I love that saying, “It’s like herding cats!” It makes me smile and it reminds me of when I was a child going on church walks known as ‘rambles’. I think they must have been called ‘rambles’ because the title described the nature of the walk, i.e. you rambled (to walk in a leisurely, aimless manner). What I vividly remember from every walk is that the group were rarely together. Some headed off purposely in the front, while others followed more slowly and tentatively at the back. This would be a nightmare for the leader who didn’t know whether they should be at the front guiding those who were rushing ahead or at the back ensuring that the slower members kept up. I have often felt that missional leadership is like taking a group of cats on a ramble and somehow trying to keep them together. However, I strongly believe that doing mission together is both effective and healthy.
Over the years I have heard much about how leaders can and should equip the individual for mission. LICC are one such group who have been offering excellent resources which encourage the individual to recognise and identify their own personal ‘frontline’ for mission and to grow in reaching those people.
In my own experience preparing the individual for their own personal mission, however encouraging, inspirational, cajoling or even guilt laden I have been in my communication, has often been disappointingly unfruitful. The problem I have discovered is that personal confidence in the gospel wanes quickly and, once we Christians are out of sight of each other, so does accountability. With all good intentions, very few of us make much headway on our missional intentions. This is not to say that it isn’t important to equip the individual for mission wherever they might be but to suggest that the practice of doing mission together also has its part to play.
A Biblical Pattern for Mission
Over the years, I have been struck by how many examples of mission in the Bible takes place in teams or a community. Jesus sent out the twelve and then the seventy-two in pairs. Luke records for us a number of times that the early Church grew through community-based mission. For example, the day of Pentecost and the initial daily growth, as recorded in Acts 2v32-37, seems to be due to the authentic fellowship of the believers. Paul himself is rarely on his own but instead is found working alongside companions such as Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Aristarchus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas. Stephen and Philip are arguably two examples of individuals working alone but even these were part of the first appointed diaconate team. It seems to me that Jesus and the early disciples valued and appreciated the importance of missional teams recognising the importance of missional accompaniment, accountability, variety of gifting, encouragement and strength. Perhaps Paul is hinting at this when he unpacks the importance of inter-connectivity of gifting that makes up the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.
In 2016, as part of my sabbatical, I had the privilege of travelling to Zimbabwe for the first time. I was due to travel on my own to meet and minister to people that I had never met before. I was both excited but nervous. It so happened that a good friend of mine, Jon Round, was already in South Africa and after making enquiries was prepared to join me in Johannesburg. The next few days proved to a wonderful experience of both giving and receiving in ministry. I am convinced that any blessing received was due partly to the partnership between Jon and I. We prayed together, encouraged each other, reflected together, discerned together and grew together. When I was weak he was strong and vice versa.
So, as I have reflected I have come to the conclusion through my own experience that we need to encourage more missional teams. The rest of the article highlights four reasons why I feel missional teams can bear healthy fruit.
- Teams build confidence
I have concluded that my most effective equipping of people in mission has been through teams. One reason being that people gain confidence when they are together and have the support and encouragement of others. This is been a major motive behind taking teams on short-term oversees missions. Often I have been quizzed about the purpose of such missions. “What do you hope to achieve?” “Is it worthwhile?” “You can’t expect to change much in just 10 days!” These are some of the comments that have been thrown my way. My answer is simply, “The purpose is not so much for the people we are seeking to minister to, although we hope and pray that they will be blessed, but more for the team that we are taking.” I have yet to stop being amazed by how these trips have transformed people in their Christian faith and particularly how their confidence has grown in sharing what Christ has done for them.
- Teams offer complimentary gifts
One of my bug-bears about the individualisation of mission is that no one person has all the gifts. The challenge to “Go and make disciples of all nations” is one that requires the whole Church and all the gifts sent by the Spirit of God. We need evangelists, generous givers, pastors, administrators, strategic thinkers, empathetic carers, extraverts, introverts, communicators, listeners, and so the list goes on. All these gifts are essential for the missional body of Christ and each person needs to find their place and function within that body. The question “Who have you brought to Christ recently?” is a good one but even better is “Who have we brought to Christ?” My own personal experience is that I can’t speak of bringing many people to faith but I know many who have come to faith through the teams I have been privileged to be a part of.
I am still an advocate of missional events. The main reason being that events enable mission to happen together. I appreciate that people rarely come to faith through one moment of mission, but events see the whole body of Christ with all of its members working together for the sake of the gospel. The inclusion of as many as possible not only builds confidence but also includes, recognises and encourages every gift. For several years at Eastleigh we ran seasonal “Big Welcome” events for the community. These involved food, games, children’s activities, a book stall and a craft fair. I don’t recall anyone becoming a Christian at any of these events but many engaged in conversation and formed a relationship with the church community. One of the bonuses, however, was that various people discovered their missional gift and place.
- Teams enable intentional accountability
Here is my biggest problem with the individualisation of mission. However great the intention, the individual when left on their own can become ineffective. I have seen this in myself and I see it in others. I am so grateful that as a minister it is hard to hide from my responsibility to share my faith but this is not so true of our members. Undertaking missional initiatives together naturally requires accountability. Plans and preparation are made together and then we implement together. We do what we said we would do, whether it succeeds or fails. If we succeed, we celebrate and praise God together. If we fail, we pick each other up and go again. It is my experience that because teams are intentional and accountable the greatest mission success has been through initiatives that are run by teams.
- Teams embody authentic community
Finally, but probably most importantly, missional teams reflect and embody what it means to be missional community. In my experience the declaration of the truth of the gospel is important if people are to understand, but the living out of the gospel in relationship with each other is vital if others are to experience the power of the gospel. It is partly the authentic living out of the Christian faith that persuades the onlooker that this faith works and is real. Church, in my view, is at its best when it is a community that befriends, supports, encourages, nurtures, cares and truly loves in the name of Jesus. When others experience this it is infectious.
One of my favourite quotes is from Tertullian who, quoting a pagan Roman, writes, “See how these Christians love each other.” Of course, this has not always been the case and one can imagine a different scenario of someone saying, “See how these Christians hate each other!” Yet authentic Christian community based around our love for Jesus and therefore each other is powerful. When the unbeliever sees a truly loving church, living out its faith in both word and deed we become naturally authentic and therefore missional.
Please don’t misunderstand me, equipping every Christian for mission wherever they might be is important, but I just wonder whether we might go further, deeper and wider if we also pour energy into doing mission together. It might feel like herding cats, but I think we would become more confident, engage a wider variety of gifts and experience, be more intentional, accountable and therefore possibly more fruitful and ultimately become more authentic as a community. This being the case others might come to say, “See, how these Christians love each other.”
Thank you for taking a minute of two to read this fifth article of eight on my musings over the past 25 years of trying to be a missional leader. If you haven’t caught the first four you will find them on the Seventy Two Network website. I began this journey of writing down some of my experiences, lessons and reflections of what I have learnt about leading a church in mission last year and will continue to do so into this New Year. The practice has helped me to crystallise some of my own reflections and hopefully they will provoke you into thinking and developing your own missional leadership skills.
 Acts 12v25-13v3
 Acts 15v40 & 16v1
 Colossians 4v10-15