Some Lessons from a Grand Slam Victory
I know we have some Irish rugby fans among those who read this blog. Ireland secured a grand slam victory over England on Saturday 18th March, much to the delight of the home fans in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
A grand slam is secured after 5 consecutive victories over the other nations who compete in the competition so, for Ireland, that meant defeating Wales, Italy, France, Scotland and England.
It’s quite a rare achievement and it takes a team playing with consistency and passion to pull it off. It got me thinking about a few lessons that the ‘Church without Walls’ might learn from the Irish Rugby team and their achievements this season.
The first thing that was striking was how they played for each other. In the intensity of test match rugby there is a real sense in which both teams are going into battle. This was a team that had strength in depth and went beyond the 15 players who took to the pitch to start any game. There were substitutes and squad rotation and, while there was fierce competition to win starting places, the team always did their best to slot into the game plan. These victories were not secured through individual brilliance but having well drilled systems that meant many people could step into roles or situations if required to do so. They were all in incredible condition, their fitness was unparalleled and they were prepared to step in or step aside as required. Whether they played 5 minutes or 80 minutes their focus was laser sharp and all about the good of the team.
Sometimes in church life the plaudits go to those who have prominent roles, the clergy, the organist, the leaders of various organisations and groups. While all of these people have significant roles and responsibilities, the organisation is much bigger than any individual. Everyone’s contribution is essential to any achievements or success. Very often it’s the hidden work behind the scenes, the pastoral care of people for their neighbours and fellow parishioners, the people that do quiet behind the scenes tasks like keep our governance right or organise repairs and essential maintenance. It’s the people who show up week by week to run organisations, teach Sunday school, count money, pray from their homes for the life and witness of the parish that enable things to happen and provide opportunities for people to encounter the Lord Jesus. Can we support each other in our endeavours to make Jesus known?
A key part of this team’s success seems to come from a humility and willingness to receive instruction. Much has been made of the strength of the backroom team. The head coach, Andy Farrell, has brought in expertise in terms of strength and conditioning, attack and defence, dieticians and physios. There is a commitment to video analysis and learning about how to iron out mistakes. Sometimes, when a team is very successful and individuals are hugely talented at what they do, that’s the point at where the growing and the learning stops. This team seem to have a hunger to improve, to get better and learn from these very highly trained experts who make up the coaching and backroom team.
Have we the same hunger in our spiritual lives? Once we understand the gospel, and we have a certain level of Bible knowledge, do we reckon we have cracked it? Is there an openness and a hunger to go deeper and to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus in the world we live in today? Are there people we could learn from, techniques we might try that might help us become more effective in our witness and outreach?
An important point that has been made about this team is that whenever they have been faced with challenges and questions in a game, they have always managed to find a way together to get a solution. Sometimes specialist players have got injured, teams have upped their game and tempo in playing against them and yet, somehow, they have found solutions. They may have had to change their game plan or throw people into unfamiliar roles or work harder, but they have found a way to do what is necessary.
In the church, we often hark back to a time when the church was the focal point for community life. People in times past would have attended without questioning, it was the done or expected thing to get involved and now many of these conventions are gone. Many people who haven’t had a church connection for generations question our relevance or the validity of our existence and we find that hard. How do we change the mindset of expecting people to come to us to a mindset that recognises how we must go out to where people are at, serve them and love them in such a way that prompts them to ask questions about our motivation and allows conversations and dialogues to take place?
As we celebrate this teams remarkable achievements to date, we observe within them a true spirit of team, a humility to learn and become better at what they do and an ability to find a way to win, even when testing questions are being asked of them.
Do we in the ‘church without walls’ have the same desire to work together, to be willing to try new things if what we are trying isn’t successful and be honest about the role we currently have in society?
If people are free to help at the work party on Saturday at 9am in the church grounds, we would be very appreciative. Looking forward to speaking again soon.
Much love to everyone,
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