ON MISSION AT WORK - LLOYD'S STORY - #6 Growing a Team on Mission

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ON MISSION AT WORK is a series of stories by individuals on how they are living out their faith in their workplace.

LLOYD’S STORY - Lloyd is a very close friend who I went to secondary school with in Zimbabwe. He has been based in and around Edinburgh and works in the financial sector. We recently holidayed together and when he told me his story of workplace mission I knew it would be a blessing and provocation.

I hope it blesses and encourages you to do similar,

Hugh.

Starting and growing a team that is outward-looking in a work environment

How do you start a missional group in your workplace and ensure that it succeeds, grows, and is sustainable? To succeed, something needs to be considered an all-round help and joy to all involved or looking in, fruitful and giving glory to God ultimately. There is nothing more exciting than being in something together and what greater thing to be up to but on mission along with like-minded and passionate individuals in your place of work, where most of us spend most of our time? Without a team dynamic, any ‘success’ is hard to share or enjoy as no one really understands the inside workings of the situation you are in.

Jesus raised up a team and sent out this team in smaller groups as pairs with the intention that their leading the early church would be in the context of teams or teams within teams. This is a great blueprint for church planting and evangelism as well as for raising up leaders to advance the gospel in your workplace or, in fact, in any context.

Gathering and growing a team, of around half a dozen individuals, to lead a gospel initiative can be most beneficial as it means all the work does not fall on one set of shoulders, but instead, the load is shared and, in this way, all are empowered and involved. A team is a formidable force and a great strengthening to all and stands in contrast to how easily an individual may be thwarted or discouraged when encountering blocked goals or closed doors. Over the past few years of workplace mission, it has been in the context of a strong and growing team dynamic that great progress has been made. Once a team gets going, it is harder to stop the momentum gathered and the resulting strength of God’s Kingdom advancing.

We initially gathered a small group of generally interested individuals to get to know each other, spend time in prayer, reading and discussing the bible, and sharing work life together. A few months into doing this, it became apparent that a few individuals were passionate, consistent in attendance, and exhibited maturity in their walk with Christ. About half a dozen of us mutually agreed to lead and co-ordinate the various activities across the company. I then began in earnest to develop and nurture this group relationally with each other and their various giftings. This involved scheduling core-team catch-up meetings to pray for and encourage one another and see how we were getting on in life, work, and everything between. In addition, I would try and do short lunchtime meetings with individuals to get a feel for where they were at and their current passions, challenges, and worries.

We needed to start somewhere and ensure that the foundations were strong and that the team would work effectively in the long run in a sustainable manner. So, I began by adding individuals, one by one, starting with those who had a heart for the gospel, the kingdom, and who are devoted to Christ and his bride, the church. I tried to ensure that this team consisted of those who I could disciple (or who could end up discipling me) to lead and be an encouragement in any of the settings that we would find ourselves.

To grow this team in how they work together, there is a need to input into a core leadership group by meeting together and praying with one another to develop gifting and encourage each other. This is very similar to how teams of people help one another in a local church setting, the main difference being that individuals will most likely come from diverse church backgrounds and may not be entirely aligned theologically, hermeneutically, or share the same practices of worship. To get around this potentially thorny issue it is important to agree on vital truths (e.g., that all believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) and not dwell on side issues. e.g., what posture we pray in or the style of bible study we adopt (‘topical’ or ‘walk-through’). If individuals are unable to get the bigger picture and unite around vital truths of the Bible, then they are not likely to be team players and will wear down the unity of the group. Ideally, these are individuals who have a ‘Kingdom’ perspective, in addition to a great devotion and attachment to their local church, which is evidenced by a faith that is worked out during the week with a heart to work with people for the greater good of the wider Kingdom of God. These individuals will normally be able to handle the relational and practical obstacles of working with Christians of other traditions for the greater good of the Kingdom and for God’s glory without feeling conflicted with any loyalty to a local church congregation.

Where grace exists to allow broadly aligned but different expressions of Christian life to flourish, so the gospel will be proclaimed, and something will grow and begin to advance successfully. So now, how to keep growing such a team relationally and missionally, without stagnating once you have gathered a few individuals from such varying backgrounds?  Does such a situation remind you of what Jesus attempted when he put fishermen, taxmen, and zealots together in his team?

Gather a loose group without being too idealistic, as this is not the formation of a church and there is not an expectation of complex pastoral responsibility to deal with. Jesus picked those he found immediately available then rather than waiting twenty years for exactly the right group of perfectly mature individuals. The fact that he invested in a diverse and disagreeing group of men is a testament to how we should start and then quickly grow teams. Considering the documented discussions and the way the team formed, it would rather appear that they started off in a position of immaturity, and through doing life with Christ over several years, they not only matured but developed their characters through the togetherness of mission and following Jesus.

Once you have broad theological alignment and a degree of relational connection across a group of individuals who can each carry some of the load; invite individuals to contribute as they are happy and get consensus on gifting and allow people to step out. There must be flexibility to step back if the demands of life change or the pressure of work takes them off track for a short season. Ultimately, however, you are looking for individuals who will carry responsibility and share the load in a sustainable way over the longer term, recognizing that a work environment is always changing. You are after people who will “own” the challenge and lead and not need to be reminded to perform activities. This is similar to how Titus was discipled by Paul and developed his own love and passion for the church. [2 Corinthians 8:16-17 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal but being himself very earnest he is going[a] to you of his own accord.]

One practical thing to be alert to the danger of being sure that the group stays on track and does not get captured by ‘issue people’, with a ‘political agenda’, or a lobby group, or a form of ‘activism’, obscure doctrinal issues’, ‘a particular church style or tradition’, a ‘certain way of doing things’ or ends up in a clique cul-de-sac. You can avoid getting trapped by any of these situations by growing a mature team with broad consensus and deep and vital Gospel and Biblical alignment. By strengthening the bonds in the leadership team and discussing issues that come up together and ensuring consensus is reached on any disagreements it is possible to keep relational unity and grow as a team through thick and thin.

It is important to allow people to flow with their passions and gifting. A great opportunity to develop as a team has been through each individual participating in leading various aspects of the larger events, like the annual Christmas Carols Service or the launch event to publicize the missional group. These required input and mutual submission across the team and both allowed for and encouraged the emergence of the various giftings to emerge and grow. Whilst one person held the vision and invited individual contributions and efforts to take part, there was a willingness to consult and agree on the way forward and to share the burden. In the end, the load was significantly lighter because many hands and minds had committed to the task. Though none of us could have pulled off any of the events we laid on individually, together we achieved more than the sum of the parts, and each was rewarded with incredible joy in their contribution. By constantly encouraging each other to be outward-looking, evangelistic in a natural and earthy way, it stops the team from stagnating and the group from becoming just a club.

We added a few lunchtime social events to bond and grow as a team as well as an annual offsite evening meal to relax and chat whilst considering the vision for the year ahead. It was important not to overload our calendars while allowing space for downtime as all this was done over lunches and personal time – as just to remind you this is a workplace missional group, not something which anyone has significant time to commit towards. Over lockdown, the leadership team has continued to check in on each other without an agenda, i.e., to simply chat, pray and encourage each other. 

Looking back – what were the vital elements that helped bond and grow the team? 

  1. A willingness by all in the core team to contribute and help one another,

  2. Maturity in our own separate Christian walks,

  3. A desire to see Christ named and proclaimed in a natural and effective way in the workplace without a particular fixation on a particular ‘methodology’ or rigid process in place,

  4. Joy and peace in working together, disagreeing sometimes and yet continuing mission all the same,

  5. Praying together and supporting one another in the hard times when work pressure, family tragedies, and personal circumstances threatened to remove capacity and energy to serve,

  6. Keeping things light-hearted and fun by constantly encouraging each other and finding out how we were doing on an ongoing basis,

  7. Ensuring the team is outward-looking, on mission, and not stagnant,

  8. Keeping things simple – all our interactions and activities were those that any slightly mature Christian could do – host a bible study, encourage others, produce biblical encouragements on a work intranet site without being controversial, lead others in pray amongst a few, and

  9. Avoiding obscure doctrinal issues to creep in.

God has been faithful and over the last few years has developed a team who are not only on mission together but also valuable and wonderful personal friends. Whilst the work environment is transient, it is wonderful to have people who understand the bespoke pressures of a work environment and the situation within an organisation day in and day out. It can sometimes be hard to explain to friends outside of work, exactly what you do or exactly why the current situation is a trial (organisational changes, loss of a job, difficult bosses etc.).

The joy of it all is in seeing the Kingdom of God extended and many churches blessed with individuals using their gifts throughout the week as well as in the traditional Sunday setting. I have watched as some individuals have grown through doing the works God has called them to during a busy work environment, individuals who, in their own time, prepare Bible studies, organise events, and manage to work around a busy work schedule to engage their colleagues in a gentle but genuine way.

By being on mission together, we keep each other missional and outward-looking naturally fulfilling the work of an evangelist which I believe all are called to – not just those who gather large crowds.


Conversations: Alan & Megan Barker - Working into Nepal

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A conversation with Alan and Megan Barker (parents to Carl who is part of the Redeemer family) who work into Nepal - a great chat giving insights into Pioneering cross-culturally.

Alan and Megan Barker live and work in Pokhara, Nepal. Alan is a donor and funding co-ordinator for one of BMS' partner organizations, and Megan works in the field of Occupational Therapy. Alan and Megan Barker first joined BMS in 2000. Their initial overseas placement was with United Mission to Nepal (2000-2004) in Kathmandu where Alan worked in management and Megan as an occupational therapist. They returned to Nepal in 2007 to work with International Nepal Fellowship (INF) in Surkhet. Alan worked in management and donor relations, training local staff. Megan developed rehabilitation services, expanding the work beyond leprosy to include other disabilities, working alongside and training Nepalese therapists. They moved to Pokhara in 2017. Alan and Megan have three children who live with their respective families in the UK, Vietnam and Switzerland.