Although he helped me to get and stay fit, he never actually moved my muscles for me, I had to do that myself and what’s more it was expected that I would turn up and be fit enough to play each week. When I didn’t turn up I let the team down. Sure, they went on without me, but each member brought something unique to that team and we knew it when we were a team member down. We were on the team because (partly) we were a good team player and not just hogging the ball to ourselves and certainly because we were encouraging to the others on the team. We took responsibility for each other and when someone wasn’t playing well the whole team suffered. This was not just the coach’s responsibility. This was just expected, accepted and valued if we wanted to play in the team. We knew that if we didn’t turn up ready and if we weren’t a good member of the team, we may get booted off the team. A really good training session was important leading up to the big game. It was important for every team member to be there or they often didn’t get to play on the day.
In the team I was in, the coach never played in our games, but rather he was an encouragement from the sidelines. He had been playing for a long time and had learnt skills to help us all improve our game.
This is pretty standard in most team sports. We understand the rules and rise to them, and what’s more, the world looks on and applauds this ethos in team sports.
As I read the Bible I see similar things in the way that God’s people were asked to function here on this earth. The chosen people, the faith community, the disciples, dare I say the “Church” are supposed to function as a team; the biblical term is called “the Body.”
But I fear that something has been lost in the translation over time, for now the “Church” seems to function not so much as a “team we play with” but rather an “event” to attend.
The expectation is that the Coach (minister) must flex his/her muscles for us, he/she must get us fit, he/she must feed us the right things and make sure we are “match” ready.
For many churches, the coach seems to have moved from the bench, to become the star, the lone player (In the game of basketball we would call him a HOG and not a team player, as talented as he may be).
Nowadays, if you don’t feel the coach is training you in the way you want, you simply change teams, to look for someone who better meets your needs. Then for some, there’s the opposite where they leave because they feel too much is being asked of them, and they simply want to “sit and soak.” Imagine if we turned up to a Basketball training session and everyone wanted to watch the coach shoot three pointers all session. This would frustrate everyone very quickly.
Today, if you come to a Church service, we feel privileged that you showed up. Often you don’t feel that anyone would miss you if you don’t come, because for so much of the event you are simply a passive bystander. I can’t imagine what Church might look like if all we came ready to “train, to flex our muscles and to participate in the process as a member of the team.”
When Paul travelled, training the Church, he went from Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, coaching them to live Christ-centred, to BE the church to everyone who would listen. Acts 14 says:
“After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, 22 putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn't be easy: "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times." 23 Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying - their prayers intensified by fasting - they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives.”
The words “muscle and sinew” was highlighted to me just recently and the visual just wouldn’t leave my mind. What does it take to build “Muscle and sinew”? I can guarantee it takes more than listening to a good sermon. It is one thing for the coach to flex his muscles, for you to read about how to build your muscles, to wish you could be muscly, but it is quite another to actually BE someone who has built up “muscle and sinew.” It is hard to hear, but someone else can’t do that for us. They can encourage, they can model, they can inspire, but until you get up and move you have no hope of building muscle.
Michelle Bridges (a fitness trainer) says “Get up off the couch, you don’t burn muscle by sitting and watching.” I could easily replace the word “couch” with “pew” for the community of faith. What’s more, in the community of faith, we have more to lose then a ball game or flabby muscles. God needs us to be good team players, with strong muscles and sinew for the sake of seeing many come to salvation, as well as for our own personal transformation, which happens in the process.
If Paul came to your town, what would he find? Would he find a faith community, a “body of Christ,” a whole team ready to play together, a team that trains together, a team of spiritually fit and muscly people willing to say “game on,” or would he find a group of people that wants to sit and listen and watch from the sidelines, ready to leave when it is not entertaining enough.
I pray that he would handpick me, pray and send me out to those he has entrusted me with, and I would say “game on!”