Stewardship Resource

Lead—Or Follow: Ants, Lance & Leadership

Article  Article
  • Author: Salt Writer
    July 2004
  • Updated: 12/02/2009
  • Copyright: Stewardship Resources, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced for local use with attribution.

Proverbs 6:6-8
Leadership Perspective: A vision of team work.
The first task of every team would be to develop a unified vision. This vision would be tailored to the particular congregation and ministry area. The vision would be specific and manageable, with attainable goals and a time table. Then the team would assess the particular gifts present on the team, and figure out the contributions that each individual could make. This would also be the time to figure out whether the team had the necessary gifts to accomplish the vision. After that would come implementation and communication between team members to monitor progress.


Lead--Or Follow:  Ants, Lance & Leadership
July 2004


Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.

A picnic produces good times, family memories and hordes of ants. Almost at the moment the food is taken out of the picnic basket a company of six-legged invaders begins snaking their way towards it. Each ant is careful to step exactly where the one in front of them has, and the entire procession moves as one unit.

This image came to mind the other evening as the team trial stage of the Tour de France bicycle race was recapped on the news. The U.S. Postal Service Team -- including five-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong -- had done their best ant impression, carefully winding their way through narrow French streets in an effort to reach the finish line as one solid unit. (Even though the Tour de France is technically an individual event, the team trial segment calls for each team of five riders to compete as one. The fastest team time for this segment wins.) Every turn and gesture was choreographed to shave hundredths of a second off the overall time. The Postal Service team became one team instead of five individuals, each one repeating exactly what the rider in front of him had done.

The ants and the bike racers have something in common: they are united for a common goal. The ants seek to feed themselves. The bike racers seek to have the fastest team time. What's the leadership lesson? There are several. Every ant contributes similarly to every other ant. So do the bike riders. Without the contribution of each individual ant, the overall chances of the community going hungry rise. Take away the contributions of one of the bike racers and the team would have much less of a chance of winning the race.

But both communities have other goals as well. Without food, soon the ants would starve. If food were unavailable long enough, eventually every ant would starve. While that might make the occasional picnic a little nicer, the teamwork that a group of ants puts forward -- with no chief and no leader, as Proverbs says -- would fall short of their ultimate goal to make more ants! The bike team was put together for an ultimate purpose as well: to give Lance Armstrong his best chance at a record-setting sixth consecutive Tour de France championship.  So throughout the three-week Tour, the individual members of the team give of themselves in order to achieve their ultimate goal. If the end of the Tour is close and a member of the team other than Armstrong is in a better situation to win the Tour, the team will switch strategy and support that rider. Once again, no chief, no leader, but rather a sense of unified purpose.

What would your congregation look like if that orientation were in place on every leadership team? The role of the chairperson would be downplayed, and every member of the team would be expected to contribute to the ultimate goal regardless of personal gain. If the goal looked achievable with slightly different means, the entire team would shift.

What would it take to develop this kind of teamwork? The first task of every team would be to develop a unified vision. This vision would be tailored to the particular congregation and ministry area. The vision would be specific and manageable, with attainable goals and a time table. Then the team would assess the particular gifts present on the team, and figure out the contributions that each individual could make. This would also be the time to figure out whether the team had the necessary gifts to accomplish the vision. After that would come implementation and communication between team members to monitor progress.

As a final thought, Lance Armstrong's goals are the driving goals of the U.S. Postal Service bicycle team. One person's goals can be the main goals of a team. Every rider on the team fits his contributions into the larger vision. In the church, Jesus' goals for the church should be the main goals of every congregation. Remember what Jesus said to the disciples in Mark 16? "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." If that is the unified vision of every congregation, where does your individual contribution fit?

Stewardship Resources, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced for local use with attribution.

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