Most of us don’t like the word ‘submission’. It’s often thought of as a sign of weakness, of constraint, or worse still, subjugation. But mutual submission is actually an important key to building a strong team.
A long time ago, I thought that if I ever got to the top of the pyramid, I would be able to do whatever I wanted. I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone. My organisation would be blessed to experience my leadership in all its unbridled glory. They will finally see my decision making prowess – completely unfiltered.
Over the years, though, I’ve learned two profound truths. First: no one really ever gets to the top of the pyramid. They might get there organisationally, but they will still have weaknesses in areas where someone else has the strength.
Second: even if you get to the top of pyramid, in an ultimate twist of irony, you ultimately have to become answerable to the base.
So the sooner we learn how to submit to each other, the better leaders and teammates we will become.
Paul says this in Philippians 2:1-4:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Humility; valuing others above yourself; recognising that you can’t do it on your own. These are the hallmarks of an effective team.
As a worship leader, even though I set the vision and direction of the worship set, I often have to choose whether to override others, or to submit to my team. Sometimes my music director makes a call in our in-ear monitors that I might not agree with. In a split second, the musos have acknowledged the instruction and have locked in. The call isn’t a bad one. It’s just not one that I prefer. Do I disrupt the flow and possibly cause a musical train wreck, or do I submit to my music director?
We need to create an empowering culture in our teams where each person is valued as a contributor. Where the keyboardist might have something to say to the drummer, where the guitarist can make suggestions to the singers. Where worship leaders don’t feel like they have to be responsible for everything. Such a team dynamic creates a sense of individual ownership!
Incidentally, do you know that even God submits to us?
Luke 2:51 says that the boy Jesus ‘continued in subjection to’ Mary and Joseph. But when the time came, when Jesus began his ministry, the tables turned. In John 2, at the wedding feast in Cana, they had run out of wine. Mary’s instruction to the stewards was: ‘do whatever Jesus tells you’.
Think about this: every week in our Sunday services, we tell God that he is to subject himself to our programs and format. He’s only got 25 minutes to move during the music time. He is to speak to us during the sermon. Yet God willingly constrains Himself to our directives.
But I believe one day revival will come, the presence of God will be manifest powerfully, when we are finally bold enough to trust him fully, to say ‘God, we will do whatever you say’.
We had a glimpse of this recently when our church had its Season of Prayer. It was more a series of worship meetings than prayer meetings. We just worshipped and let the Spirit lead us into prayer and ministry. On the second night, someone released a word about stepping out in faith. And one person responded by taking the ultimate step: a lady who wasn’t a Christian said she wanted to take the step to receive Christ into her life. In a prayer meeting! It was like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14 when even seekers will say, in the midst of prophecy, that God is really among us.
So let’s continue to practise mutual submission, but above all, let’s continue to humble our hearts in ultimate submission to God.