We’re SO Different: How Can We Work Together?
How better understanding your God-given strengths and the strengths of others can transform your leadership.
By John Trent and Rodney Cox
Karrie* is everything you could have wanted in a leader. Bright, committed, caring, fun, articulate. Even with an incredibly busy schedule, including two children of her own, she absolutely loved being a leader. She had a passion for encouraging young moms and sharing God’s love with them – and yet none of that seemed to matter one bitter cold, winter night. Karrie sat at her kitchen table, tears streaming down her cheeks, pushing back her hair as she tried to finish a letter… her resignation letter.
It wasn’t family problems, or heath issues or problems with her kids. Karrie was exhausted from all the emotional (and sometimes verbal) battles with another woman on her leadership team. For three long years, Karrie has prayed, sought counsel and even fasted in an effort to get along with Denise, her co-leader.
Karrie had worked in the secular business world for seven years before marriage and kids. During that time she’d certainly had “issues” with people, but she’d always been able to work things out. But this time was different. Karrie was so different from her leadership teammate – it was like they spoke a different language or came from different planets. Things had become so frustrating, instead of loving her leadership position, now she was leaving it.
Relationships on teams can become frustrating and distant because of “differences.” Have you ever thought, as Karrie did, “Lord, why did you make me work with that person?”
At the same time Karrie was writing her resignation letter, Sarah was thinking about giving up on her marriage. For five years, Sarah had been married to a good, Christian man. But they seemed opposite in so many ways. She was a saver; he was a spender. She liked to stay home; he always wanted to go out. She’s a night person; he’s a morning person, and on and on. On this night, Sarah felt alone and trapped by conflicting emotions. She loved her husband, and she wanted to follow God. Still she felt a thousand miles apart from her husband — even though she could hear him snoring in the next room.
What do Karrie and Sarah have in common? They both follow God, work hard to build close relationships, yet they both feel totally defeated by “differences.” Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now. Perhaps you serve on a leadership team that is nothing but frustration to you. Perhaps you struggle with relationships in your church, battle constantly with a child in your home, or lock horns frequently with your husband. Perhaps you find a huge gap between where you are today and where you want to be in your relationships. Here’s something you need to know:
“Irreconcilable differences” are actually grounds for a great ministry team, friendship or family relationship! That’s not a typographical error. It’s biblical truth! It’s also what we teach to leaders, teams and families across the country.
We’ll come back to Karrie and Sarah shortly, but try an exercise first that can help you see something important about yourself and others. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw two horizontal lines about and inch apart one on top of the other on the blank paper. Using your non-dominant hand (in other words, if you’re right-handed, use your left hand) write your first, middle and last name on the top line in CURSIVE. Yes, it’s hard; so take as much time as you need. Then switch the pen back to your “dominant” hand and repeat the process on the bottom line. When you finish, think about the difference between those two tasks. What was different about writing with your non-dominant hand? Did it take more time? Did it look worse or better? Did it bother you that you couldn’t write as well with your left as you did with your right hand? Now, if you’re naturally left-handed, imagine writing with your right hand all day ever day. What a challenge! It’s so much easier to use your dominant hand. It’s easier, faster and less stressful because you’re using your natural, God-given strengths.
The handwriting exercise above that you can do with your MOPS Steering Team is just one of the exercises that we teach people through our Leading From Your Strengths materials. Understanding your unique, God-given strengths and plugging into areas that match those strengths can bring you energy, not drain it.
The underlying truth comes from a familiar passage in 1 Corinthians 12. In ministry teams and families, God has not only given us natural gifts and strengths, he places us alongside people with different strengths – on purpose – and it is a good thing not bad! In 1 Corinthians 12, we read, “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I’m not of the body;’ is it therefore not a part of the body? And if the ear shall say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body;’ is it therefore not a part the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would be the sense of smell?”
Read those verses again. Isn’t it interesting that there seems to be a sense of comparison and even discontent. It’s not just people with straight hair who look at someone else and want curly hair. Many people look at the gifts and strengths God has given them and feel others have something better.
Yet it’s important to know that it’s God himself who distributes gifts and talents. “If all were an eye, where would sense of smell be?” We need different strengths to be a complete body! The strengths Almighty God has given you are hugely important. Particularly when you look at one more verse – “But God has placed the members each one of them in the body, just as He desires.” (1 Cor. 12:18). In other words, it is God who has placed us right where we’re at in our ministry or family – and he places us next to people very different than us. Not to frustrate us, but to complete us. Differences are essential to a fully functioning, healthy body and it is what you do with differences that will either unite or divide.
Karrie’s co-leader wasn’t “placed” there to frustrate her – but to complete her! Sarah’s struggle with her husband’s differences could actually be a key to deeper commitment rather than hurt and frustration.
When individuals and couples learn to view their contrasting strengths in a positive light, it can and will change their relationship. When God “places” us with people who are different than we are, it is almost like a near-sighted person sitting beside a far-sighted person. Imagine what would happen if the two traded glasses? Everything would look out of focus because they see the world so differently. But together, these two can see near and far. Blending differences can be a challenge, and it takes time, but the turning point lies in realizing God’s divine design for differences.
If you’re in a situation filled with frustration like those pictured above, don’t give up! We’ve seen ministry teams, missionary teams, offices, families and friendships move from incredible frustration to a level of closeness and fulfillment they only dreamed of having. All as they learn to recognize and understand each person’s strengths, and how those unique gifts actually protect, complete and can build a God-honoring relationship.
In other words, “No wonder God wants me to work with that person!”
*Karrie is a composite figure based on many of the actual leaders John Trent and Rodney Cox have interacted with in their training sessions.
This article originally appeared in Connections magazine, October 2006, MOPS International, Inc.