Plays well with others

by Tara Livesay on August 21, 2013


Plays well with others

Follows directions

Shows respect


In elementary school, they used to have a pretty simple way of letting us know how we were doing in life, at least according to their limited observations in a few key categories. They graded us fairly simply; we were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

When I was a kid, before the part where we got in deep trouble, my Dad used to tease my sister and I.  Whenever we would ignore an assigned task or disobey him, he’d say, in a long drawn out way, “fooooolllllowwws dirrrrections”.

As we get older we all seem to learn to what level we must follow directions. We develop into rule followers or rule pushers and we inch our way toward maturity falling in line or leaning hard on the limits. Either way, we are most often striving to find our way to a “satisfactory” rating.

Most of us find it far more difficult to ‘play well with others.’  I’ve been wondering lately, what would our first grade teachers say on our report cards today?

Eight years ago, as we prepared to move our family abroad, we were told “the number one reason people leave ministry abroad is that they cannot work well with others within their organization or community.”  We gave that statement the side-eye. What? Grown up Jesus-loving people cannot get along, cannot “play well with others”?  That hardly seemed possible.

Two and half years into our time in Haiti, we split up with the organization we’d come to serve.  We couldn’t see eye to eye with our boss-people.  They were happy to see us go. We disagreed on far too many things to continue on together. It was a painful and discouraging break-up.

If we have heard it once, we have heard it a hundred times. “We are leaving our organization to start our own thing. We just can’t work well together with our leadership.”

In all working relationships there are times of disagreement, times of disappointment or frustration. It happens between equals, between leaders and their support team, between friends.

My husband recently shared something his buddy said.  This friend had spent many years watching people come and go in Haiti. He believes one of the biggest problems in smaller organizations is that most organizations lack a committed and loyal “number two”. He further stated that he had seen over and over how great working relationships break down and the person in the number two role chooses to move on to start something alone when their interpersonal relationships with leaders and/or co-laborers get challenging.

Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” and none of the parts are the same but they compliment each other.

I am not leading an organization, but I am part of the body. I am in my place and one of my roles is to compliment the people I work with each day. It’s not all that glamorous, and it is not always fun, but it is a role that needs playing.

I’m learning as I age that not every hill is a hill to die on. When my life is over it would devastate me to hear the people I worked with say, “She always had to win. She did not compromise.”  When disagreements come and compromise seems improbable, I have an opportunity to ask myself, “Do I want to win, or do I want to be part of a body doing my part.” “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be the church?”  This is not to say we should not share or shape the culture of our organizations by speaking up when we feel God’s prompting to do so, but it is to say that there are ways to differ in opinion in a gracious, humble, and respectful manner.

Perhaps there are those of us doing work abroad that are not necessarily called to “start our own thing” or to act in the head leadership role. Maybe, like my husband’s friend said, what is most needed are loyal and faithful “number twos” that can recognize how easily the devil comes to destroy relationships, plant doubt, and stir discontent among us. It could be time to try harder to play well with others.

What about you? Are relationships in your work abroad causing more stress than the work itself?  Are you called to a number two position? Do you play well with others?

 Tara Livesay – works in Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti

Blog:    Twitter: @TroyLivesay
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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.
  • Richelle Wright

    oh my… ouch! that’s such a convicting and hard question.

    relationships with colleagues are hard. we do feel like we’ve had good ones – we do genuinely love our current team members, consider them not just those people we work with, but friends/family. but we don’t always see eye to eye and we have had to work hard at times to reconcile differences or to submit as the number 2 when we genuinely felt/feel the direction was wrong. hubby is significantly more gracious about that than i – but then he is one of those who does most often feel called to minister from the #2 position.

    so that brings me to a few questions – how long to you stay in that #2 position and when do you say now is the time to graciously step out and move a different direction when you realize that your vision and how believe God is impressing you to move forward conflicts with the strategy of the #1? what does it mean when a man like my hubby is convinced God is leading him to a change?

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      I do think these are crazy hard things to figure out. I (especially since there was NO WAY we could have stayed under our first leadership team) realize it is very personal and these situations are all nuanced. I know that sometimes under stress of the mission field and cultural stuff and day to day nonsense, I can make something my leader decides that I disagree with seem like a big deal and many times it is not as big as it feels, but stress (and the devil I guess) cause it to feel more weighty. I just think that we sometimes give up on things way soon, I am loyal at my core so it is hard sometimes to watch so many missionaries come and go from here that did not stay as long as they said … I guess that too is very personal and not really mine to worry about. (Haiti is a missionary merry-go-round, most people stay a year or less. I suspect the day could come where being #2 won’t be right anymore — but my post was as much a lecture to myself as anything — just sort of knowing that sometimes I am not good at playing my part and my part is a support role and not a leadership role.

      • Richelle Wright

        thanks for your comments. i agree totally – we give up on things way too soon. and there’s the tendency to judge others for their very personal decisions without knowing the whole story. i remember someone using the term “one term wonder” regarding those folks who came for a term and never came back… but to not follow God’s leading b/c I was afraid that people might think that of me – that would be just as wrong as giving up too soon.

        so thankful you are writing at this place – your posts always challenge me. 🙂

  • Tim

    People need to be strong and independent to do well in overseas missions, but that also makes for increased friction because strong, independent people aren’t going to see eye to eye all the time. My dad took us to Pasto, a mountain city in the south of Colombia, to work with a famous missionary lady in 1960, but within two years we moved to the jungle because he butted heads with her all the time.

    My erstwhile wife and I left Costa Rica in 1991 because it seemed like the mission administrators we were under were expecting more of us than we could handle. Now I work as a translator in a huge agency in which I’m a small cog. I have no ambitions to be a supervisor, but I’m very focused on doing good work and enjoy the opportunities to be a leader in a technical capacity.

  • Laughed out loud here: What? Grown up Jesus-loving people cannot get along, cannot “play well with others”? That hardly seemed possible.

    LOVED this: I am in my place and one of my roles is to compliment the people I work with each day.

    I saw you mention on facebook about a diarrhea situation, right? That would really have gone perfectly with a post on “number two” 😉 Okay. Seriously though, if you would like to do a “Number 2 Part 2” I am sure it would be wonderful. Lots of requests coming in for articles on team relationships.

    I know I could share a story or 2 about our first 2 years as number 2. Hoo-wee!

    That’s my 2 cents. [okay – I’ll stop now.] Thanks for the post Tara!

  • Jo

    I’ve worked for the same great organisation for 8 years and people are always asking me why I haven’t left yet and don’t I want to move on. But when you have good people around you who invest in you and encourage you and where you feel you’re making a difference why would I leave! That’s not to say there haven’t been tough times, and as a small organisation where you do feel like family when difficulties occur it’s even more painful. Flitting from big organisation to big organisation may suit some people, but I treasure being part of something small. We’ve been through times of fire, but have come out refined! It’s been an amazing experience. I totally get that feeling of “I am in my place and one of my roles is to compliment the people I work with each day. It’s not all that glamorous, and it is not always fun, but it is a role that needs playing.”
    I’m new to this site, but your words and the honesty with which people share is most encouraging!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      hi Jo –
      I am also in a small organization and while community can be difficult on occasion, because we do work, play, church, life, family, all of it together … When things are tense they can be so tense but I love the way a little time and a little prayer seems to simmer me down — even when I disagree I can usually get back to remembering the big picture of why we’re working together in Haiti. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  • Little Gumnut

    It’s a very interesting question. I think we ARE called to be the loyal number 2 people in our church (or maybe number 3). We have had plenty of disagreements and frictions in leadership but each time God has helped us work through the painful times and we are coming out the other end of it, better, more committed, healthier. I believe that God actually looks for people who are willing to be Number 2s in order that they can be trained up for his timing and his purposes.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      that’s a good word! thanks!

  • Salem Silvey

    Great thoughts. In my personal Bible study this week I read the first part of Joshua 19 – where it talks about Simeon getting the second lot and his inheritance being within Judah’s inheritance because Judah had more than he could handle. As I read that, I had several thoughts. How did Simeon feel about getting an inheritance that was already someone else’s – I might have felt like I got the grubby seconds. How did Judah feel? Was it ok that part of his inheritance was being given to someone else – did he feel like he really had more than he could handle? – I know I could have definitely questioned that decision. My study Bible had me cross reference Judges 1:3 – here Judah asks Simeon to come alongside him in battle to clear out their lands. They go together and fight and defeat all of the enemies. What would have happened if Judah and Simeon weren’t already “partners in inheritance”? As I read these verses, I applied them to the part of life my husband and I are in where we are most definitely serving in someone else’s “inheritance” – dream/vision. I am sure it is Biblical. I pray we are able to serve well – or like you said so well – “play well with others”! P.S. I am also in maternal health care in the Philippines – I believe we have a mutual friend in Beth Johnson. I know she is so excited to be coming to y’alls neck of the woods! Blessings! Salem Silvey

  • Missionary Gal

    Personally, I think the problem in Christian bubbles (missions, churches etc) is that we fail to realize that we are ALL number 2. If Christ isn’t #1, the true leader and head, then it hardly matters what the issues are. Not sure where this crazy idea of leadership within the body comes from that allows for people falling over each other as they scratch and claw themselves to ‘the top’ of an organization, mission or church. That is NEVER God’s way. All of us have the place of followers. Full stop. Most of these interpersonal problems would disappear if we worked FOR God, together as CO-laborers.

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