Occasionally a song pops up in the iPod shuffle rotation that reminds me of my failed career as a disc jockey in the ‘70’s. The song is called “United We Stand” and it was recorded by a British group called the Brotherhood of Man. The message was simple.
For united we stand
Divided we fall
And if our backs should ever be against the wall
We’ll be together, together, you and I
The songwriter was talking about a love relationship but the sentiment to stand united should permeate family relationships, team relationships and especially church relationships. But we know in the latter case that is too often not true.
I have written a lot about how people in the church do considerable damage with actions and words that do not reflect Jesus. I have been frustrated by Christians who receive grace willingly and deny it to others. I see division in the body of Christ where we should see unity. It occurred to me that the church does not understand a few key principles that winning baseball teams understand. The first thing that winning teams understand is that every teammate brings strengths and weaknesses to the team. A great team celebrates the strengths of each player and works together to offset the weaknesses. I pondered this as I read about the career of Joe Gordon. In 1942 Gordon led the American League in strikeouts. He made more errors that year than any other second baseman. He hit into more double plays than anyone in the league. By dwelling on those stats we could surmise that the New York Yankees were looking for a new second baseman for the following year. But there was one mitigating factor.
Gordon won the American League Most Valuable Player for that season!
In spite of the flaws mentioned above Joe Gordon had a great season. He batted .322, fourth in the AL, with 18 homers and 103 runs batted in. Gordon teamed with Phil Rizzuto to lead the league in double plays turned defensively. In 1942 Joe Gordon was deemed to be the MVP of the league despite some obvious weaknesses in his game. Great managers and good teammates know that every player has strengths and every player has weaknesses.
And that is the lesson I was thinking about for the church. Too often we dwell on the weakness and not the gifts that God has given others. Or we acknowledge the gifts but make sure to note the weaknesses. All of us are a mix of gifts and flaws. Paul mentions spiritual gifts in his letter to the Roman church.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Commentators note that the translation here might be a bit confusing. The text might sound as if Paul’s giving away spiritual gifts to the first ten callers. A better translation might be that Paul wants to use his spiritual gifts to strengthen and encourage others. I believe that every single Christian is given spiritual gifts. We are given those gifts for many reasons but two of the primary ones are to glorify God and strengthen one another. But I wonder if we sometimes look at our spiritual gifts as something that we have the right to exercise for our personal fulfillment and glory? I am sure Joe Gordon often struck out when his team needed a hit. I suspect he sometimes made an error when the pitcher threw a good pitch and should have gotten an out. But his teammates (and the rest of the league) saw his gifts. Base runners batted in and key home runs hit. A vital double play turned and great range at his position. That is what made him valuable to a winning team. His strengths were vital to the team winning. His flaws were compensated by the team working in unity toward the goal of the World Series.
Do we do that in the church? Or do we choose to focus on the flaws of others? The World Series is a wonderful goal but it pales in comparison to the goal that Jesus challenged us to pursue. Do we understand what it means to be unified for the common goal expressed so succinctly in the Gospel of Matthew?
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
That is the game plan. Each of us has been given gifts to contribute. Each of us has flaws. Can we pray that we will be mature enough to focus on Who unites us instead of what divides us? Even the MVP of the American League had shortcomings. So will the pastor, elder, committee member, and volunteer chairman as we pursue the Great Commission of Christ. Another thing that winning teams understand. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone on the team but you do have to be united for the common goal of the team. My prayer is simple.
God give us the grace to be unified as a team for your glory. Teach us to use our gifts to strengthen one another and glorify you. Give us the strength to be a good teammate and the humility to believe that it cannot be about me for the team to succeed. Give me the desire to be a good teammate in the body of Christ. Teach me to see and exalt the gifts of my brothers and sisters even if they compete with my own talents. And especially teach me to be graceful with the flaws of others. We are all gifted and we are all flawed. A team understands that truth. Help us to do the same for the sake of the body of Christ.
(Joe Gordon story excerpted from When Bad Christians Happen to Good People)