I have been traveling to Burlington, Vermont twice a week to build a volunteer leadership team that will soon start working with teenagers in the Burlington area. We started the school year with a group of six young women, composed of few college students and a few young professionals. For our first meeting together, I decided to have the group play a game called “Forbidden Desert.” The premise of the game is that the group has crashed in the desert, and will die there unless they can complete the tasks that will help them escape. It is a collaborative rather than a competitive game, and a fun wrinkle is that each participant is given a special ability that will help the effort. For example, the player who is the “Navigator” can use her turn to move others around the board more efficiently than they can move themselves. In addition there is a “Water Carrier,” a “Climber,” etc. When explaining the game, I explained this feature of the game without dwelling on it or giving much advice on how to leverage it.
Once I explained the game, I stepped back into an observer role, and what happened was fascinating to watch. As they played their turns, some players were very aware of what their own ability was, yet unaware of what powers other players had been given. On the other hand, some players seemed unaware of the powers they had (even though it was written on the card right in front of them) and they let the team forge ahead without offering their own unique contribution to the effort. After letting them play for a while, I had us take a break from the game to glean some leadership lessons. To start off, I asked the group who had been given the “Navigator” card. When that player raised her hand, I asked her what her special ability was, and she admitted she didn’t know. When she read what was written on her card aloud to the group, the group was incredulous that they had played the game for an hour without knowing about her ability to help the group. She had never offered the information, and the rest of the group never asked. We talked through how difficult it was to win the game without using each of the powers in a coordinated effort.
I don’t relay this story to pick on these young leaders. They are extraordinarily smart and dedicated young women who are going to help change the lives of many young people in Burlington. I relay the story because I know I would have made the same mistakes they did if I were put in the same situation. Furthermore, I have made the same mistake many times in a larger arena–my leadership of real-live teams. The scripture we studied together that night was from Ephesians 4:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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. (Ephesians 4:11-13a, 15-16 ESV)
The body of Christ has different parts for a reason. How many times have I participated on teams and built teams, with only an eye for what I could offer, or with a preference for people gifted in the same way I am? As I spend more time building ministry teams, I am learning to identify, honor and deploy the various gifts that God has given to different people. The benefits of this are magnified and multiplied as these individuals start to work together. When gifted people who are different from each other work humbly with each other, the body functions the way Jesus intended. The power behind this principle is identified by Paul in the verse above: Love. When individuals and teams work this way, they are operating according to the powerful principle of self-giving and self-sacrificing love. Jesus is the head of the body, and the best example of this principle at work.
When we returned to the game after our leadership lesson, the group ended up “dying” in the desert, unable to recover from their early collaboration mistakes. I intend to keep this lesson in front of me, so that the various missions I have been given don’t suffer a similar fate.
How aware are you of your own unique makeup, and what kinds of people you need around you in order to fulfill the mission God has given to you?