When Leather Meets the Net

Maple Street, Bellaire, Texas ~1965.
Picture this: an average ten year old boy on a narrow, cracked up driveway. Ball in hand, he furiously drives toward the basket -fully convinced by his own imagination. The clock is ticking down, the shot goes up, the crowd is silent and then, and then the sweetest sound in all of basketball…when leather meets the net. As the crowd explodes, the boy leaps jubilantly up and down the driveway in total elation.  Victory, my friends, is sweet! Living inside the imagination of a ten year old boy, the dreams and the possibilities are endless.

I’ve always loved the game. I coached both of my boys all the way through school. A group of us played in the local gym every Sunday afternoon for years where my oldest son affectionately named the game, “Geezer Ball.”

Recently, I saw a correlation between basketball and the church. In the Christian culture you hear the expression “Five fold ministry” quite often. One of the scriptures this is based on is,

 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelist, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13

Wow, that’s a mouth full! I see five people equipping and I see five players on the court. Each player has a unique talent as well as a specific role. If one is missing or not fulfilling their role and responsibility then the whole team suffers. My ten year old imagination sees:

The point guard as an evangelist, the best ball handler, bringing the ball down court, accessing the defense and calling the plays.
The shooting guard– the prophet, the most skilled shooter, he often draws a lot of attention from the defense. He struggles to get open but when he does, he is either the hero or the goat.
The center– the apostle, the leader and solid foundation of the team. He stands taller than most and is able to see from a higher perspective. He is in the middle of the court and is involved in every aspect of the game. He is usually beat up a little more by the opposition but his ability to push and rally the team as well as make the clutch plays is the driving force that unifies the team.
The Forward and the strong forward -pastor and teacher, these are the most uncelebrated. They are in the trenches where the fiercest battle takes place. Discretely, they set picks, block out, rebound and sometimes make incredible passes. They are usually the best defensive players, they watch, they cover, they protect. They sacrifice for the good of the team, often without acknowledgement or gratitude. It seems the best ones like it that way.

And the coach, that’s the Holy Spirit! If a player doesn’t know and respond to the coach’s voice, then how is he going to know what to do? A player without a coach is lost and feels alone on the court with no sense of direction. What about the backups? Well they are not really backups, they are future champions. The starters responsibility is to set the bar higher, leading by example and to give the bench players a higher starting place.

Now that the whole team is in place, you have a shot at the championship. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to have any less than five on the floor? Even if you had the skills of Jordan, one man could never expect to thrive or even survive alone. I admit, I love to watch superstars. They are ridiculously talented and completely entertaining but even the best of the best can’t sustain a winning season without playing as a team. Looking at the team as a whole, every player has to know how to dribble, to pass, to score, to play defense, and so forth but the key is to acknowledge each other’s strengths and to play to those strengths. The next step is to teach and reproduce those same strengths in the ones waiting in the wings. Recognizing and acknowledging their own unique gifts and talents and blending them with those already established makes for a vibrant dynamic and a winning combination.

The goal now is to have everyone involved. There is a disproportionate number of spectators and not enough players. Leaders -empowered by Holy Spirit- now have the responsibility and joy to reveal the hidden treasure in others and to facilitate their place on the wall. Each one is a “Living Stone,” and we must never feel threatened by someone soaring on the wings of an eagle right past us. We must remind our self no one can ever take our place on the wall. It is uniquely and eternally reserved for us alone.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!”

Recently I posted this thought, “Unless the whole body is active, you end up with a mouth blabbing away while the hand and foot atrophy, not being allowed to participate!” The mark of a secure leader is to create opportunities for those around us to experience and excel at the gift God has made them. The secret to team play, “Esteem others as greater than yourself.”

So I just heard the whistle blow, it’s time for the ten year old boy to run onto the court and dream again. Besides, we’ve got a game to win! And as I pause to pray for you, I see Jesus. He is smiling at you as he laces up your shoes. He believes in you and He is so proud of you. He pats you on the back and says, “Go get um tiger!”

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