How to Destroy a Team - The Warrior's Journey®

How to Destroy a Team

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

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“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘…Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’  …When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.” (Mark 10:35, 37, 41)  

A visiting organist was performing a selection of classical hymns at a large Presbyterian church.  The pipe organ was very old and had to be manually pumped by alternatingly compressing two bellows. In the first half of the concert the popular organist played fiercely.  To support him, a teenage boy worked furiously to pump air through the pipes. He was unseen by the audience, hidden by a screen in the background. At intermission, the crowds stood to their feet to applaud the organist.  When the teen caught his breath he said to the organist as he exited the platform, “We did well, didn’t we?” The organist looked at him with contempt and barked, “What do you mean, WE?”  

After intermission, the organist returned to his bench. He looked intently at the sheet music, raised his hands to play as never before, and – nothing!  He pressed the keys but no sound came through the pipes. A cold sweat broke across his brow. Panic seized him. He whispered to himself, “What in heaven’s name is wrong?”  Just then, a teenage voice came from behind the screen. “Now do you know what WE means?”  

A sure way to destroy a team is for one or more of its members to self-servingly pursue their own glory and promotion – and show no appreciation for the contribution of others. That’s what the apostles James and John did when they tried to short-cut their way to the top of the ladder ahead of their fellow apostles. This display of selfish ambition immediately created discord among the Twelve. The other ten apostles became angry with James and John. Now, honestly, they were partly angry because the two sons of Zebedee beat them to the punch. All Twelve competed against each other and often argued over which of them was the greatest.   

It was during one such argument – at the Last Supper – that Jesus took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist, and began to wash the apostles’ feet (Luke 22:24-27; John 13:1-17). Jesus lovingly performed the job they all thought beneath them.  It was one final attempt to drill home the hard lesson that true greatness is displayed by serving others. Jesus closes the discussion, by using Himself as the example: “Even as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He sealed this lesson with His death.  


  • Was it appropriate for James and John to make their request immediately after Jesus foretold of his arrest, torture, and death (Mark 10:32-34)? 
  • Is it ever appropriate to be self-serving in the light of Christ’s sacrifice? 
  • In the light of Christ’s selflessness, and in the light of our fallen warriors, let’s gladly serve each other and commit ourselves to our common mission. 

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