The saying you often hear in hockey locker rooms is “The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back of the jersey.” Translation: What is best for the team always trumps what is best for the individual.
As I read the New Testament, I get the sense that the same principle applies to the relationship between the church’s progress and the progress of the individual Christian. Personal progress is certainly important and necessary, but I would contest that the Scriptural emphasis is on the group. Yes, the team—that is, the church, is the grand priority of the New Testament.
Accordingly, the apostle Paul gives some helpful counsel to direct our interaction with one another, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). The word which comes to my mind here is MERCY. And in the context of this passage I would define mercy as the gentle, patient, response to unmet expectations.
What the Christian Church is being called to is hugely counter-cultural. Businesses seeking to make a profit can’t always afford to show mercy to an underperforming employee. Sports teams seeking to win a championship can’t always afford to put error-prone players onto the field/court/ice. But, the church……The Church is said to GROW when we persist in showing mercy to one another. Paul goes on, “Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:2).
This is my dream for the Church. My dream is for the Church to become known as a place where others are put first in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else.
To accomplish this, to create and to preserve an irresistible environment, every follower of Jesus within a particular gathering will need to be engaged. In other words, the entire team must be working towards the same goal.
Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 U.S. olympic hockey team which won gold in Lake Placid. When Brooks was in the process of selecting his team, he would would often say to his staff, “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right players.” For Brooks, the “right player” was one who cared more about team performance than individual accomplishments.
As I survey the New Testament, I see a similar approach to follow. The Church does not grow on the back of a couple of spiritual superstars. The Church grows and matures when the focus remains on the group.