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Rhinos and Buffalo Birds

Across the grasslands of East Africa live some of nature's most fascinating animals. The rhinoceros, a two-horned terror of tremendous speed, size, and agility is feared by most of the creatures of the wild. Only the buffalo bird has no fear of the rhino. These birds perch on the back of the rhino. Some even peck into the rhino's back as a woodpecker pecks on wood. Some fly around the rhino's head and others perch on its ears. The rhino doesn't attack, for he and the buffalo bird have an understanding.

Rhino's have poor eyesight and their bodies are covered with parasites which they cannot control. The flock of birds on his back does a great service by eating the parasites which are the whole of their diet. When danger is in the area the birds let out a shrill call warning the rhinos of what they cannot see. In return, they are protected from predators by one of Africa's largest mammals. That's teamwork.

During a horse-pull in Canada, one horse pulled 9,000 pounds and one managed another 8,000 pounds. One would think that together they pulled 17,000 pounds. Not so! When yoked together they pulled 30,000 pounds. The scientific name for it is synergy: "The simultaneous action of separate agents working together has a greater total effect than the sum of their individual efforts." We call it teamwork.

Each sports season I am reminded that a team will outperform a group of individuals every time. Coach K of Duke says that five less talented players who come together as a team can beat five more talented players who don't. He uses the metaphor of a fist — all of the fingers working together. Unfortunately, in many churches the staff act like fingers rather than working together as a fist.

It is said that Al Maguire, when he coached the All-American Butch Lee, had to have a chat with Butch because he was star-struck and a little stuck on himself. Before the season started, Maguire told him that a ballgame lasts forty minutes and of that the other team has the ball for twenty minutes. There are five people on the team and that means that each would get the ball for four minutes. If Lee did well with his four minutes that would be good. What he did with the other thirty-six minutes would determine how great he was. Al Maguire was saying that it takes a team to score.

Coaches know — and teach their players — that they must prepare. They invest the time and care necessary for the player to be a successful "team" player. Likewise, investment is the difference between merely involving a staff member and igniting him. It's the difference between maintaining morale and invigorating him. A good coach develops a system that brings out the best in each individual for the good of the team.

Sometimes program personalities tell me they didn't have time to prepare, or they might forget their words but they still hope God will bless what they do. I want to say that they should not waste our time with mediocre performances because they are too lazy to prepare. Let me have their time, I have studied and I'm ready. We need to remind player-staff members what a privilege it is to be on Christ's team.

Joe Torre of the Yankees says you need to know when to plod the player who is slacking, encourage the player who is struggling, and recognize everyone who is doing a good job. It is also important to remember that not everyone responds to advice. Sometimes you have to use the carrot and the stick. With empowerment comes accountability. A good coach knows the difference between the talkers and the players.

How's your team? Most church staff members are called because they talk well — but success depends on whether they team well. Coaches must focus on performance (what the person does) rather than personality (what the person is) when rewarding or disciplining. Good coaches develop the perspective that mistakes are coaching opportunities rather than reasons for punishment. They also understand that no player is energy neutral. He either gives energy or saps energy from the team.

Good coaches reward players who are cooperative and bench those who are self-serving. One of the dominant characteristics of the Sweet Sixteen coaches was that they immediately benched any player who was putting his individual performance above the team.

Pastor-coach, if things are going well on your team, work the clubhouse and celebrate the victories. Call time out when things aren't going well. Pull the team together (physically, mentally, and spiritually) and focus on what is necessary to succeed. Do any players need to change positions? Need to run faster? Need to be a team player? Need to be traded?

So coach, in the jungle of church work, you may need a few small birds for your rhino, because if your team doesn't play well, you know what happens to the coach.


Charles Lowery is founder and president of LIFE, Inc. and is in a fulltime speaking ministry. You may contact LIFE, Inc. at 469-892-0098 or www.charleslowery.com.

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May 2005 Edition
Volume 13, Issue 7
May 2005