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The Team Player: The Ideal vs. Reality

1 May

“I want to live what I believe.” It’s a sentiment to which most of us can relate. The phrase expresses our desire to be clearly identified as the person we think we are. And it makes evident our conviction that a person can genuinely believe one thing, but live in a manner contrary to that belief.

The Bible, however, paints a different picture. In Matthew 12:34,35 Jesus tell us that, “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” And again, in Matthew 7:17,18, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” It is what we actually believe, not what we hope we believe, that dictates how we behave.

For many of us, accepting this truth is a challenge. After all, I don’t know many people who want to think of themselves as liars, thieves, or hypocrites. It’s much easier to justify our regularly recurring faults as “innocent slips of the tongue” or a “momentary lapses of judgment”.

Instead, the Bible asks us to address such repetitive sins as what they are: outward symptoms of a corrupt pattern of thought. That doesn’t mean that no one ever just slips and behaves in a way contrary to their convictions. But it does mean that when those “slips” are a regular feature of our everyday lives, it may be a sign that we don’t really hold the beliefs we think we do. And few places are as well designed to expose the difference as the workplace concept of “the team”.

Ideally, “the team” is a group of individuals dedicated to the tireless pursuit of a single goal. But the ideal isn’t often the reality. Each of us have been assigned to teams which resemble petty, bickering groups of individuals rather than a well-honed machine. We have experience with the free-riders who contribute just enough to get by. We’ve lived with the frustration that arises when individuals are unwilling to consider the potential of any view other than their own. We’ve had our fill of the petty dictators who label others as “poor team players” simply because they refuse to be mindlessly obedient drones. On occasion, we may even have been guilty of being these things, ourselves.

If we’re honest, being a team player isn’t always easy, simply because there are as many definitions of the phrase as there are people in the workplace. Some view a team player as someone capable of carrying out detailed orders. Others argue that the best team members are creative thinkers, willing and able to execute grand visions. And still others would suggest that the best team players are capable of collaborative work in which everyone shares the load equally.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at how the Bible defines a “team player”. We’ll be examining the thought process behind these concepts as well as a few of the actions they lead to.

Meanwhile, feel free to share your own teamwork experiences or dilemmas in the comment box below!

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The Team Player: Defining the Term

10 Apr

Living what we believe comes naturally. Unfortunately, acknowledging that we live what we believe often doesn’t. Our ego can get in the way of our ability to accept our imperfections or address our sins for what they are. It has the ability to block us from recognizing the difference between a genuine slip in our behavior and the repetitive patterns that arise from misshapen beliefs. And few things are as good at exposing the gap between what we hope we believe and what we actually believe as teamwork.

Of course, one of the greatest challenges we face is that not everyone defines “team” in quite the same way. Is it a group of people capable of following the vision of another? Is it composed of individuals willing to cast a vision and take the initiative? Does it find its roots in equal work and equal say? By some of these definitions, the Founding Fathers and the French Resistance were equally lousy team players. By others, they were among the best.

So what does the Bible say? According to Romans 12:4-10, “just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”

The Church is a team and we work our best when each of us gives our best – even when our best looks different from someone else’s. Each of us is a specialist in our own right, but it takes all of us to accomplish the goal of proclaiming Christ to the world. It’s the stuff that the high-performance teams in today’s market place are made of: individuals contributing their best in the pursuit of a single vision.

Unfortunately, not every team is high-performance. Not every individual (either in the Church or in the workforce) gives their best. Not every player embraces the same vision. Not every worker pursues the same goal. Not all of us are inspired by the same future.

Next week, we’ll start to take a look at some of the difficulties we face as members of a workplace “team”. We’ll explore some ideas for dealing with our frustrations when others don’t play like a part of the whole. And we’ll examine some ways to live our faith when we are the ones who don’t share the vision.

Boss’ Pet: Avoiding the Tangle

6 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored the subject of injustice in the workplace. We’ve talked about what happens when one employee is favored over others. We’ve explored some of the emotional reactions such preference elicits. And we’ve delved into a few of the Scriptural principles that can help a Christian thrive when equity is nowhere to be found.

That said, while most of us don’t like other people being the boss’ pet, most of us do like holding that position, ourselves! A word of caution: while it’s great to have the approval of those in authority, it is far better to live at peace with God and our fellow men.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do our very best with ever assignment. It does, however, suggest that when those efforts lead us into a favored position, we shouldn’t take unfair advantage of the situation. Remember that we are commanded to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Some special privileges are earned rewards. Others are a sign of favoritism. The best way to tell the difference is to take note of whether those privileges are being extended to other staff members who have performed to the same level you have. If they aren’t, do the right thing and don’t accept them.

Seeking peace requires discernment – an ability to recognize injustice before it becomes injustice. While that can at times be a challenging task, it’s well worth the effort. As believers, we are called to be peacemakers. The Psalmist commands, “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) Never let hurt feelings or an inflated ego get in the way of doing what is right!

Whether you’re the least favored employee or the most honored, humility, kindness, and a desire to treat others well will go a long way. Do your best to praise what it good and acknowledge the hard work and positive efforts of others. It’s amazing just how much stress can be relived both in our lives and in the lives of others when we follow Christ and seek peace.

Boss’ Pet: Playing Peacemaker

30 Jan

In Hebrews 12:11-15, the Apostle Paul explains that, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” Again, in Romans 12:17-21 he commands us to, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Jesus, Himself, emphasizes the importance of peace in the Beatitudes saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

The choice before me was clear: I could continue to fruitlessly pursue justice (an act which would only encourage further dissension amongst the staff) or I could accept the injustice for what it was and learn to be the kind of peacemaker Jesus wanted me to be. (I’ll let you guess which of the two was the hardest to do.) I had been given an opportunity to develop my character under adverse circumstances. And in doing so, I also had the opportunity to be a positive influence upon the thoughts and actions of others.

Instead of focusing on the rules our new hire broke or the many ways in which he failed to function as a part of the team, I chose to center my thoughts and words on the opposite. I took the time to point out to the other staff members the ways in which the boss’ pet did act as a team player. I refused to take part in conversations devoted to running him (and the manager who favored him) down. And I went out of my way to encourage the new hire when he did make right choices.

Much to my surprise, the atmosphere at the workplace began to change. While our “Joseph” never did lose his position of importance, taking the time to continually and vocally focus on the positive went a long way towards defusing a tense situation. What had at first struck the staff as a terrible injustice began to appear almost comical. Our mood lightened and our frustration with the favoritism dissipated.

More importantly, by pursuing actions which led to peace rather than trying to hold on to what was “rightfully mine” through an unending quest for justice, I was able to reflect Christ’s love to everyone involved. In the end, that’s what being a Christ Follower is about.

Boss’ Pet: A Biblical Parallel

23 Jan

Our new employee had quickly become a favored son. While our boss had high expectations for the rest of us, our new hire seemed to get away with everything. If he didn’t like the rules, he broke them. If he didn’t like when he was scheduled to work, he didn’t show up. If he wanted to leave early, he just left. While the rest of us would have suffered the consequences, he didn’t.

After weeks of watching our manager knowingly avert his gaze, the situation was beginning to grow volatile. Explaining our frustration about the unequal standards hadn’t resulted in any change either in the behavior of the new hire or in our boss’ treatment of him. It was clear that the problem couldn’t be met head-on… but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a way for the rest of us to rise to the challenge and benefit from the experience.

As the senior member of the staff, I soon noticed that my own attitudes towards the players in our little drama affected, if not the feelings of my coworkers, at least their expression of those feelings. I was in a surprising position of influence. And I was determined to use that influence for good.

It was at this point that God brought Reuben to mind. While the elder brother of Joseph was hardly of sparkling moral character (you may recall that he forsook his blessing as the firstborn when he decided to sleep with his father’s concubine) his role in the story of Joseph was an admirable one. Scripture tells us that, “When they [Joseph’s brothers] saw him [Joseph] from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! “Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben further said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? “Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt. Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” (Genesis 37:18-30)

While the other brothers were set on killing the boy, Reuben played the role of peacemaker. He had attempted to do what was right before God without giving way to his own resentment. And, as Christians, we too, are instructed to pursue peace, even in the face of injustice. (To be continued…)

Boss’ Pet: Dealing with Favorites in the Workplace

16 Jan

The new hire was rather charming. Despite living in the frigid north, he had a sort of laid-back surfer air about him and didn’t seem to take anything too seriously. He smiled constantly, laughed frequently, and had just enough “individuality” to have fit in well with our staff… if he had really wanted to.
Unfortunately, he made it quite clear from the beginning that he played by his own set of rules. And these rules frequently failed to fall in line with company policy. Those of us who had been with the company for a while attempted to gently instruct him, but when his antics began to endanger both staff members and the company revenue, it was decided that the situation needed to be addressed to our manager.
I spent several hours reviewing the situation, rehearsing what I intended to say and ensuring that it sounded as generous as possible, then scheduled a meeting with my department head. Much to my surprise, my boss informed me that we all needed to back off and stay out of the matter. While I had never seen my employer as a particularly prejudiced man, the unfairness of the situation was obvious and it was not long before most of the staff members were freely expressing their resentment towards both the boss and the “boss’ pet.”
While at some point in life, you’ve probably been informed that “life isn’t fair”, it can take the workplace to bring this proverb into sharp relief. King Solomon once said that, “There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.” (Ecclesiastes 8:14) The truth is that, in a world corrupted by sin, righteousness is not always rewarded and evil is not always punished.
As Christians, we know that our perspective on this reality ought to be distinctly different from the rest of the world, but that doesn’t always make the situation an easy one; sometimes it can take all of our strength just to keep from blowing a fuse!
What do we do when we see someone “getting away with murder”? How do we handle inconsistencies in the way our employer handles members of the staff? And when do we back off and simply allow such unjust favoritism to take its course?
We’ll be looking at the answers to these questions over the coming weeks. In the mean time, feel free to share your own experienced dealing with a “boss’ pet” in the comment box below.

Developing a Game Plan

19 Dec

Sometimes our workplace situation isn’t fair (or safe), but there isn’t a good way out. The economy, our education, and a number of other factors can end up preventing us from leaving. When this happens, the best approach is to develop a game plan for survival and, when the time is right, departure. Here are a few useful ideas for making due until the time is right:

1. Prayerfully Plan. One of the surest ways to grab hold of hope in a depressing situation is to plan a course for the future. Make a list of things that need to change in order for you to leave, take it to God in prayer, then make a plan for achieving those goals. It may take a while to get there, but each task you accomplish will be one more step towards the positive workplace situation you seek.

2. Ask for Assistance. Sometimes we can’t see the way forward on our own. When this happens, one of the best things we can do is ask others for their guidance and advice. Those impossible to fund educational goals may be at your fingertips and you just don’t know it. The right job may be available, it just isn’t listed. Make good use of your network of friends as well as any community resources which may be available. Remember the words of Proverbs 24:6, “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: And in multitude of counselors there is safety.”

3. Prayerfully Perform. C.S. Lewis once said that, “Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me.” Through prayer, we learn to see people and situations through God’s eyes and from an eternal perspective. Make a list of everyone you work with, of each situation or issue that is causing you stress, and pray through it silently as you work. You will be surprised at how quickly many of the irritations you previously encountered will disappear.

4. Cultivate Community. Work (especially when it’s work we’d rather not be doing) becomes extra stressful when it fills the central spot in your life. So don’t let it. Take time to find people you enjoy being with and things you enjoy doing outside of your job and fit them into your schedule. It’s amazing how much better a day goes when you’re looking forward to time fellowshipping with a great friend after shift or getting some exercise at the local pool.

5. Don’t Despair. There’s an old saying that “when God closes a door, He opens a window”. His plan for our lives often looks quite different from what we want for ourselves… but there is a plan. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” While the verse was written for the benefit of the ancient Israelites, we can be sure that God feels just as passionately about those who follow Him today. He has a plan. And it is one filled with hope!

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