One of the most insightful books on business management and human resources that I’ve read in the last five years is Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.
Lencioni makes compelling arguments for personally striving to be humble, hungry and smart and hiring employees who pattern their lives after these attributes. Businesses, churches, organizations and families function successfully when all three of these virtues are prominent. The absence of any of these three essential characteristics results in relational disunity, interpersonal conflict and organizational dysfunction.
Humility refers to a person’s ability to make individual sacrifices for the betterment of others. This is not self-abasement but the conscientious decision to think, feel and act for the welfare of another person in need. Consider the Good Samaritan, who sees a Jew in desperation on the side of the road, stops to offer aid, and makes personal sacrifices for the welfare of his “neighbor.”
Hunger refers to a person’s ability to exhibit passion, zeal and perseverance for a cause. This is not a destructive or vengeful reaction to others but the maintaining of drive and intentionality even in the face of confusion or opposition. Consider the widow who places her last two coins into the temple treasury, fully trusting in God to provide for her future.
Smart refers to a person’s ability to consider the personalities, abilities and circumstances of others in the group. This is not intellectual understanding, knowledge or mental fortitude but is the ability to observe, discern and motivate others toward a common goal, purpose and outcome that is mutually beneficial to all. Consider the Jerusalem congregation that becomes aware of the neglect to Greek widows and then forms deacons to help ensure that everyone receives the necessary care in the community of faith.
What might happen if followers of Jesus and local congregations move into the challenging work of social justice with an emphasis on being humble, hungry and smart?
“What might happen if followers of Jesus and local congregations move into the challenging work of social justice with an emphasis on being humble, hungry and smart?”
Upon the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, I experienced a watershed moment of deep awareness and conviction of racism in my own life. I shared about my experiences in a previous article with Baptist News Global titled, “Learning to Breathe in the Spirit by Confessing ‘I Can’t Breathe.’”
Floyd’s death sparked humility in me. I became increasingly aware of my own racism, ignorance about social injustice and complicity to the systemic factors that perpetuate discrimination in our culture. I embarked on a journey of repentance, exploration and intentionality to learn. I began to realize that my exposure to history was incomplete and that I needed to be teachable, seeking greater depth and breadth to my understanding of social injustice in our past, which continues, albeit in new forms, in the present inequalities toward persons who are not white.
I grew in a deeper understanding of chattel slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, segregation, redlining, injustices in the workplace and education, voter suppression and the drug wars as means of oppression. I learned about Black heroes and heroines who I knew little or nothing about: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Aretha Franklin, James Baldwin, Thurgood Marshall and John Lewis, just to name a few.
Floyd’s death sparked hunger in me. I began an intentional journey to read, observe and grow. Sixteen months into that journey, I have read more than 50 books about racism, watched more than 30 movies about injustice, attended seminars and conferences, viewed sermons, read countless blogs and articles, and spent many hours reflecting with individuals of different ethnicities, absorbing as much as I can from their life experiences, education and guidance.
“The more answers I found, the more questions I discovered, and the hungrier I became.”
The more answers I found, the more questions I discovered, and the hungrier I became. I chronicled my 87 steps (mirroring the 87 steps from the Lincoln Memorial to the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall in Washington D.C.) on Facebook, sharing from these resources and my personal growth. I sought to glean from a variety of perspectives (historical and modern, religious and secular, autobiographical and fictional). My greater awareness overflowed into sermons, Bible studies and personal encounters with others. I wanted to continue to learn more, to do better and to be a part of bringing about change and equality.
Floyd’s death sparked relational smarts in me. I started to reach out to others of different nationalities, ethnicities and perspectives. I began to read the Bible through the lens of the imago dei of God’s intentional, creative equality and the need to love my neighbor as myself. The more I listened and learned, the more I was compelled to live out the calling to seek justice, love with mercy, and walk with humility (Micah 6:8).
Through the course of these beginning steps of personal growth, I found many on the journey with me and quite a few in opposition to this path, but I continued to step out of the comfortable and into the transformational. I’m convinced that much can be learned from the experiences of others, but even more can be learned through the interweaving of our lives, our families and our churches.
For those of us on this journey toward racial equality (especially those of us who are white church leaders), let us become “ideal team players.” May we be humble: quick to listen, eager to be taught, persistent in recognizing our limitations. May we be hungry: zealous for the cause, intentional about our own transformation, passionate to stand alongside our non-white brothers and sisters. May we be smart: purposeful to expand our interaction to include others who are different than us, undeterred to form alliances that cross racial barriers, and persistent to bring about systemic change in our communities.
Foreshadowing his own death, Jesus spoke of a seed that falls to the ground, dies and gives life to many (John 12:24). The death of Jesus is what offers true, meaningful life to all who come and experience grace. The love Jesus shows us through his death is what can unify and ultimately save the world.
The death of George Floyd was a tool used by the Spirit of Jesus to bring forth a newness of life in me. This newfound life draws me into a greater yearning for self-sacrificing humility, fervent hunger and smarter awareness of others around me. This newfound life draws me into being an ideal team player.
“My journey has just begun. I have much more to learn, embrace and change to become more antiracist.”
My journey has just begun. I have much more to learn, embrace and change to become more antiracist. As I stand before the Reflection Pool following these 87 steps, I see only a dim and distorted view of the future reality of heaven. I long to see God’s face; I yearn for fuller knowledge and complete understanding (1 Corinthians 13:12). And so I pray from the depths of my soul, “Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I eagerly wait for a day when every tribe, nation and tongue will stand unified before the throne of God in celebration of our Savior. Until then, I seek to be humble and to love with the gracious mercy shown to me. Until then, I seek to be hungry and to strive for justice in a world of great inequality. Until then, I seek to be relationally smart, celebrating that all people are created in the divine image of God and should be treated with kindness. Until then, I want to be an ideal team player on the quest for social justice. Will you join me?
Patrick Wilson serves as senior pastor of Salem Avenue Baptist Church in Rolla, Mo. He is a graduate of Baylor University, earned two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Logsdon Seminary.
Learning to breathe in the Spirit by confessing, ‘I can’t breathe’ | Opinion by Patrick Wilson
Beware the Anti-Anti-Racist Evangelical Complex | Opinion by David Bumgardner
‘Cultural humility’ fosters a lifelong self-examination of racism