘faster’, but it might deprive you of Holy Spirit heart work that might provide greater foundation to one’s ongoing cross cultural ministry.

What’s great about our community is that there are many who have ‘walked this road before us’ and created ways and processes to help learn well how to ‘understand others’.  I’m sure that many of them would be open to sharing their ideas with other teams.

In the midst of all this work of cultural understanding stands Jesus; constantly calling us back to Himself so that we might have the strength, the grace and the courage to press in order to bring the Gospel to others.