The work of the people: What the Ryder Cup is teaching me about leading a church

If you are an ardent USA golf fan you may not want to read on. I confess I am writing while still in the warm glow of watching Phil Mickelson's tee shot hit the water.

However, sheer Europhilism aside, I have been struck by the way the last three days of golf have stirred my soul. I might even go as far as saying that they have nudged me to be encouraged once again about our gathering together as Christians. So here are three lessons about church that I need to relearn.

Team Europe's Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood – 'Molliwood' – celebrate during the Fourballs at the Ryder Cup.Reuters

1. Being together is important

Golf is, in the main, one of those gladiatorial individualistic sports. Week after week the protagonists battle to beat the course, the weather and their opponents. They have a faithful caddy but other than that they are largely alone. When, every two years, the rules change and they get to play with and for each other there is something special that can happen. Not everyone is able to make the transition, but when it works ('Molliwood' being a case in point) it is a beautiful thing to behold. Fist bumps, quite a lot of pec patting and lots of encouragement marked the coming together of the European team.

As a church leader I would do well to remember that some of the people that I lead probably feel like golfers. Most of their working life is a battle. It can feel isolating – they may be in constant wrangles with others about faith, about ethics, or even about whether they can make ends meet. For others, their home life is the place of battle – living as a disciple among those who don't understand.

At its best, when we gather to worship, we are team. We fist bump and pec pat and we remind each other that we are on the same side. It means that when we are back out alone on the course we can know the encouragement of others.

2. The power of WhatsApp

Rory McIlroy attributed some of the camaraderie of the European team to the establishment of a WhatsApp group. Through messaging before the tournament began, the team were already operating as a kind of unit. Again, not everyone engaged equally in this, but they didn't have to do all that awkward coming together when they got to Paris last week. It also seems that while Thomas Bjorn (the European captain) may have established the group, it became what it was through everyone's participation.

I have long been aware as a church leader that you can't really build Christian community when people only gather once a week. We can no longer expect people to have the time and lifestyle to gather consistently for Bible study/ house group. But that does not mean that community is not possible. I find myself challenged to think about what I can start, but don't have to lead, to create and sustain community.

3. The best tunes are not always orchestrated

On Friday morning the radio commentators were cautious about how support would play out on the French course. In particular they were disappointed about the somewhat false enthusiasm of the first tee compere. By Sunday afternoon there was no need for a compere. The crowd (and the players) had their own tunes. I still have an earworm of 'Molli, Molli Molli, Molli Molli, Molli, Mollinari'. The crowd had come expectant, willing and ready to be creative. They were determined to give support, praise and adulation. The rest was a response to what they saw on the course.

In much of our gathered worship, I think we are too like the first tee compere. Our worship leaders holler down a microphone to try and enthuse a crowd. Church leaders encourage us to lean in/ push through or say the responses with more gusto. I wonder if that is the right approach.

I am reminded that when people come ready and expectant they will lead our response to the work of God. We might need the equivalent of a big screen so that they can see what God is up to in the world, but the response to that will be authentic and alive. It won't be forced but will be exuberant, creative and fun.

Rev Jude Smith is the team rector of Moor Allerton and Shadwell in North Leeds. Follow her on Twitter @gingervicar