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Get in the Boat and Row!

Oh, look at the eagle! It’s so quiet and peaceful, I could drift along for hours.”

“Hey! What are you doing back there! We’re all supposed to be paddling. No wonder it seemed like we were doing all the work!”

Sheepishly I grabbed my paddle and began to dip it into the pristine Alaskan lake, more vigorously each time my husband glanced back to check on me. I’m not usually one to shirk my responsibilities, but I had to admit I was taking advantage of being in the back seat of our three-man kayak.

There are various references to boats and paddling and taking initiative. When my mom was tired of getting me to cooperate with her, she would say, “Why don’t you just go paddle your own canoe!” Now this might be taken as encouragement to be independent and self-sufficient, but I’m thinking she was really expecting me to find out my choices weren’t all that great.

Recently people have used another phrase when they want to get someone to take a chance, be decisive: “Get down out of the boat!” This comes from the reference to the story in Matthew when Peter responds to the Lord’s call to come to him on the water: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus” (14:29). This isn’t a license for any rash decision, however. There must be a very high level of trust in the person making this kind of request.

The disciples were actually more of a cooperative group when it came to fishing and managing boats. They were often getting in and out of boats during their years with Jesus. Most of the time it was just the ordinary traveling from one side of the lake to the other. Sometimes the wind was beneficial and sometimes it was a threat. And sometimes they just rowed (John 6:19).

The disciples knew from experience they needed to work together. They understood what it meant to be on a team. I’m sure it was an efficient operation. Make a decision. Get the job done. Reach the goal.

Most of us don’t find ourselves rowing boats. Given the task, I’m sure we could manage well enough, but unless we had some experience, the effect wouldn’t be all that noteworthy.

There are those who are exceptional rowers, however. They are the members of a crew, a fine-tuned, well-trained group of people who can send their boat flying across a lake or down a river. Key to their success is a coach who spends time not only preparing the team but also designing a plan. This coach remains on the shore, and the coxswain becomes the “coach in the boat” who gives directions to the rowers in order to faithfully execute the plan. This person is vital to the efficiency of the crew since the rowers all have their backs to the goal. He or she is the only one who has a view to the course and the finish line. There is obviously a tremendous amount of trust placed in the coxswain, both by the rowers and the coach.

At various times in our lives we find ourselves being in the same boat with others either because of choice or circumstance. Disasters or difficulties create common experiences. More often, though, we are part of a group that is trying to accomplish a goal, reach a destination together.

Who's in your boat?

There are times in a family, in an organization, in a company when it’s time to get in the boat and row. Discussion and argument and consulting have all played out. Sometimes a conclusion was reached by consensus. Other times a trusted leader or the voice of authority finally assumes the position of coxswain, the “coach in the boat,” and makes a decision. In any event, if things are going to get done, move forward, there comes a time to follow the course laid out, the agenda, the plan.

Too often, however, there may be continuing comments from the doubters, the ones who want to go a different direction. Others are content to let others do most of the rowing and just sit in the back of the boat occasionally dipping in an oar. That’s when a parent, a leader, or a manager, gently but firmly insists on rowing together. They know when to say it’s time to be supportive, to be part of the team.

At the same time, that leader needs to be constantly checking with that “Coach on the shore,” our Lord Jesus. Checking in with those “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). When we as leaders pass that same assuring promise of support on to our employees, our members, our family, we gain their trust. They know we have their best interests at heart.

And when the others in the boat recognize that strong spiritual connection their leader has with the Coach, their confidence in the direction the boat is heading and their faith in the voice guiding them grows stronger.

As leaders we too have to be sure we are doing our part. We have to be sure to spend that preparation and goal setting time in prayer, listening to the wisdom and guidance of our Lord Jesus. Then as we call out to our “rowers” we will convey not only His purpose and goals, but also His love and joyful encouragement.

Leaving my guilt at the cross,


(First published at Lead Like Jesus December 2018))


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