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Flying Geese, Fighter Pilots and Ministry

by | Jul 7, 2021 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change | 2 comments

Fighter pilots, flying geese, and ministry

Just about everyone has seen a flock of geese flying in their trademark-formation. For some, the sight evokes unpleasant associations. They are considered a public safety threat for their droppings, and their habit of flying into airplane turbines. When provoked they will even attack humans.

Yet fighter pilots have learned from them. Flying in a V formation makes it easy to keep track of every bird in the group. It may also assist with communication and coordination within the group. Fighter pilots often use this formation for the same reason.

The next time you watch a flock of geese, pause for a moment — think about what they can teach us about ministry in general and, especially, “long-haul” ministries of systemic change.

  • To have a common direction and sense of community
  • To stay with those who are headed where we want to go
  • To be willing to accept help, as well as give help
  • To take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership
  • To make sure our honking from behind is encouraging
  • To stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong

Lessons?

Fact 1: As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. Flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if the bird flew alone.

Lesson?: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they’re going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact:   Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.

Lesson?: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go and we will be willing to accept their help as well as to give ours to the others.

Fact: When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into formation, and another goose flies at the point position.

Lesson?: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing the leadership. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will remember that we are indeed inter-dependent on each other.

Fact: The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.

Lesson?: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging.

Fact: When a goose gets sick or wounded or is shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own with another formation, or they catch up with the flock.

Lesson?: If we have as much sense as a goose, we too will stand by each other in difficult times, as well as when we are strong.

     Lord, we ask you to give us the grace:

  • To have a common direction and sense of community.
  • To stay with those who are headed where we want to go.
  • To be willing to accept help, as well as give help.
  • To take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership.
  • To make sure our honking from behind is encouraging.
  • To stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

     And to have as much sense as a goose. Amen

Further thought: Might there also be a lesson about learning from the irritants in our lives?

P.S. Various versions of the prayer are all over the web. There are even some really fine video versions.

2 Comments

  1. Thomas McKenna

    Again, very imaginative and thought-provoking…

  2. Ann Mary Dougherty, DC

    John, you have some of the most creative and interesting takes on life. I never miss reading your contributions. Thank you and God bless!

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