When our son Ryan was in college, he was captain of the varsity crew team at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The sport of crew suited Ryan perfectly. In other sports, individual achievements are recognized such as … a touchdown, a basket, or a home run…to win the game! But in crew the focus is totally on the team…the team wins or loses… together. There are no individual statistics. Ryan’s Navy crew exceeded all expectations… and finished second in the USA to Brown University his Senior Year!! (I hate Brown!)

Daniel James Brown captures this spirit of teamwork in the sport of crew in his book, The Boys in the Boat. Brown chronicles the 1936 men’s Olympic crew team who defeated the elite university crews from Harvard and Yale, as well as the prestigious crews from Oxford and Cambridge to capture the gold medal in Berlin, Germany. The reason that The Boys in the Boat is so compelling and had 117 consecutive weeks on the New York Times’ Bestseller List is that the story inspires us to be better people.

One of the key concepts in the book is that rowing is based on trust. When a crew functions as it was intended to function, they develop “the swing,” which happens when each rower gives his or her best effort, and the sum is greater than the whole of the parts. When rowers experience “the swing”, something happens that “takes them over the top,” and they perform better together than any of them have ever performed individually. When “the swing” happens, rowers bring out the best in each other. It is a wonder to behold!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring out the best in the people around us each day? The early Christians brought out the best in one another and that is why their fellowship was so attractive to all kinds of people. Non- Christians looked at the joy and vitality of the early church and were astounded saying, “See how these Christians love one another.” The early church experienced “the swing” each day. They brought out the best in one another. They were not an individualistic community in which each person thought of oneself and their own fulfillment.  Rather, they thought more about bringing out the best in others than their own fulfillment. There was no welfare in that time. The early Christians provided for widows and orphans and shared what they had with each other. They did not believe that they were the owner of their property but rather they held all things “in common” and each person was generous with the others. Like, The Boys in the Boat, the individuals in the early church were “better together!” Is it any wonder that the early church grew?

Every one of us has a sphere of influence and is on some type of “team” in which we could focus on making the people around us better. We need “the swing” in families where every child and adult could be empowered to be and do their best. We need “the swing” in staffs in which each person could be empowered to use their gifts to fulfill the mission of the organization and make each person better. We need “the swing” in churches where the pastor, lay leaders and individual members focus on empowering each other to reach out to the local community and make an impact. We need “the swing” in every arena of life! We are on the face of the earth to serve God by serving others… and to help the people around us to blossom!

The key to “the swing” is learning how to trust one another and focusing on the fulfillment of others rather than on our own individual fulfillment. The truth is that “what goes around, comes around.” If we care for each other and treat each other the way we want to be treated, as they did in the early church, we would have a different world. Caring for one another is contagious! The 1936 Gold Medal Olympic team was not comprised of the eight best rowers and the best coxswain in the world. Rather, they were an unlikely and diverse group of athletes who quite simply “made each other better.” Can you think of a finer way to live?

Reflection Questions

  1. When in your life have you been part of “a team” that made each other better?
  2. Are you in a position in your family, office, neighborhood, school, volunteer organization where you might set the climate where “the swing” could become a reality?
  3. What do you think is stopping your family, neighborhood, office staff, or your volunteer organization from experiencing “the swing”?
  4. What could we do today to start to make the people around us better?