Missional Teamwork

A team is most effective when it understands its mission and the role of each member in fulfilling that mission. In team sports, winning teams typically have a group a highly skilled role players, both who fit specific roles and who are competent in multiple roles, so that they can operate in a primary niche, plus cover for another player who is injured or must sit out of the game. It is called cross-training. There may be one or more individuals who stand out above the rest because of their athleticism or unusually strong skills, but their teams will usually only be successful to the degree that they make other players better, rather than trying to take over games themselves at each event.

I have been a part of teams, both informally and formally, since childhood. In sport, work, church, family, and through non-traditional ministry or community alliances, particularly on the web, I have experienced what it means to be a team member.

I remember one particular non-traditional community alliance of which I was informally a part of a team. An elderly woman with Alzheimers Disease turned up missing several years ago. A friend of mine alerted me, saying that his pastor’s mother was missing and he was going to help search for her out in a small town where she lived in a care home. I told him I would come, too. It was fairly late, about 7 pm. I was about to begin an online Bible study which I was responsible to lead. I informed the participants of the situation and asked them to pray. An online alliance of believers from around the world were mobilized immediately in prayer.

My friend and I drove out to Estacada, a small town about 20-30 miles east of Portland. We received instructions to begin searching with our flashlights alongside a specific road, but to keep away from an area where a search and rescue expert and his dog were operating. We complied precisely with their directions. It felt fruitless, but we were faithful to our task. We saw and heard no sign of her, but we continued to look and pray.

Then, after a long while, as temperatures continued to plunge in the cool Fall evening, we heard a report that she had been found. We were close by, so we joined the short march to her reported location. Several hundred yards away, in the backside of the retirement home, there she was sitting at the foot of a tree. Bloodied hands. Disheveled clothing and hair. Singing softly and smiling, with a bundle of papers in her hands. The words she sang matched the piano music she held. “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”

We rejoiced together, Christian and non-Christian alike. We each played our part in the larger team, trusting that as we did so, she would be found. By God’s grace, and because of the disciplined efforts of a professional search team, and of those of us from the community who played our part, however seemingly small, we discovered success in our goal together.

Our role in God’s mission is bigger than we might suspect, but not in the ways in which our egos might prefer. I am coming to terms with that continually as I try to walk out what it means to be obedient to Jesus to the end of my days. Being a team member of any kind means setting aside agendas which make us look good, and replacing them with mission which glorifies Jesus Christ and expresses itself for the benefit of others.

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