I once took a church youth group on an activity called a “ropes course.” A ropes course, for those of you who don’t know, is a series of group challenges, usually out in the woods, where individuals in a group have to work together to get the whole group from point A to point B, while overcoming obstacles along the way. It’s a mental and physical challenge for a group that is really about team building. It helps bond the members of a group into a cohesive unit as they think and work together. Ropes course is something of a misnomer, in that not all the challenges involve ropes.
The group I was with went through a series of warm-up challenges, none of which lasted more than 15 minutes, and they accomplished each of them without too much trouble.
The last challenge was very different. This time they had to get the entire group of 15 to walk the length of a two-inch wide, 50-foot long balance beam. The balance beam began two feet off the ground, angled up and then to the right and then to the right again, plateaued at 4 feet off the ground and then angled back down again toward the ground. The rule was that the whole group had to stay connected the whole time, and the whole group had to walk the entire balance beam without anyone falling off. If someone did fall off, the entire group had to get off the beam, go back to the beginning and start all over again.
The guide that day told us chaperones in a nice way to shut up and to stay out of it and not intervene or try to rescue in any way, no matter how frustrated the group might become. The guide assured us that in time they would figure it out without us, and they needed to figure it out apart from us.
So I sat and watched the group struggle for an hour to get everyone the length of the balance beam without falling off.
So picture, if you will, 15 youth all up on the balance beam, all lined up in a row, all holding hands, all trying to keep their own balance while helping others to keep theirs.
I watched them for an hour try and fall off and try again and fall off again and get frustrated and try again and get tired and fall off again and try again. And as I watched I got a vision of what the church was meant to be, with all of its particular people and talents, and the vision was much like Paul’s vision that we read about in I Corinthians 12, where Paul sees the church as a human body, with each member being a unique part of the body, each playing their part, and each contributing to the health of the whole.
I noticed immediately that in the youth group, natural leaders rose up. Certain members of the youth group just naturally took the lead, commanded attention, tried particular ideas, organized the group in certain ways. And there were others who were naturally content to be led and be more of a support people for the group.
I noticed that some in the youth group were natural encouragers of others. They gave the group new energy and spurred them on. They wouldn’t let the group stop trying, but when the group got discouraged, mad, tired, and wanted to sit down, the encouragers would say, “OK, let’s go guys. Don’t quit. Keep trying. Let’s go back and try it all again.” And I could see the group responds to their encouragement.
I noticed that some in the youth group were idea generators. When the group would try a particular strategy and fail, the idea generators were quick to suggest other approaches. They would say, “Let’s try alternating boy/girl/boy/girl.” And when that didn’t work, they’d say, “Let’s try alternating bigger people and smaller people.” And when that didn’t work they’d say, “Let’s alternate people facing one direction and others the opposite direction.” Or “let’s try putting our arms around each other’s waist or shoulders.” Or “let’s try this order of people.” The idea generators were always offering new options and possibilities.
Then there were those in the group who were really good at being first in line, or at the end, or in the middle. When the group tried to put them in another place, they fell off. Some just naturally knew where their best place was, while others needed to be told where their place was.
There were those youth who were particularly skilled at using their bodies. They were athletic, well balanced, and provided good anchors for the more wobbly. Others were better with their minds, thinking thoroughly through problems and challenges.