Being A Team Player: You Know What You Bring – Now What?

photo by shubijam

photo by shubijam

Over the summer, my kids are in and out of camps, trips and clubs.  There’s one club, though, that never ends.  Any guesses?  (Hint: we have a teenager).

Yup, drama club, courtesy of our teenage daughter and (mainly) her circle of friends.  It’s not official, but it’s very, very real. Friendships start, friendships end.  Teachers are ‘awesome’ one minute and ‘the absolute worst’ moments later.

I’m not sure, though, that adults are, after close inspection, much different.  We hide the drama better, but it’s still there, barely beneath the surface.  And, it really affects us and the groups we’re part of.  Instead of concentrating on the work at hand, these hidden dynamics are a distraction from what God is calling us to accomplish together.

I can think of several student leadership teams where a few people weren’t pulling their weight.  Those who were more involved became burnt out and resentful toward those other leaders, creating a quiet, but clear, tension that made those teams more than a little awkward.

But, what can be done?

Last time, we took a look at the first part of one answer to that question – you’ve got to ‘know what you bring’.  When you know who you are and what you’re good at, you understand your role on the team.  You don’t try to take on others’ jobs and you’re free to contribute your own strengths.

Well, at least in theory.  Knowing may be ‘half the battle’, but, it’s only half the battle, right? We can all think of times where we knew what was right but didn’t do it.

That leads us to those deeper, annoying ‘why’ questions.  If I know what I’m good at, why do I sometimes hold back?  In our context, if I know what I bring to the team, why don’t I always share it?

We can’t get into all the possible answers here, but in my experience, team members often hold back because they’re afraid of what others will think.  Rather than risk looking stupid, we keep our thoughts to ourselves.

The bible has a ton to say about fear.  This is slightly oversimplified, but at the end of the day, we either choose to fear God or others.  The overall pattern of our choice will go a long way in determining how we live, and, whether we can make the kind of impact we want to as we serve on teams.

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

I love this verse because it’s so clear.  If we understand that God is our ‘helper’ in each moment, we won’t be afraid because we’ll be reminded that others can’t really do much to us.  And in a culture with a fair degree of (outward) civility like ours, the negatives generally boil down to people talking behind our backs or cold indifference.

Getting back to our context of working with others, what happens if we fear God and not people?  When we start to worry about what others might think, God’s presence helps us step back.  We can evaluate our contributions apart from what others might think.  We can share them, and, if others find them foolish, it’s fine.  It hurts, but it doesn’t destroy me. God – and not someone else – determines my value.  He’s accepted us, so we don’t need to fear someone else’s rejection.

A student friend told me about a resident who was trying to make him do a procedure he wasn’t really competent to do.  He understandably felt a lot of pressure to comply, but he stepped back, remembered that he ultimately served God (and the patient) and told his resident that he couldn’t do it.  Sure, there was some tension, but ‘fearing’ God made all the difference and everyone moved on.

As we close, here’s your ‘assignment’, some possible steps to move forward:

  • In group settings, where do you find yourself fearing others?  What does that look like specifically, and, how does that lead you to hold back what you could otherwise offer?
  • How would ‘fearing God’ change how you think about your situation and shape your response?

We need to know what we bring (what we’re good at), but the key to actually contributing it starts with putting God – not others – at the center of our lives.  This is a lifetime journey, but each step adds up and allows us to make the impact we’ve always wanted to.

 

Being A Team Player: It Starts With You

 

athletics-868626-sLast week, I began a new summer series on ‘Being A Team Player’.  In case you missed it, here’s the bottom line:

If we want to make a significant, lasting impact, we need to work with the people around us – to be part of teams.  But, because we all bring our baggage with us, this is much harder than it seems.  In this series, I’ll share some of what God is teaching me about bridging this gap in the hope that it will be helpful for you, too. Let’s dive in.

Principle #1: To be an effective team member, you’ve got to start with yourself

This is fairly intuitive, right? At the end of the day, a team is made of individual players and it’s good or bad depending on the skill and commitment each person brings.

If we look in the mirror, though, we often don’t operate like this. Here are some lies and excuses I see in my own life. Maybe you can identify.

  • I can do my part, but no one else is really trying, so why bother?
  • I’m not sure I bring all that much to the table. Other people seem to have it covered, anyway.
  • I’ve got to focus on school/rotations/exams (or my job, my kids’ activities, making sure we have enough to retire, or…). After all, Jesus has called me to this – he doesn’t want me to be unfaithful to that, right?
  • I’m already being faithful; do I really need to improve?
  • In all honesty, being part of this isn’t all that important. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

Just to be clear, I never verbalize these things – I’m much too spiritual for that! Instead, these are the things that surface when I’m really, really honest.

We don’t have space to address all these excuses here, but Ephesians 4:15-16 is a good start:

we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

 

First, Paul says that each of us is part of ‘the whole body’ – that is, the church. Ultimately, that was God’s choice, so we need to be committed to other Christians around us. (And others who are not of faith; but, that’s not the point of this post). That will mean, at the minimum, being part of a local church, but I believe it often has other expressions, too. Like your campus fellowship or leadership team. Or, a local ministry you’re excited about. If God has called me to a particular ‘team’, it’s a privilege to participate.

 

Second, Paul says that everyone is critical. ‘When each part is working properly…’ No one is unimportant or overly important to the team. If people rely on you too much, or, don’t value your role enough, there are ways to begin addressing that, but the reality is that you are an essential part of God’s work where he has placed you.  

 

Third, everyone is called to ‘grow’. We can’t stay where we are – we have to move forward, specifically, by becoming more like Christ (that’s Paul’s point at the end of v.15; see 4:17-6:20 for the details). No amount of skill can make up for a stagnant walk with God.  Conversely, you don’t need to be a ‘superstar’ or off-the-charts at something to make a huge impact.  If you simply pursue Christ day after day, you will have a ridiculous amount to offer.  This is incredibly hard in the midst of busy lives, but it’s our privilege and calling.  

 

Finally, your contribution makes a tangible difference. Notice the result: ‘when each part is working properly… the body grow[s] so that it builds itself up in love’. You can only do your part, but when everyone takes that approach, great things happen.

 

The best teams I’ve been part embody these principles. It’s never perfect, but their members believe they’re there by God’s design, so they understand they’re important to the health of the team. They try to keep taking small steps forward. When those (simple) things are in place, amazing things happen over time.

 

Last time, I promised each post will contain an action step, something to think and pray over to help you grow. Here we go:

  • Think about one team you believe God has placed you on. Which (if any) of the above excuses do you find yourself struggling with?
  • Which of the four principles from Ephesians 4:15-16 applies most to your situation?
  • What one specific step of change could you take this week in response?

 

Personally, I’m convicted that I need to be more practically invested in my local community (small) group. God is showing me that I don’t always believe my efforts make a difference, but this week I’m going to pray for each of our members, trusting that God hears my prayers and is going to respond. That’s it – it’s not rocket science or earth-shattering – but I trust God will help me keep moving forward.

 

I trust that, as you take your own small steps forward, God will do the same for you.

 

 

Being A Team Player: A New Summer Series

Photo by Eastop (stepheneastop.com).

Photo by Eastop (stepheneastop.com)

The signs of summer are all around us.  The first ninety degree day.  Exams completed. Some of our students heading home. Others starting rotations or residencies.  The Phillies are floundering.  (I wish that was a joke.)

Summer is also a great time for re-evaluation, an opportunity to get out of the ruts we find ourselves in.  I’m not sure about you, but sometimes I feel like I have two people living inside of me.  One person likes being complacent and wearing blinders so that I don’t have to face things I don’t want to.  The other person wants to face himself and move forward, even if it’s hard.  

This new series of summer blog posts is my attempt to move forward with you.

The theme – being a team player – I admit, is not entirely intuitive.  

About 15 years ago, when I was still in seminary, I was sitting with my wife in the home of one of our mentors.  I forget what we were talking about, but the husband said, ‘Who knows what God will do through you… maybe you’ll impact millions of people like [the famous preacher] Charles Spurgeon!’  I wasn’t dumb enough to say it, but I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, maybe… I can see that happening’.  (My wife, who was more humble, later gently pointed out that he was being tongue-in-cheek).

The point is that, like my younger self, we all tend to put ourselves at the center of the universe.  And think that we can ‘change the world’ by working hard, being intelligent and talented.  Or, after we sour on the idea of making a real impact, we become jaded and largely give up, opting for whatever small pleasures and comforts we can find.

Over the years, I’ve started to learn that I really can’t do it alone.  I’ve always ‘known’ that, but every day it becomes more obvious and less theoretical.  As that is sinking in, I find myself working more on teams – official or not – and making a far greater impact.  

Which is what I’ve always wanted – to make a real difference.  I’m assuming the same is true for you.

I’ve also observed, though, that working with others is way harder than I ever dreamed.  If you’ve ever lived with anyone for more than a week, you already know this.

So, the premise behind this series is simple.  To make a real impact, we’ve got to work with others – be part of a team.  But, it’s crazy hard because we – and everyone else – bring our own baggage with us.  In this series, I’ll try to bridge that gap so we can move forward together. 

Here’s what you can expect.  Each post will:

  • be relatively short 
  • be biblically-informed 
  • speak largely, but not only, to people in healthcare
  • challenge you (and myself) to take a small action step
  • be published on Wednesday (this being an exception)

If you’re alive, God has exciting plans for your life.  He wants to make a difference through you, right where you are, even with all of the distractions and problems going on in and around you.

One of the major ways he does that is by putting other people in your life.  Nearly 2,000 years ago, the writer to the Hebrews had this advice for people who were facing their own (much more serious) problems and distractions:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Over these next few weeks, then, I hope to encourage you to ‘consider’ what it means to live a life of ‘love and good works’ with the people around you.  Welcome aboard!