Getting in the Game

Coach’s Bad Habit

I played soccer growing up.  It was a big part of who I was, the first thing that I was really good at.  I was tall and fast and that made for some success on the field.

One year, our team was really pretty good.  We were competitive in every game and even knocked off the top team during the regular season.  But my coach developed a bad habit.

In addition to being tall and fast, I was also quite thin.  It’s laughable now as I struggle to keep my weight under control.  I loved playing forward.  I loved scoring goals and setting up teammates for their goals.  I was confident at that position, that I had the skill-set to meaningfully contribute to the team’s success.  Both the team’s success and my meaningful contribution to it were important to me.

My coach’s bad habit had to do with ‘crunch time’, the fourth quarter.  Routinely, the coach would play me at sweeper in the fourth quarter.  I was much less confident in my skills for defense, despite being tall and fast–which, at that age level was more than adequate.  I didn’t fail, so much as I lost the belief that I was contributing meaningfully.

One game, we were playing one of our top rivals.  It was a close game and tensions were high, though we were playing well.  Lining up for the fourth quarter, coach called my name to play defense.  I exclaimed sharply “Ahhhh, man!” (this was before discovering the joys of profanity).  Coach rebuked me sharply and sent me to the bench.  I watched as Ryan played instead.  He was fast, too and played well.  During that quarter, coach turned to me and said, “Ryan’s playing because Ryan wanted to play.”

Our team made it to the playoffs that year and we found ourselves in a similar situation against the same opponent: tough game, high tension.  I had contributed meaningfully to the team on offense.  When the fourth quarter came along, Coach called my name for defense.  He said “Do you want to play?”  And I adamantly said “Yes!”

I Want to be in the Game

I was raised to not be a quitter.  That is one value that my parents specifically demanded.  If you start something, you finish it.  Yes, there were notable exceptions, but quitting should never be an easy option.

In vying for Ordination, there were several setbacks that made me reconsider my life in the church.  Yet I persevered.  I kept on because I want to be in the game, and I want to contribute meaningfully.  I so appreciate my parent’s insistence on this value.  And I appreciate my Coach’s lesson in the value of participation.  Right now, I am fully engaged in church.  Conflicts keep me awake because I care for the church.  Victories move me to tears because I care for the church.  The success of this team as well as my meaningful contribution to it are still very important to me.

Upping our Game

It leads me to wondering if lax confirmation standards have led to a low level of commitment within the church.  Confirmation used to be a trying and taxing endeavor not unlike what seminary and the Ordination process do.  Now it’s 3 easy sessions and a potluck after worship.  Accountability seems freakishly low.  Where churches thrive, accountability is high and participation is a matter of genuine, heartfelt commitment by the people.

‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!

Jesus changes the game.  It is not about our winning, as it is about our teamwork.  As an adult, I have a particular appreciation for my youth soccer days.  I was tall, but I wasn’t strong.  Ryan was fast, but was short.  One teammate was strong on the ball but also fouled a lot.  Another teammate was slow but played solid defense.  We each had virtues and liabilities.  We each had something to contribute and had something we needed from other teammates.

Yet in church, it is too easy to opt out.  There is little recourse for challenging apathy within the congregation.  And the slightest conflict results in rapid departures.  Then clergy get scapegoated at Annual Conference and General Conference.  (I, for one, am ambivalent about guaranteed appointments, but that’s another post).

I want to be in the game.  That’s why I am here.  I want the game to be important-not characterized by coffee and donuts, but characterized by service and compassion.

How does one cultivate teamwork and interdependence within the congregation?

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