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Matthias and I arrived safely back to Germany last evening after a long journey from Tokyo to Frankfurt. We are looking forward to our return to Japan on July 25th and anticipate working and living in Ishinomaki.

Today I’d like to share a few thoughts about a team-based approach to missionary work (particularly with regards to church planting) in Japan. This is a topic very dear to our hearts, and we’ve been praying for a team for the past few years. While you might assume that working in a team is an obvious thing, I am finding that previous generations of missionaries in Japan did not necessarily work in teams. You can read missionary biographies of lone church planters who attempted to work in Japan and/ or plant churches without a solid core team. Some agencies even saw it as “wasteful” to send several family units to one place and chose rather to spread the wealth, so to speak. Even today, when one uses the word “team,” it might mean very different things for different missionaries.

A few personal questions we’ve been discussing as we seek to define what it means to work within a team.

-Are we 100% committed to prayer, service, giving, outreach, and the modeling of godly character together with our team members?
-At least how many couples and/or singles constitute a team?
-What were the highlights and disappointments in our past experiences of working with (or without) a team in Japan?
-Do what degree would we like to share our lives with other team members? (Sharing meals, prayer, accountability, babysitting, etc.)
-Do we believe that one ought to/ must live within a certain proximity of other team members?
-To what degree will we pursue including nationals on our core team? How would/ should they function on the team?
-Is it okay if most (if not all) of the team is comprised of foreigners?

We are also trying to be mindful of potential pitfalls of working within a team. One problem I have been recently mulling over is the stress placed on Japanese Christians working in a team comprised of mostly foreign workers. The Japanese worker(s) can easily become burdened with doing translation, paperwork, filling out lengthy applications, and many other duties that foreigners are unable to do (not to mention being forced to speak English if other team members do not speak Japanese). Other problems on a team might include becoming inward focused, disunity in the team, severe personality clashes, and spiritual attacks. Nevertheless, our desire is to work within a team and we trust that God will provide us with a team to work with in Tohoku.

Here is something Matthias and I wrote a while ago to describe our personal convictions about working within a team.

“We believe that a healthy team-based approach is essential with regards to church planting work in Japan. While working apart from a core team of believers does not mean that a church planting effort is doomed to failure, we believe it to be unbiblical, unwise, spiritually dangerous, and time-consuming, particularly in such a intensely oppressive place as Japan. We believe we desperately need a team to share our lives with, pray with, encourage, be accountable to, to learn humility, and to grow together in Christ.

We believe a team will help to prevent many common problems such as burnout, overwork, discouragement, isolation, depression, temptation to despair, and sinful pride and arrogance. As a team, we will be able to represent to the world the body of Christ and use our varied gifts and personalities to reach the lost. We believe that a team can model before others how Kingdom citizens are to relate to one another, to God, and those outside the Kingdom. Practically speaking, a team can touch the lives of more people for Christ, far more then two people can possibly ever hope to reach. We truly believe that God delights in blessing teams, and although we will face many challenges on the way, we trust God will raise up the right team for us to work with in Japan.” (June 2010)

If anyone reading has thoughts about working in a team, please send a comment or email us at info[at]calledtojapan.com.