Sermon illustrations


How to Hold a Team Together

I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There’s just three things I’d ever say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it.

That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.

Bear Bryant

Looking for a Vision for the Future

Right around six years into what would become a thirty-three-year ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper was stuck. His board wanted to enact some significant changes and he felt a compete lack of direction. Here is a journal entry from that time:

November 6, 1986: The church is looking for a vision for the future—and I do not have it. The one vision that the staff zeroed in on during our retreat Monday and Tuesday of this week (namely, building a sanctuary) is so unattractive to me today that I do not see how I could provide the leadership and inspiration for it. Does this mean that my time at Bethlehem is over?

Does it mean that there is a radical alternative unforeseen? Does it mean that I am simply in the pits today and unable to feel the beauty and power and joy and fruitfulness of an expanded facility and ministry? O Lord, have mercy on me. I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand, even when I know that most of my people are for me. I am so blind to the future of the church…I must preach on Sunday, and I can scarcely lift my head.

Eventually, Piper and his team would develop a renewed vision for their church. This vision gave them the clarity they needed not only continue, but to flourish as a church. But it was not something that came immediately, or without struggle. It required the long, disciplined work of discerning, in community, the vision that God had for their church.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from John Piper, “How I Almost Quit,” desiringGod.

Teams with Vision

Teams with a vision also perform better. Abraham Maslow is well known as one of the most significant psychologists of the last century. His research into high-performing teams found that the most striking characteristic of these teams was shared vision and purpose. In his excellent book Start with Why, Simon Sinek shows that vision is why the Wright brothers succeeding in being the first to build an airplane that could fly. It is a very interesting story, for there was another person who set out to build an airplane at the same time, and he was much better funded.

His name was Samuel Pierpont Langley, and he was seemingly “armed with every ingredient for success.” Langley was a professor at Harvard and senior officer at the Smithsonian. He was given a grant of $50,000 from the War Department (which is many million in today’s dollars) and assembled a team of some of the best talent of the day. Further, the press followed his every move as the nation closely followed his story. He had all the ingredients that conventional wisdom would say bring success.

But Langley was not the first to pilot an airplane and, in fact, gave up his aim to do it altogether when the Wright brothers beat him to it. The Wright brothers did not have the equipping and support that Langley had. Quite the contrary. There were no government grants for their endeavor or other forms of external funding; they funded it out of their own earnings from their bicycle shop.

No one on their team was regarded as being among the great minds of the day; in fact, no one on their team even had a college education. Yet it was the less-equipped, less-noticed Wright brothers who were the first to take flight in human history—not the better-funded, more prominent Samuel Pierpont Langley.

Why? Sinek tells the story in his book, but here is his conclusion: It wasn’t luck. Both the Wright brothers and Langley were highly motivated. Both had a strong work ethic. Both had keen scientific minds. They were pursuing exactly the same goal, but only the Wright brothers were able to inspire those around them and truly lead their team to develop a technology that would change the world. Only the Wright brothers started with Why.

Matt Perman, How to Get Unstuck: Breaking Free from Barriers to Your Productivity, 2018.

What is Your Purpose?

A pastor friend of mine once brought about ten people onto the stage at his church and assigned them roles to play on an imaginary fire truck. One person was assigned to drive; another controlled the siren; one manned the hose; and one turned that strange little steering wheel in the back. After getting them all in place and having them commence their roles, he asked each of them, “Now, what is your purpose, again?” Each answered by repeating the name of whatever job he had given them. After they were done, he said, “You’re ALL wrong! Your purpose—every one of you—is to put out fires!”

J.D. Grear, Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You, Zondervan Publishing.

See also Illustrations on AchievementConflictSuccess, Unity

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Teamwork. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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