A Role to Play
One of the things that came with being around Michelle was volleyball (six-person, indoor variety). First as an exceptional player, then as a truly gifted, award-winning coach, her association with volleyball at the collegiate, high school, and club levels has made volleyball a constant part of our lives. Now, I’m absolutely not an athlete—I never had more than three speeds (slow, slower, and slowest) and for some reason my brain works even slower than its normal snail’s pace on a field/court. So, my knowledge of volleyball was virtually nil when I started going to watch Michelle’s matches. I’m still not that knowledgeable (slow learner, remember?), but over the years and the matches too numerous to count, I’ve come to appreciate many aspects of the game of volleyball that go beyond scoring points and winning matches. I’ll just highlight three…
For one, everybody on the court has to contribute for the team to be successful. It’s not an option. On every play, if you are on the court, you have a task that is yours to perform.
Every player, directed by the coach, has a responsibility on every play.
For instance: If the other team is on the attack, when their outside hitter goes up to hit the ball, the middle blocker needs to move over to join the right side player to put up a block. Maybe they don’t block the attack back, maybe they don’t even get a touch on the ball, but to avoid their block, that opponent has to hit away from the block. There is now another player in the back row that is in the position where that hitter will most likely have to hit it if she is to avoid the block. Another player has moved into position in case the opponent tries to “tip” the ball just over the block. Another player has moved to a position adjacent to the block in case the blockers get a touch on the ball, but not sufficient to block it back into the opponents’ court. My description may not be technically precise (remember…slow learner…), but it serves to set up this question: Which is the more important defender on that play? Trick question: Everyone on the court has to do her part for the court to be properly defended, to keep the opponents’ attack from scoring.
We could flip that scenario to a play on offense, but the point remains the same: on any given play, for that play to be successful, everyone on the court has a role to play, everyone on the court contributes, even if they do not touch the ball.
It seems so easy in other sports for “stars” to dominate, and there are stars in volleyball, to be sure, but the nature of the game is such that, for instance, a star hitter has standing “behind” her on every play a setter and a passer who did their jobs so that she was in a position to get the kill that brings the fans to their feet.
How many of us Christ-followers feel responsible to contribute in some way to the health of this church in our efforts to be an outpost of God’s kingdom? How many of us spend too much time worried about how everyone else is doing? (There is no spiritual gift of “spectating,” by the way, and no listing in the New Testament for a gift of “griping and criticizing.”) How many of us, if we’re unsure where we can contribute seek out someone in leadership to help us find a place to begin?
Second, a successful volleyball team is deeply, emotionally invested in each other and in the success of the team.
But when I use the words “success” and “successful,” I’m not just talking about wins and titles. Those are hardly the only standards by which success is measured. Wins and titles do not usually come to teams that are not sold out to do their best, but neither do some more subtle things come to “casual” teams: discipline, the ability to sacrifice for the sake of a greater good, the ability to work well with others toward a goal.
And when you are deeply, emotionally invested, you value the contribution of everyone on the team and you seek to help them be successful in making that contribution.
As Christ-followers, how emotionally invested are we in this project God has called us into—his kingdom, his rule over this world? Is this just another aspect of our lives, or is it at the core of our being, the reason for all else that we do?
Third, over the course of a match, a player who keeps working, who keeps focus, can find a way to make an important contribution.
One recent match found Michelle’s Heritage Christian Eagles in a tight contest with a team that had beaten them earlier in the season in embarrassing fashion. Varsity matches are best 3-out-of-5 sets, the first four sets played to 25 points (have to win by 2), the final set only goes to 15 (again, have to win by 2), making each point of great value. This match went into the fifth set. Intense is an understatement.
One player had had a less than stellar night—a number of passing and hitting errors littered the stats sheet. But, that would not be the final word. In a long rally at a critical moment in that intense fifth set, she’d already had a couple of digs, but then a set came sailing out towards her, a bit wide and off the net. The kind that all night she’d had a tendency to hit long. But not this time. Buried it. Middle of the court. Point Eagles. Momentum Eagles. And a few points later, match Eagles. Now the night is defined not by the rough patch, but by a critical contribution at a crucial moment that made a big difference.
And for us Christ-followers, isn’t the real issue not those rough spots where I messed up “back there,” but how I’m looking to represent Christ well where I am right now, in this moment? Doesn’t looking back just keep our focus off the good we could be part of right here, right now? “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes in Philippians 3.13b-14.
I’m sure most of you are way ahead of me, but I’ll just go ahead and point out anyway that all of this is incredibly consistent with what Paul tells that fractured group of early Christ-followers in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 12-13 called them—and calls us—to see “church” as a community in which we each have a role to play, a contribution to make, and Christ-imitating love to give. Maybe we could sum it up this way: Working hard to make our contribution is an act of Christ-imitating love.
What’s your contribution? What’s your level of commitment to this “team”? What’s your focus?