Growing Together, Rowing Together

As the inaugural entry of this blog, I'd like to share something I wrote in 2002, based upon a very enlightening book I had the privilege of reading. The title of this piece is "Growing Together, Rowing Together," and is about the role of teamwork in ministry.  

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In his book, Doing Church as a Team (Regal Books, 2001) Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of the 8,000-member New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii, likens ministry to the sport of team canoe paddling, one of Hawaii’s most popular sports. We pick up the story as Wayne and a group of friends report for canoe lessons and receive their initial instructions:

‘We’re going to paddle our first stretch of water. It will be an eighth-of-a-mile sprint. When I begin the stopwatch and say ‘Go,’ just paddle as fast and hard as you can. When we cross the finish line, I’ll notify you. That’s when you can stop paddling. Got it?” How hard can this be? I thought. Even women paddle canoes. This ought to be a breeze! Just then, my self-confident thoughts were shattered by the sharp call of our coach. ”Ho ‘omakaukau? I mua!”  In English it means, “Ready? Go Forward!”

With our muscles bulging and sinews stretched, we burst out of our dead-in-the-water starting position like a drowning elephant trying to get air. We thrashed the water with our paddles on either side of the canoe. Not knowing when to switch from one side to the other, we all figured the best time would simply be when one arm got tired. So, firing at will, I crossed the blade of my oar and across the canoe; and when I did, I scraped the back of my fellow paddler, Roy Pua-Kaipo, seated directly in front of me. . . .But Roy didn’t stop. He just kept beating the water like a trooper. We were on a crusade!

It felt as if hours had transpired . . .when we finally heard Russell yell, “OK, stop!” Thank God! I thought.  We abandoned the sinking canoe and let our bodies slump into the water, totally exhausted.  “One minute, 42 seconds,” Russell called.  “Pretty sad!”

 Like war-torn warriors, we comforted each other, apologizing for the scrapes and wounds inflicted by our flailing paddles. We started bailing the water out of the canoe, which had begun to resemble a defeated submarine more than a sleek racing vessel.

Russell gathered us whimpering novices together, and . . . he taught us how to paddle as a team. Each fledgling paddler was to mirror the one in front of him, and everyone was to move in time with the lead stroker. He taught us how to switch our paddles to the opposite hand without injuring each other. We practiced together again and again until our stroking became as rhythmic as a metronome. We were beginning to look good! After a few practice runs, our coach took us back to our original starting position.

“All right,” said Russell, let’s try that same eight-mile stretch again! Only this time, I want you to stroke as if you were taking a leisurely stroll through the park. . . . Just mirror the one in front of you and switch with a smooth cadence of rhythm, just as you were taught! Stroke as a team and don’t try to break any sound barriers this time, OK?

With new confidence, we took our mark. Russell barked out the starting signal. “Ho ‘omakaukau? I mua!”

Our oars silently entered the water, coordinated in perfect time….Our canoe cut through the water like a knife through jelly. We switched sides without skipping a beat. We each mirrored the rower in front of us. We were being transformed from a drowning circus animal into a precision machine! Then just as we were feeling the exhilaration of smooth progress, Russell yelled, “OK! Stop paddling!”

Much to the team’s surprise, they had beat the previous time by 24 seconds, and more amazingly, no one was tired, and no one had been injured!  What had previously proved excruciatingly difficult had become sheer joy, as the paddlers learned to work in harmony with each other.

Cordeiro relates the meaning of the story:

Each of us has been given a paddle by God. A gift. A calling. And like the paddlers of a canoe, each of us has a place or a role to fill. . . .He places each of us . . .in a local church, with a divine purpose. He fits us alongside others who have a similar assignment and calls us a family, a team, a Church. No one person is meant to carry out this assignment alone; it wasn’t designated that way. We were created to do church as a team!

We often sing of “praying together, staying together.”  I believe we can add to that  “growing together, rowing together,” as we learn the joy of working together as a team and as each one of us finds our place in God’s program. So, let’s pick up our paddles, get in stride, and get moving on the awesome journey laid out before us!

Keep on growing in His Grace!  --Pastor Charles