Being on a team is like being born into a family. You don’t have a choice of who will be your friends on the team, just like you don’t have a choice of who will be your family members. A successful team is characterized by strong commitments to love one another. Therefore, it is important for women on a team to develop supportive and loving friendships.
In your home country, you are able to select friends from a large pool of women. If you can’t find friends in one group or in one church, it is relatively easy to find friends elsewhere. But, on a team, things are different. The women on your team may not share your interests. And it certainly won’t help the health of your team if you choose only a few women to be your friends and exclude others. You need to make it your goal to develop a good strong relationship with each woman, even if the relationships are different.
The Four Types of Women on a Team:
- Kindred Spirit – The first type of woman on your team might be a woman with whom you have an instant affinity, a “kindred spirit.” These women you love to be around. You easily understand one another and it feels as though you have known each other all your lives. Your times together are characterized by fun, easy talking and a sense of empathy and understanding. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will happen to get a “kindred spirit” on a small team. But, let’s hope you do!
- Colleague – The second type of woman you relate to easily. That deep friendship spark is not there, but there is mutual respect. Women in these friendships can work well together, have similar standards, and usually share a mutual commitment to ministry or to the home. If you share goals in your work, these friendships can be very productive and help with overall growth of a team’s church planting efforts. It is easy to develop strong, supportive relationships with, or between, these women.
- Enigma – The third type of woman on your team is the woman you find hard to understand. There is no natural sense of bonding in the relationship, and these women usually have different reasons for being on the field. You will find that it is difficult to bridge the gaps of cultural, educational, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual differences. You will be tempted to see one another only at team meetings. Differences in goals and interests lead to the indifference, rather than frustration, that characterize these types of relationships.
- Irritant – The fourth type of woman on your team is the woman who grates on your nerves. (You might be grating on her nerves as well!) Either her personality or standards irritate you, perhaps the way she eats or dresses or the way she prays or handles her children. If you are critical of her, eventually the unity of the team will be undermined. Even if the criticism is never overt, its impact is very hurtful. Perhaps the problem is that she is critical of you, always commenting on you, your home or your ministry and you feel defensive. Sometimes you may not even know why you feel uncomfortable around this woman.
Other Factors That Impact the Relationships of Women on a Team:
Women’s friendships are impacted by various things that occur in a team. Geography and location have an immediate impact. If you live at a considerable distance from one another–especially if you don’t have telephones–your relationships will be affected. Extra effort and time will be needed to overcome this barrier.
Another factor is the leadership of the team leader’s wife. She may set the pace in relationships and model teamwork in ministry. Or she may not. She may find that her plate is full taking care of her own home and her own immediate survival and growth in the culture. Since the women on her team instinctively look to her to take the initiative to lead, these unspoken expectations must be talked through. Even if the team leader’s wife is able to give some leadership, the other women on the team must also work diligently to develop good, supportive relationships with each of the other team women.
Good relationships and teamwork will not just fall into place. I’m not talking about assuming leadership, but about each woman accepting responsibility for meeting the needs of the other women and building a strong personal and working relationship with each other, even if it takes time.
The different gifts of the women on the team is another factor that can impact relationships. Sometimes women struggle with understanding how a gift of mercy can work together with a gift of evangelism, or how a gift of administration can work with a gift of teaching. And yet God has placed these gifts together in ways that make your team more productive. Women can–and should–look at one another as God’s special gifts. Visiting friends, starting ministries, praying together, babysitting, or running errands are all ways women can help each other minister more effectively. The important thing is to learn to work together to maximize one another’s gifts instead of competing or trying to force everyone into the same mold.
Husbands and the way they relate to one another can have a significant impact on the wives of the team. What starts as a philosophical difference in ministry styles between two husbands can sometimes escalate into bitterness between the wives.
The wife tends to do what comes naturally to her: defend her husband. But, sometimes the two husbands come to an understanding more easily than their wives can reconcile their broken relationship. It is better to pray together that the Lord would bring agreement between the men, not assuming either one is “all right.” Defending a husband’s position can become the opening Satan wants to attack the relationships of women on the team. If you are getting angry, your husband may need to stop telling you all the criticisms leveled against him. Once you are aware that this is damaging your relationship with another woman, confess your judgmental and defensive attitudes to the Lord, and then to her as well. You may need to get together as a foursome (or threesome, if this involves a single teammate) to bring complete understanding and reconciliation.
Making Friends with the Women on Your Team
What are the best ways to make friends with the women on your team? It is best to go into a team expecting that it will require hard work to develop good team relationships. One global working woman said that when she went to the field she was afraid that she would dislike the Muslims and love the team. Much to her surprise, she found she loved the Muslims and had a hard time getting along with the team. This problem usually stems from being committed to “going the distance” to make friends with Muslim women while subconsciously expecting our teammates to meet our needs. We expect to serve our neighbors but be served by our team.
Therefore, commit yourself to develop strong, supportive relationships with the women on your team. Paul exhorts us to “accept one another then just as Christ accepts you” (Romans 15:7). This is easy to do with women who are “kindred spirits.” It is much more difficult with those who are enigmas or irritants; but it not only can be done, it must be done if you and your team are to function at your best long-term.
Good relationships between the women on the team can provide a firm foundation for the functioning of the whole team. As they support each other in prayer, parenting, and ministry, the hurdles of culture shock, loneliness, depression, and fear can be minimized by providing “family” for each other. Benefiting from each other’s gifting can balance the team. Most importantly, love between unrelated team members can be a very powerful witness to the miracle of God’s love in our lives. This factor was the key that brought my best Muslim friend to the Lord.
But, once you commit yourself to doing this, how do you actually do it? Here are some practical suggestions:
Cultivate an understanding of the women. Do this in creative ways, such as each telling your life story by taking temperament tests and discussing them. One team opened each team meeting by asking personal questions that revealed much about backgrounds and personalities. A simple question such as, “What is your favorite comfort food and what memories are associated with it?” can tell volumes about a person.
Share favorite holiday memories/traditions or pet peeves. What makes them feel special or makes their birthdays “right”; remember you are all the family they have on a day-to-day basis now. Try to learn or appreciate each others’ hobbies.
Work especially hard at understanding the “hard to understand” and “irritating” women. Sometimes this can take months, but it is well worth the effort. If a woman comes from a very hard family background, expect her to take more time to develop good supportive relationships with others on the team.
Separate support meetings or socials for the women, prayer partnering, and women’s retreats and regionals can significantly help to reduce problems and foster understanding. (If problems become too severe, ask for the intervention of a coach or counselor.) I would have originally seen two of the women on my team as an irritant and an enigma, but they have become two of my best friends. So the rewards are both great and long-lasting.
Go easy on one another. Don’t expect the women on your team to pick up the relationship where your other friends in your home country left off. Look at each woman for what she is: a new person with whom you will need to build a whole new type of friendship. You probably didn’t work with other women in your home country in the area of church planting among Muslims. This new dimension to your life will add new possibilities in your relationships.
Be proactive. Nip problems in the bud. Don’t let team relationship problems slide because you are too busy with the “more important” task of ministry. Realize that your ministry will eventually be negatively impacted if you don’t take time to keep short accounts with the women on your team. If you sense you are beginning to avoid one of the team women, figure out why.
Accept different standards as valid. No two women will be totally alike. Even a simple matter such as being a vegetarian when the others all love to eat meat can cause problems. Be careful if you think there is only one right way to raise children, keep a house, dress, or make friends. What may embarrass you or be a stumbling block in your relationship with another woman, God may use as a key to keep them in touch with others (or to sanctify your character and patience). The things which God has not made an issue, neither should we.
Value other women’s gifts. Look at their gifts as God’s way of complementing your gifts, and vice-versa. If you enjoy hospitality, instead of thinking critically of team women who find it a burden, help take the burden off of them by exercising your gift. If you have the gift of mercy to reach out to sick neighbors, do it joyfully, not expecting everyone to do the same. If you have the gift of helping and can help best by babysitting while another woman with the gift of evangelism makes house calls, let each one value and be grateful for the exercise of the other’s gifting. Find out how the Lord has burdened and gifted each woman and work toward freeing them, as a team, to working in their area of burden or gifting. Some women’s greatest ministry on the team is lending an empathetic ear, counseling, and peace-making between team members. These women, even if they do not appear to be doing much “ministry,” are a great asset to the team and its total ministry. Remember- together we make a body; none of us is balanced nor complete alone.
Accept the fact that you won’t be perfect. Remember, it is Christ we are preaching, not ourselves. God can shine in clay jars (2 Corinthians 4).
Pray together regularly. Write down specific prayer requests for each woman, then note when they are answered. Be honest about your struggles!
Serve one another. Find out what help the others need, then try to make a point to be a “blessing” to at least one other team woman each week. During times of special stress, try to have the team women provide help in ways that will be appreciated.
Above all else, love one another. The love you show to one another attracts other women. For example, once a group of global working women and their children were eating together with their Muslim friends. For some reason, the western children started fighting each other. One cracked the other on the head with a toy, drawing blood. The mothers calmly separated their children, bound up the wound, and helped the children reconcile. The Muslim women were amazed. If their children had engaged in similar behavior, a bitter feud might have started among the families. They were attracted to a love that allowed women to forgive each other and work through problems. “If I have all faith, so mountains may be removed, but if I have not love, I am nothing.” (See I Corinthians 13:1-3) “Love never fails.”
I have recommended some books below. Read and discuss them with the women on your team. Books can be wonderful mentors.
- What Happens When Women Pray by Evelyn Christenson (1976). A short and practical guide on how women can pray together. Excellent pattern to follow for successful prayer times!
- The Friendships of Women by Dee Brestin (1988). A look at how women develop friendships and Biblical examples of friendships.
- Women on the Move: A Christian Perspective on Cross-Cultural Adaptation by Gretchen Janssen. Insightful with exercises and Bible references at the end of each chapter. Excellent starting points for opening up discussions and ongoing dialogues with the women on your team.
- Learning to Love People You Don’t Like by Floyd McClung.
- Lord, Is It Warfare? by Kay Arthur. A study of Ephesians that’s good for a group Bible study. I would also recommend other book studies by the same author.
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.