Saturday, September 12, 2015

Longevity in Ministry ~ Go fast or go far. It IS your choice...

"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed -
right genes [to be a child of God], right diet [God's Word],
right exercise [involvement in ministry]
and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church].
The Apostle Paul set it as his goal to walk worthy and finish well. So should we!"

Yet what does the practical outworking of this look like in real life and ministry? How do expats working, ministering and seeking to be Christ’s  “…witnesses… [in] Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1.8, NASB) sustain long and productive careers?

Based off of a sermon by my home church pastor and some additional, subsequent study, I’ve identified priorities, seven of them, that when practiced, can help protect those in ministry, particularly cross-cultural ministry, from burnout and temptation. Even more than protect, these priorities can also give direction and hope as they help us remember that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
1.       Seeking the Lord, consistently and continually
2.       Praying without ceasing
3.       Balancing personal growth, rest and ministry
4.       Welcoming accountability
5.       Committing to marriage and family
6.       Choosing to be teachable, even in difficult circumstances; and
7.       Determining to be a genuine team player.

This post considers that final priority – determining to be a genuine team player.

I’ve always been competitive. As a young person, I competed as both a gymnast and a swimmer. I swam in college (until a torn rotator cuff ended my years as a swimmer). And while I was always part of a team… the nature of the beast in both of those sports was highly individualistic. There was always a lot of rhetoric about self being the toughest competition – and always reaching for a better score or a faster time.

But? The bottom line…at least for me?  

I wanted to be first and the one standing at the top of the podium with the blue ribbon, biggest medal, the tallest trophy... not just winning out over competitors from other teams, but also scoring higher than/touching ahead of my “teammates.”

And I was okay with that. In fact, my introverted, very private, very individualistic self actually preferred it that way. I could publically cheer for my friends and teammates, but privately celebrate when I was the winner.

So I didn’t, really, learn how to play on a team until freshly finished with university, when I joined a co-ed volleyball team while working as a short-term missionary in SE Asia. First and foremost, volleyball is much more of a team sport to begin with. Occasionally, you hit the ball directly back over the net when it comes your way… but more likely, you try and set up for some sort of play that the opposing team will not be able to return. In this league, two women had to be on the court at all times and one of the rules was that in each series of three hits, one of the women players had to touch the ball. I learned how to be a “team player” in that environment because all of the “guys,” the other players on my team, demonstrated, almost  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. what team playing looked like as they worked to position the ball so that I (or the other female) could contribute to each series of hits. At the same time, I had to learn that, unless the ball came to me for the third hit (which happened only very rarely), my job was to set the ball up so that one of the other members of my team could then slam it down as hard and quickly as possible while aiming for a space on the opposing team’s side that would make it nearly impossible to return.

It took some time to learn that – for a few reasons:
1.       I was so surprised and delighted that I’d actually get an opportunity to touch the ball that I’d hit it, sorta helter-skelter, without any sort of a plan.
2.       I, selfishly, wanted to make a super play so my team would try and get the ball to even more frequently and I could play more – forgetting that super-play skills (I’d never played volleyball before this) were still outside the realm of my ability and that physically (I’m on the shorter side, even though I did have a decent jump), some plays were going to remain forever outside my skill set.

Learning to work together with other people can be a huge challenge. We are continually pummeled with messages promoting individualism and the idea that if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. God’s Word also tells us that the world’s philosophy is that looking out for the other guy leads to a last place finish for yourself… that people will be “lovers of themselves… blasphemers, disobedient to parents… unloving, unforgiving slanderers… traitors, headstrong, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”(from 2 Timothy 3). Additionally, people aren’t always nice to work with. They have different priorities, abrasive personalities, aren’t the greatest of team players themselves, are distracted, are selfish, are arrogant, want to make a good impression on others or are just concerned with pleasing self… in a nutshell, they are sinners.

What does it take to be a team player?

I think back to some of those lessons I learned during my season as a volleyball player.
  1. Genuine teamwork must submit to the coordination of a chosen leader (Proverbs 3.5-6)
  2. Genuine teamwork requires that every part of the team understands, shares and supports the team’s existence. (Psalm 72.19, Habbakuk 2.14, Ephesians 4.4-6)
  3. Genuine teamwork requires the cooperation and collaboration that only comes as we set aside personal differences for the good of the final goal. (James 4.1)
  4. Genuine teamwork recognizes that teamwork is better, more productive and effective than individualistic effort. (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12, Mark 6.7)
  5. Genuine teamwork encourages team member faithfulness, full participation and steadfast commitment to the team objectives because the contribution of each is critical in achieving objectives. (Matthew 28.18-20, Ephesians 4.11-12)
  6. Genuine teamwork means that team members have skills they are willing to offer and competence (or willingness to become competent) in the use of those skills. (2 Timothy 3.16-17, Proverbs 27.17)
  7. Genuine teamwork involves authentic communication with the goal of building unity. (Corinthians 1.10, Philemon 1.6)
  8. Genuine teamwork is often built around shared suffering (1 Peter 4.13, Romans 8.17-18, Philippians 3.10, 2 Timothy 2.12)

 The title of this post comes from an oft quoted African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” And, no doubt about it, sticking it out together for the long haul requires genuine, sacrificial and committed teamwork.

In closing, I’d like to share what I consider to be the two most powerful Scripture passages on not just the importance of genuine teamwork, but also its absolute necessity.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!"
And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body,
but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
(1 Corinthians 12.20-25)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility
consider others better
than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also
to the interests of others. 
Philippians 2.3-4


In the comments, share about a positive teamwork experience where you experienced some of these principles in action?

Series: Longevity in Ministry

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