Aspiring to Leadership
Something special happened on Saturday, 5 July 2014 in San Paulo, Brazil. The small, seemingly insignificant country Nederland beat Costa Rica in the quarter finals of the world cup soccer championships. What makes this interesting is the human nature story within the game. At the end of regulation, the teams had played to a 0-0 tie, so a shoot-out of 5 tries from each team was required to determine the tie-breaker. Each try in a shoot-out involves placing the ball 11 meters from the goal; a player on one team tries to kick a goal against the goalie of the other team. The back-up goalie for Nederland, Jasper Cillessen, was substituted into the game to defend the goal during the shoot-out. That is virtually never done in professional soccer. As back-up goalie, Cillessen should have been rusty since he had not been playing in the world cup games. But, upon deflecting the last 2 shots by Costa Rica, Cillessen became the hero of the game propelling Nederland, in a 4 to 3 shoot-out win, to the Semi-Finals against Argentina.
Cillessen is a large man. He had carefully studied the tapes of the Costa Rica players to determine their kicking tendencies during shoot-outs and he told each Costa Rica player while he was setting up to kick that he knew where he was going to kick it. I call that trash talking and intimidation, and when you do it, you better be ready to back it up with action. At the same time, Costa Rica had only studied Nederland’s regular goalie’s tendencies; they did not know much about the back-up goalie. Cillessen prepared, studied and was ready to play even though he was a “back up”; not a high profile or highly visible player.
On 1 January 2007, WAC Champions Boise State University (Boise) played the Big 12 Champions Oklahoma Sooners (OU) in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona in what is now called one of the greatest Division 1, college football bowl games ever played. Boise lead 28-10 in the 3rd Quarter. But, OU began its come back with a series of scores. With 1:02 left in regulation play, OU intercepted a pass from Boise quarterback, Jared Zabransky, and scored the go-ahead touchdown with the score 35-28 OU; its first lead of the game. With 18 seconds left Boise was facing a 4th down with 18 yards to go for a 1st down from OU’s 42 yard line, Boise ran the hook and ladder (pass and lateral), scored and tied the game, forcing overtime.
In overtime, both teams have the opportunity to score in 4 plays from 25 yards out. OU scored first and kicked the point after thus leading 42-35. Now Boise had to score in its turn. Again on 4th down, they put the quarterback in motion in a trick play while the running back took the snap and passed to the wide receiver for the score. Then Boise called time out while the coaches with the starting quarterback and the back-up quarterback discussed strategy.
Instead of kicking the extra-point to tie the game and send it into a second overtime, Boise risked defeat to go for the two-point conversion to win. Boise ran the Statue of Liberty play with three receivers lined up on the right side. The quarterback faked a pass with his right hand and handed off with his left hand to a running back who ran to the left side untouched into the end zone for the conversion making the final score 43-42 Boise.
I tell these 2 stories to emphasis the importance of everyone on the team doing their best and being prepared regardless of their assignment on the team. Jasper Cillessen never played in the world cup tournament, yet he was on the team and he did his job as a back-up goalie to stay fit, prepared and productive. During the time-out in the Boise/OU game, who do you suppose drew-up the Statue of Liberty play? It was not the coach. It was the back-up quarterback, Taylor Tharp. You know the guy who never plays and wears a baseball cap and carries a clipboard on the sidelines during the game. But, he performed his roll, was fit, ready to play and kept his head in the game. Jasper Cillessen’s and Taylor Tharp’s efforts made all the difference in the world.
There are many missionaries who aspire to leadership positions in the mission. These individuals somehow see themselves in competition with each other for positions. Having ambition and work ethic to rise to the top is a good thing in life and is admirable. However, in the church this attribute should be bridled. I know a man who felt so inspired he would be called into a Stake Presidency that he left his family and came home from a vacation in Hawaii to attend stake conference. At conference weekend, he was shocked and disappointed. As a foot note, he did receive that call years later which, I suppose, validated his inspiration.
Alma escaped from King Noah and led his followers to a land of pure water. Alma was their high priest and, “…none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him [Alma] from God.” (Mos. 23:17) This is consistent with my experience in the church. Many people are worthy and talented and would do a wonderful job in a given position. But, as the decision is distilled by fasting, prayer and pondering, the final selection is made followed by the unmistakable confirmation by the Spirit. So the call is made by the ecclesiastical leader but it comes from the Lord. And, as time goes by the circumstances usually become clear that the one called and the ones not called are perfect for the time and place and for the people involved where they serve.
There is no ladder to climb in the church. We are taught, “…I the Lord will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (DC 137:9) Essentially, God says He will consider the thought equivalent to the deed for those of you who desire to do more in the kingdom but who may not receive the opportunity.
I like to think of Gideon. His life appears to be equivalent to the back-up goalie or back-up quarterback. There is no mention of him serving in church leadership. He was a strong man, an enemy to King Noah and swore that he would slay the king. (Mos. 19:4) He must have had some military authority because he sent men into the wilderness to search for King Noah. (Mos. 19:18) He counseled with King Limhi not to lay the disappearance of the Lamanite daughters at the feet of the people but on the priests of King Noah. (Mos. 20:17) He proposed a plan for the people of Limhi to escape from the Lamanites. Gideon apparently became a teacher in the church (probably in the Sunday school) and contended with Nehor. He withstood Nehor’s arguments but not the ensuing altercation. He was slain by the sword of Nehor. (Alma 1:7-9) This man was not high profile but he was, “…a righteous man, yea, a man who has done much good among this people. (Alma 1:13) For his contribution, he had a valley and a city named after him.
So, my counsel is to bloom where you are planted, lift where you stand, do the work and be diligent and productive in your current assignment. Here, as in the church at home, people are routinely called and released as particular needs are addressed. You serve here not to be leaders, but:
6 … the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen. (DC 15:6)