The mantra of my college head coach was, we are a team, and everyone has a role on this team to help us win, whether you are a starter or coming off the bench. We heard him say that over and over again. When we showed up at the weight room… we were a team. When he would post the lists of who made the traveling squad or not… we’re a team. At practices, team dinners, and just about everywhere in between… we are a team, and we all have a role to help this team win.
As you can imagine, that is a really great idea, and he said it so often that we could repeat it. But, when you fill a room with 18-21-year-old males who all have a competitive drive and lack fully formed prefrontal cortexes, you can begin to understand why we didn’t always feel like a “team.” But, there was one day when it really felt like we had played like a real team and that we had fulfilled our coach’s vision for everyone to play their role in helping us win. And, for a brief moment, it was glorious… then it wasn’t.
See, we played a lot of doubleheaders, that is, two games back-to-back in one day. For most teams in our conference, we were pretty evenly matched, and it was likely that we would split those games with our competition. They would win one, and we would win one. Then, there were a few teams that if we didn’t win both games, it was a really bad day. This particular Saturday, we were playing a team that, no matter what, should have won both games. And we started off hot by winning the first game with ease. Heading into the second game that afternoon, coach put in the starters from the first game. And before too long, the wheels started coming off of the bus, and we were way behind. Quickly, almost everyone who had started had been replaced, and with some fresh blood on the field, we started making our way back. Even more amazing, those starters who were pulled were cheering on the guys who replaced them. It was a really great moment of teamwork and comradery. In the end, we came back to win the second game, and you would have thought that we had won the most important game of our lives instead of winning one that we should never have been in a position to lose. High-fives and celebrations were going around between everyone until our head coach delivered a different perspective. In our post-game huddle, he laid-into into us for not playing like a team and supporting one another, which, frankly, left us very confused. He then made us run laps around the entire field for two hours so that we could learn how to play as a team. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well. We thought we had played as a team and supported each other. In the end, we were on that field for 12 hours that Saturday and left discouraged and disheartened. I learned two important lessons that day.
First, teamwork is a really important thing, and when we can get over our individual visions for how things are to go, we can accomplish something significant. Second, teamwork is a lot like trust, slowly built and quickly lost.
All throughout the Bible, we are extolled to bear patiently with one another, and we are given pictures of the power of teamwork. We are also given frank pictures of how easily the mission and the team can be fractured by our sin, rebellion, or single-minded visions. That day on the baseball diamond, we thought we had accomplished something great, and we knew that it only happened because we all supported each other and played our roles. Nehemiah will face the same challenge as he begins to rally the people of Israel together to get after the work of rebuilding the walls. They will face external opposition. But, the greatest risk will actually come from inside the team. Together, they will accomplish something great if they can just keep the team together.
There is a truth in here for us as well; nothing worthwhile will happen in our lives or in the life of our church if we are not willing to work together. The simple truth is that we need each other. We need different skills and abilities. We need differing personalities and perspectives. The key is that they (Nehemiah’s team) weren’t doing whatever they wanted or simply doing their own thing; they were all working towards a common goal and purpose. We have a common goal, the pursuit of Jesus. If we want to be found faithful in what God has next, we need each other. We must remember that nothing worthwhile happens alone.