The Olympic Spirit in Church

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In a world focused on individualism, team is vitally important.

It's been interesting to watch these first few days of the Olympics, especially those venues that are both team and individual sports. Men and women who compete against each other individually often must come together to compete as a team in order to defeat their rivals. Somehow they have to put aside that spirit of competition that exists between them in order to work together for the greater good. It sometimes works and then again, it sometimes doesn't. In one team in the women's cycling, one of the team members was unable to put aside her own ambition to support a stronger team member and stepped outside the solidarity of the team. She weakened her own chances and that of her other team members.

I'm taking a broad look at the first four chapters of book of Nehemiah today to understand how individualism and team worked for Nehemiah and for the Jews as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 3 there is a long list of the families that came with Nehemiah to Jerusalem. Along with the list of families is a list of the assignments on the wall given to each family. Like the team that surrounds an individual athlete in the Olympics, each of these individual groups was responsible for one section of the wall. The remark made was this: "So we rebuilt the wall…for the people worked with all their heart" (4:6, NIV).

You can almost hear them saying within each individual team as they huddled together in the early morning: "Okay, team, let's see if we can beat "Joe" on our left, and "Jane" on our right, to the top of the wall today."

But there were times when the Jews had to put aside their individual quests in order to work for the greater good. That greater good turned out to be good for all of them.

There were people who didn't want to see the walls of Jerusalem go up and were working against Nehemiah and his crew. The leader was forced to post guards and to develop a contingency plan in case they were attacked. He instructed his officials: "Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, 'The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!" (4:19, NIV).

In the church there are many different programs happening all at once. Like individual teams working on individual pieces of the wall, team members are not always aware of what is happening amongst the other teams. But while church could be likened to an individual "sport" to some extent, it is also very much a team effort, and each individual group needs to be aware of all the others and what they are doing, and to be ready to put its agenda on hold temporarily for the sake of the greater good when there is need.

Often we don't have an effective way of reporting, or informing our congregations of all that is happening within the body. Individual teams forget that there are others working alongside them. And sad to say, sometimes individuals put their own agendas above the greater good of the whole body and weaken both their own ministry and the ministry of others.

We are a body. As much as each part of that body has its specific and unique function, it must be aware and work together with the rest of the body. It must help the rest.

Years ago I was bitten by a little beastie that injected poison into my system. At the time I didn't know what was happening in my body. Later, I discovered that my antibodies had rushed to the rescue and pushed back the poison so that it wouldn't get to my heart and kill me. It's a good thing they didn't say: "Sorry, can't come today, we're busy looking after our own affairs." If those antibodies hadn't responded to the "greater good" I wouldn't be sitting here writing this!

The lesson from Nehemiah is an important one and one we need to apply more effectively so that we can "do church" in a way that is more efficient and more glorifying to God.


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