The best way to build a team is not to build a team

I recently had a call with pioneers and leaders from our Global Mission Family around the world. It was encouraging to hear stories about how disciples are being made and churches are being planted in different countries.

But there was a recurring theme as I listened to people sharing. Some of those who are pioneering movements in their regions shared how they felt they needed to build a team in their area. It got me thinking about this whole area and how we have seen God build teams in the work we are doing. But most importantly – it got me thinking how Jesus built His radical disciple making team and how this may be very different from how we would do it!

When we first started the work here in Somerset I used to spend lots of time reading the Bible and looking at the life of Jesus. I read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) over and over and asked myself the question, “How did Jesus start a multiplying movement of disciples, churches and leaders” I recently re-read my journals from these early days and it was really interesting to see how God spoke to us and guided us.

God led me to spend ages going through the Gospel of Mark to learn how Jesus thought, acted and spoke. With any issue or obstacle we face – the best thing to do is to turn to the Bible and ask questions. There’s lots of good books and blogs out there (!) – but the absolute best way to grow as a follower of Jesus and to become more fruitful is to allow the living word of God to speak to you!

So if you’re feeling like you need to build a team in your area or in the work you are doing then please read on…

First of all – I’d encourage you to read Mark Chapter 1 while asking the question, “How did Jesus build his team”. Make a note of what stands out to you.

Here’s what stood out to me…

It’s a question of honor

It always amazes me to see the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. There’s so much honour between them. Building a team isn’t something you do. It’s not something you just add to your to do list. It comes out of who you are and it starts with a heart that is genuinely OK with honoring other people. When we were starting off the work in Somerset I said I wanted to build a team and empower others. But I can look back now and see that this wasn’t really what was going on in my heart. In my heart I wanted to prove myself to others and be seen as fruitful and successful. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad or ungodly traits. But if you think like this then you won’t build a team around you!

Take a look at John The Baptist in Mark chapter 1. He is one full on follower of Jesus! He’s not bothered about pleasing others or bowing to the religious status quo. Yet despite possessing these pioneering qualities he also shows great honour and humility,

“Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am…” (Mark 1:7)

Do you honour others more highly than yourself? In the work you are doing, do you genuinely believe that others are coming who are greater than you are? That’s the heart behind building a team. We can say all these things but the real issues are in our heart. Are you prepared to move aside and allow others to receive honour? Are you prepared for others to be telling the amazing stories of how God is at work? Are you prepared for people to thrive and grow without you? That’s what it is like to build a team.

Show me don’t tell me

In Mark 1 Jesus didn’t sit his potential team members down in a church or in a classroom. He invited them to come and see what was happening. In the early days of Mission Somerset I also thought that the most important thing was to build a team and to have some other christians around me. God spoke to us though and said that the most important thing for us was to help people far from Jesus become obedient disciples of Him. It dawned on me that how could I build a team of radical disciple makers if I wasn’t actually making any disciples myself. I made a decision that I would focus first on being faithful to Jesus in my own life and model what I hoped to see others doing. Instead of doing what I’d learned to do as a Christian (talk about ideas but never do anything) I focused instead on obeying Jesus myself and then inviting people to come and see what God was doing. It meant that the real work in the harvest continued and I didn’t have to spend loads of time talking with well meaning believers who never actually do what they talked about. Apologies if you feel what I am saying is harsh – but I think we need to be reminded that Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. That is the real work and it happens in the harvest. The real work is not drinking coffee with a cozy team of people who already know Jesus!

(I like drinking coffee with other believers and I’m not saying it is wrong or unfruitful – I’m just questioning whether that will lead to any new disciples being made?)

Focus on doing the work God has called you to do – devote yourself to prayer, preach the Gospel boldly, find people who want to become disciples and gather them together as churches. Watch to see who grows as leaders out of these new people.

Then you’ll have something to show potential team members!

Forget about people

I recently spoke to a friend who is setting out on a journey to multiply disciples, churches and leaders across their town and region. We had a great conversation. Towards the end of the conversation I asked him what he felt the first year of their work would look like. He shared his plans to spend a significant amount of time that year building the DNA of the vision into the team. I asked him about the team and he explained how there were a handful of existing believers from their sending church who were also joining their missional adventure. Lots of people I talk to also have this same idea. It’s a good idea. But I’m not sure it’s God’s idea. As we prayed at the end of our conversation together God gave me two things to share with my friend:

  1. The work really starts when you baptise your first new disciple
  2. Presume that your ‘team’ of existing Christians will leave you and step back from the work

At the time I felt like I was pouring water on his fire a little – but as the months went by I realised the wisdom in what God was trying to say to my friend. We tend to think that we know best how to build a team and follow our own understanding rather than following Jesus! In Mark 1 – Jesus did everything except ‘build his team’ as we know it. Can you imagine Jesus arriving on the scene and then saying, “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor – but first I’m going to build my team for 6 months and make sure they understand the vision really well” Jesus called people (who would become his team by proving their faithfulness and willingness to endure suffering) to come and follow him and to become fishers of men. You know your team gets the DNA of your vision when they do something about it. I know this goes against everything we know and feel comfortable with – but you build your team by saying, “Come and follow me and I will show you the vision”

In Mark 1 Jesus spent 40 days alone in the wilderness, then started doing the work of preaching and demonstrating the kingdom, then he called his first team members to come and join him in doing the work, then after a miraculous day Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray and upsets his team, then He tells them that they need to carry on the work in other towns rather than just settle down in one place. Jesus builds a team by not building a team! Jesus conquers his inner desires, starts the work without anyone else’s support or consent and then calls people to come and do it with Him.

This is very different from our reasoning. We tend to not conquer our own inner desires and we spend time procrastinating and pontificating with other christians while the real work of Jesus in the harvest suffers. Instead of doing nothing and diluting your vision down to please people – be bold and courageous and faithfully start the work God is calling you to do. Find some people who are ready to repent, be baptised and begin obeying Jesus together. Then invite other people to come and see what God is doing and ask them if they want to roll up their sleeves and join you in the hard work of making disciples.

Then God may build a team around you.

To find out more about the work we are doing please contact us

To read more about how we are making disciples and planting churches check out my book “Accidental Apostle”