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WORLDVIEW: Owning the task: church-based missionary teams

Editor’s note: Names in this column have been changed for security reasons.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–E=mc², Albert Einstein’s famous equation, explains the relation of energy to mass.

It’s been borrowed by First Baptist Woodway of Waco, Texas (see related BP story, “Pioneering a path for others, church sends nucleus to Central Asia”) to describe the power of church-based mission teams.

Woodway’s version of E=mc² goes like this: Energy within a church fellowship equals the mass of people involved in God’s global purposes, multiplied by the power of His Spirit.

The church is testing the equation in a strongly Muslim nation in Central Asia. Woodway has prayed for the nation and has sent short-term volunteers to work with Southern Baptist representatives there since the late 1990s. Several years ago, the church entered into a new level of commitment: a partnership with “Paul,” an International Mission Board strategy coordinator in the region, to base residential missionary teams from Woodway in unreached cities.

Paul hopes these teams are the first of many that will come from multiple churches.

In fact, he’s building much of his mission mobilization strategy around the idea of small, church-based missionary teams. The ideal size, he believes, is about five — perhaps a career missionary couple to serve as a “stack pole” and two or three shorter-term workers.

“Don’t just come,” Paul now tells prospective Christian workers interested in serving in his region. “Wait — and build a team to bring with you.”

Mission leaders such as Paul — and the fields they are trying to reach — can benefit from the approach by gaining:

1. Healthier missionary teams that arrive on the field as cohesive communities of faith.

They’ll still experience problems, challenges — and interpersonal conflicts — but team members will have more built-in tools to help each other overcome them.

2. More effective, biblically sound teams.

“If we do our jobs well, who cares if we don’t get along?” asks “Raoul,” a member of Woodway’s Central Asia team. His answer: God cares, because He reveals Himself to a lost world through His children. “Jesus says, ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you…. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (John 13:34-35).

“The teaming thing says we’re not just here individually to reach local people,” Raoul explains. “We’re here corporately to reveal God to this community.” The team also exists to model authentic church life for local believers who will, in turn, start their own churches.

3. A new generation of missionaries.

The 20-somethings who grew up watching “Friends” on television want to do things together. When they are called and mobilized to go into the world, they not only ask, “What am I going to do?” but also “Who am I going to do it with?”

Local churches that send missionary teams have much to gain, too, including:

— More vital and lasting ties to missions.

— Highly personalized missions education for all age groups.

— Strategic destinations to send short-term volunteers.

— An effective method for partnering with the International Mission Board and its missionaries.

It’s the kind of connection the church at Antioch gained when it set apart Paul and Barnabas, perhaps the first church-based missionary team, and sent them out.

“We’re very comfortable to send missionaries through an agency” such as the International Mission Board, says “Marie Burke,” Woodway’s former global missions coordinator. “But we feel that it’s a biblical model to say the local church owns the task. We need to call out our members to the task and help them become a part of God’s purpose to reach the nations.”

For more information and a step-by-step guide to the church-based mission team approach pioneered by First Baptist Woodway in Central Asia, e-mail [email protected].
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board whose column appears twice each month in Baptist Press.

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  • Erich Bridges