Christians who are attracted to missionary service among unreached peoples are often individuals with strong personalities. They have a dogged determination to go wherever they need to go and do whatever they need to do to glorify God and to spread the gospel. Generally, that is a good thing. Pioneer gospel work requires determination, conviction, and stamina.
Furthermore, when disciples of Jesus are confronted by the vast numbers of people and people groups who have no access to the gospel, they are often willing to go alone, if need be, to preach the gospel where Christ is not yet known. Sometimes they are loners by nature, and sometimes they are willing to be loners because no one else will go with them.
At other times, gospel workers get so frustrated with other gospel workers that they conclude that going it alone will be both easier and more fruitful. It is a truism in missionary circles that other missionaries are often the greatest challenge you face on the field!
When you put a group of strong personalities together on a team, with few other believers around and no way to get away from each other, and then add the stress of cross-cultural living and working, the combination can be combustible. Is teaming really worth it? Is it okay for someone to go by themselves and work by themselves to spread the gospel, or are teams important enough to warrant waiting for others and then working with others?
Reasons for Teaming
The Pattern of the New Testament
At the IMB, we are convinced that it is never good for an individual, a couple, or a family to live and labor alone. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, in the New Testament we see consistent examples of gospel workers operating in teams, or at least in pairs. There is no specific command that missionaries can only go as part of teams, but the precedent is clearly there.
The Wisdom of Experience
The IMB also has more than 170 years of experience, and that experience has shown that living and working alone is hard on missionaries, and that people working alone have a harder time staying on the field, much less thriving in their work. From a biblical point of view, perhaps the most persuasive reason for going as part of a team is that the Bible has no category for a Christian who is not actively engaged in the fellowship of a church where they live. In pioneer situations, where there is no church, missionary teammates need to be church to one another.
The Blessings of Fellowship
It is no accident that one of the earliest missionary teams of the modern missionary movement, the Serampore Trio of Carey, Marshman, and Ward covenanted together as a church as one of their first acts together on the field. Believers need the encouragement, the teaching, and the accountability of the body of Christ, and it is a dangerous thing to go without it.
For all of these reasons, IMB leadership has developed the following statement on missionary teams:
In the New Testament, disciples on mission most often serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities. Beyond this biblical precedent, Scripture points to strong personal, practical, and pastoral reasons for disciples on mission not to serve in isolation from others. Even evangelistic reasons exist for disciples to exalt Christ in the context of Christian community. Consequently, we believe it best for IMB missionaries to serve on teams in which different people have different roles and responsibilities in the missionary task.
A missionary team is an identifiable group of disciples who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly, and partner with one another intentionally to make disciples and multiply churches among particular unreached peoples and/or places. Teams may be comprised of IMB missionaries, national believers, and/or other Great Commission partners. IMB provides multiple pathways through which missionaries may serve on one of these teams, each of which carries unique qualifications, involves various types of training, necessitates appropriate measures of accountability, and includes different levels of financial and/or other support from IMB.