Plays well with others
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