The best part about being a missionary is working with other missionaries. The hardest part about being a missionary is working with other missionaries.
Strange, but true. Having a partner is similar to being married. The relationship can be very intense - after all we're concerned with people's eternities!
The hardest issue to deal with revolves around turf. To me arguing about who can work where is complete nonsense. It's like a man unloading a two ton truck of sand with a shovel. Someone else walks by and offers to help. Are you going to say, "No, thanks. This is my sand truck?" That's crazy. Yet I see that attitude regularly.
The longer I work in the community the more I realize that we are just scratching the surface of what must be done. People need the Lord. And they're not going to church! So we must take the church to them.
When I first start to put a team together at a mission one of the questions I hear is, "But what happens if two different church teams show up at the same time? Where will the kids go?" That presupposes that there will be a lot of people who want to work in the community. There aren't.
Remember how I compared regular army and Special Forces? By far most church members are regular army. They are satisfied with going to a worship service once a week. The idea that they should, "Take the Church to the People," is completely foreign to them.
Field operatives recognize each other. We are not as concerned with denominations as evangelism and discipleship. The issue of competition doesn't occur at the volunteer level, but with organizations.
Some people have said that I am "the most intense person they've ever met." Could be true. I give new meaning to the word "passion." I realize that what makes me good, makes me bad. The same intensity that enables me to push the edge of the envelope, also pushes some people away. I guess that's why they make chocolate and vanilla. I am an entrepreneurial missionary. I am the "can opener." I'm the person that "goes where no man has gone before."
At the same time I realize that I can't do this work by myself. Currently I work with Campus Crusade, Youth With A Mission, the Family Heritage Foundation, Friends of Refugees, Kids and Teens 519, Me and My House, the Atlanta Youth Project, Youth For Christ, and the North American Mission Board along with over a dozen major evangelical churches in Metro Atlanta. I hesitate to even write down this list because I haven't included all of my partners. But you get my drift, I work with a LOT of organizations.
There is no way to expand the work without expanding your team. If you go to any of the over fifty apartment complexes where I have worked you will not see my name anywhere - except on the lease agreement. I am happy to be secretly famous, although that is harder to do after I was named, "Missionary of the Year" by NAMB.
The bottom line is that I'm not the bottom line - Christ is! Adopt a spirit of humility and you will preserve your ministry.
Let me give you an example. About a year ago I had a person call me up and wanted a tour of our work. I spent the day with them, explained our methods and strategies and got them started at one of our best locations. I had a terrific relationship with the manager. I had completely outfitted the mission with school supplies, tables, chairs, computers and regular volunteers.
This person started a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. They decided that this was "their" mission. They went behind my back, talked to the manager and insisted the lease be changed to their ministry's name. When the manager called me to let me know what was going on I was aghast, but kept my feelings to myself. I did not want the manager to feel the Christians were fighting amongst themselves. What kind of picture would that give? I discussed the situation with a few of my other partners. They were outraged and told me, "You've got to nip this situation in the bud. You can't allow them to take the mission away from you. What if other groups start to do the same thing?"
My friend if you don't hear anything else, please listen to this: Kingdom building is not a competition! These are not your missions---they are Christ's.
One of the most important things I've learned is patience. I am one of the most aggressive, impatient people you'd ever want to meet, yet I have learned how to wait. I was concerned that this new ministry would not last, that this person would quit and the work would stop. As I thought about the situation, I had to wonder what the down side was. If they were able to do what they thought they could do, PRAISE THE LORD! If they couldn't, then I would step back in.
In their first year they have accomplished most of what they promised to do. Unfortunately, the church that was helping me in the mission directly across the street stopped. So I take great pleasure in the success of their ministry, even though it was not one of "my" missions. Because it was not my mission. It's the Lord's!
Now check this out--at the same time this situation was happening I was starting new work in another area where I have partners. I had talked with them about what I was doing. However, one of my partners began to have bad feelings about me. They perceived me as if I was taking over "their" work in "their" city. I was guilty of the same thing I had been so upset about! Missions is full of irony.
The key to successful partnerships is this: keep the lines of communication open! The evil one delights in creating tension. Talk your problems out. Clear the air. Simply talking about the situation resolves most misunderstandings.
As soon as I heard one of my partners was frustrated with me, I set up a meeting to talk. I listened, and I backed off from that mission start. It is more important to preserve your relationships than "your" territory. Have patience!
With God on our side we will overcome together. Over time that location became a symbol of our partnership. A Hindu man became the new manager and the new mission to this day has not come to fruition. But our partnership is stronger than ever.
Unity is beauty.
The Father has spoken to me clearly about this. There are so many people who have never heard the Good News. Does it make sense to fight with other Special Forces missionaries? I have heard it said, "It is our nature to fight. It is our choice who we fight against." Who are you fighting against? Are they one of the "good guys?"
I have found pride to be the center of spiritual warfare behind enemy lines. Are we more concerned with reaching the lost or building our own little kingdoms?
It is better to start new work than start a fight with a partner.
Give it up. Give it to Jesus.