What team are you on? This is a question I enjoy asking our youth on a regular basis. As the seasons and the interests of young people change it is fun to find out what sport and what team a they are on. Some youth make the rounds and try everything. Others stick to one sport and play it year round. There are moments of joy and celebration when a team does well. And there are moments of pain and disappointment when a young person is injured from a sport or loses a competition. There is always much to talk about with sports and youth. The church and youth group has something to learn from sports. The commitment and teamwork that a young person invests into a team is a lot like church. So in this article I will explore what youth ministry has to learn from sports.
The team. When a young person joins a team they become connected to that group of people. Everyone on it shares whatever happens to the team. A win is a win for the whole team, and a loss is a loss for every person. When you are a member of a church you have decided to join that team. The wins and the losses that are experienced on this team are shared by everyone. The birth of a healthy baby, a Baptism, a wedding, and a graduation are all wins in life. They are moments of celebration that the community shares. This community helps to increase the celebration and joy at such a victory. Imagine that you score the winning point in a basketball game. Isn’t it the team that carries you on their shoulders and douses you with Gatorade? So it is with the wins of your life. The church is the team that lifts you up, prays for you, hands you a piece of cake, gives you hugs, handshakes, cards, and gifts to increase the joy of your accomplishments.
But just as no team has a totally perfect record, no church lives life without losses. In the game of life we will all experience loss. There is the loss of a job, the loss of life, the loss of a marriage. There are personal failures: poor choices you make that lead to consequences you regret. Sometimes you blow it and lose the game. It’s what the kids call: “epic fail.” When this happens it is the team that stands by you and shares in the bitterness of loss. This why at a funeral the church comes together. We are here to bear a portion of the sadness, to grieve, to hold one another up, and to wait with patient expectation for hope and new possibilities with God.
God is our coach. A good coach knows her players and knows in exactly what areas a player can improve their game. Similarly God works in each of our lives through the Holy Spirit to love and support us. Pastors and youth ministers are like team captains. You’ve called us to help lead as one of you, but we are in the team right next you experiencing the wins and losses just as you are. We are not above the game. And just as the team captain is not necessarily the MVP (most valuable player) neither are we. There are leaders that rise up from within the congregation to take the lead in the game of life. Some have been playing the game a long time and have advice on how to win more and suffer losses less. Some players are younger and full of energy. We need your youth and exuberance. All of us look to God for guidance.
Commitment. A team is successful when its members are committed. Any young person who has gone through confirmation knows that sports and church activities often compete for the time and attention of young people. When a family has to decide whether to skip a church event or a sports game, I will often here the rationale of, “Johnny made a commitment to the team and he cannot skip out on that commitment.” What about the commitment made to church? What is the commitment one makes? At Baptism parents and sponsors commit to the Christian education of their children. That is a commitment. There are no simple or easy answers to these challenges. Each family and each person has to figure out what they will do and how to compromise.
I hope that as you join and play with various sports teams throughout your life, that you would remember that there is a team that lasts for more than one season or even one year. There is a team that has got your back, and is by your side at the highest highs and lowest lows. You don’t have to retire from this team. You don’t have to try out for this team. All are welcome. You are welcome. Should you decide to stop playing for a while, you will be dearly missed, but you are never forsaken. Should you decide to stay on and practice for the long haul, I can guarantee that you won’t regret it, and that the ride will be far wilder and unexpected than you can ever imagine!