A note from Kelly King: Many of our readers are serving in smaller churches and can often feel undervalued for their contribution. Nothing can be further from the truth. No matter where God has called you to serve and lead, your influence matters. I’m grateful for Gayla Parker’s encouragement to all of you who are serving without much fanfare. You are part of a bigger team doing work with eternal significance.
“…but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:6b-9, ESV).
In leadership, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of who we play for. Our measurements are often in numbers, participants, committees, and budgets. The measure of a good leader, however, is not the size of the ministry, but the “all in” obedience the leader has to her call. A professor once asked his class, “Would you be obedient enough to go to a ministry to close its doors if that is where God is calling you?” That is a haunting thought! It was a question that caused me to ponder my own obedience. While watching a secular movie with my sons, I discovered some things in my own heart that needed to change. Even after 38 years of vocational ministry, there is still much to learn, and some of it can be rather painful. But it is very much worth putting in the hard work of self-evaluation in order to lead a team to God’s perfect plan.
“Who do you play for?” That is a line from the movie “Miracle,” a true story about the U.S. 1980 Gold Medal Olympic hockey team. A group of college hockey players from universities all over the United States came together to form one victorious team. Most of the players had been rivals up to this point. Head coach, Herb Brooks, in frustration with the constant rivalries among players, held an all-night practice of skating up and down the ice rink. With each repetition he asked this question, “Who do you play for?” The answers varied from University of Wisconsin to Yale until eventually one young man, after hours of exhaustive skating said, “I play for the Unites States of America!” That was the answer Herb was looking for. It was not until they chose to come together—being identified by the same colors, giving up personal glory, recognition, and rivals—that they could find victory.
As I heard Herb ask the question, “Who do you play for?” over and over and over again I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Gayla, who do you play for? Do you play for your church? Do you play for your own success? Or do you play for Me?” It is not uncommon for me to cry at a movie, but as the tears streamed down my face my boys were quite confused with this one! But you see, it wasn’t the movie that brought the tears; it was the realization and conviction that I had not been giving the right answer to that question.
A few years ago my husband felt led to return to the church in which he was raised and help them rebuild by serving as senior pastor. We have served in a growing vibrant church, as missionaries, and in denominational work. None of those ministries were as hard or heartbreaking as this new ministry has sometimes been—bringing a younger generation of believers into a senior generation of believers, unexpected loss, budgets, etc. It is hard work! I have asked God, like the Israelites asked Moses, “Did you bring us here to die?”
A secular movie reminded me that I am not here to “play for” my church team, but I am here to “play for” God’s team. And it is my job to lead my ministry team to do the same. It is in working to “seek and save the lost” that His team has victory. We have women walk through our doors long enough to receive what they need and then move on. Others have walked through our doors and have stayed to serve alongside us. But for whoever walks through our doors, if I or my team is more concerned about where they will choose to serve and less concerned about their salvation, then we are playing for the wrong team. Perhaps even worse, we are not trusting God to bring the growth, bringing His perfect team together. How funny is that, considering He is the only One who can bring the most perfect, vibrant growth to any church or ministry?
As a ministry leader it is easy to get discouraged when looking at someone else’s successes. However, someone else’s ministry is not our measuring stick. All of us—whether small, medium, large, or mega—are on the same team. We play for God! Our success is in our obedience to the God we serve.
As the movie “Miracle” comes to an end, and the team is going out for the last period of play against Russia, Herb says these words, “You were born to play hockey. Now go out there and do what you were born to do!” Ladies, we were born to be image bearers of God. We are not image bearers of our church, our ministry, or even our degrees. We are image bearers of God, and He calls us to go out and do what He created us to do and experience His victory. As ministry leaders, it is our job to model that, teach that, and expect that from our teams.
I have been entrusted with much—an amazing group of dedicated servants who have served more years than I have lived. It is not a mega church or even a medium church. It is a small church that is trying to rebuild and keep playing on God’s team in His great adventure. God did not bring us here to “die.” He brought us here to play on His team. He has entrusted us with a tough job that will take every ounce of our discipline and energy. It is my prayer that I will remember for the months and years ahead the lesson God taught me through a secular movie and take time to ask myself periodically, “Gayla, who do play for? Who are you leading your team to play for?” I hope you will do the same with the type of “all in” obedience that brings glory to God. I pray you will be encouraged as you measure success based on obedience rather than size. I pray you will find gold medal victory as you lead your team to play for God’s team, “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9).
Gayla has been in ministry for over 35 years. She has served as an international missionary, pastor’s wife, state convention women’s consultant, and speaker. Gayla has published two books through New Hope publishing as well as several published articles and training guides. She currently serves as adjunct professor at Ouachita Baptist University teaching Ministry to Women and Bible Survey/Interpretation, is a hospice chaplain, and a women’s ministry leader at her church. She loves to go running, hang out with friends and family over coffee, and play violin. More than anything she loves to open God’s Word and share the love of Christ with others. Gayla has her Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her doctorate degree in systematic theology.