No church-planting Kobes

I like sports… a lot.  I’m not so good at playing sports anymore, but I certainly enjoy watching whether it’s my alma mater’s college football team, high-light reels of Kobe, Lebron, and Durant in the NBA, or cheering on my teen neighbors playing rec ball.   I’m also intrigued by how often topics in sports intersect with following Jesus and leading others.  How scripture uses athletic metaphors from the 1st century is hardly coincidental.

This morning I read an article on ESPN’s website titled, Kobe brilliant, but Lakers need team ball.  Even without the back story, you’ll probably get the gist of these quotes from writer Dave McMenamin:

Bryant was winding down from what can only be described as an epic performance by the 17-year veteran — a season-high 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals with just one turnover, a statistical line never before recorded in the league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau…

After 79 games and with the Lakers on the edge of a playoff berth, holding a one-game lead over Utah for the No. 8 spot in the West with just three left to play, Bryant’s teammates don’t seem to be content to just feed the “All hail Kobe, the living legend” propaganda machine and ride his coattails into the playoffs.

If the season is worth saving at this point after all the trials and tribulations every player and coach in the locker room has gone through, it has to be saved as a team, the right way.

The point of the article is clear.  The Lakers can win games with Kobe playing like “the living legend” he is, but they won’t win another championship that way.  Despite Kobe being a sure-fire hall of famer and one of the best players ever, this formula will not work.  His team actually plays better when he does seemingly less and the rest of the team does more.

The same thing often happens in ministry leadership- especially in church planting circles.  As leaders we often have more experience and a good idea of how we’re gifted.  We can often feel the pressure to “play all the minutes” and “take all the shots” when we think “the game is on the line.”  We can figuratively choose winning tonight’s game over leading the team to championship. This article led me to ask several questions this morning:

  • Am I trying to play 48 minutes a night and score all the points?
  • How am I intentionally involving the other players and allowing them to share in the wins?
  • Am I settling for winning one night at a time verses shooting for the championship?

We can easily rationalize this I can do everything approach, by believing it is just the weight of leadership.  In reality this approach is merely a shortcut- a shortcut from the hard work of developing a real team and equipping leaders.  You may lead a good Sunday worship experience (maybe even several in a row), an engaging service project, or gospel community group based solely on your effort and giftedness, but we all need to realize that over the long-haul the “one man show” approach is…

  • Not sustainable.  You will eventually burnout no matter how experienced, energetic, and gifted you are as a leader.  God did not design you to do it all yourself.
  • Not reproducible.  Even if you buy into the myth that you can do everything, most of the people you lead know they cannot.  You’re setting an example they cannot follow.
  • Not healthy.  If your church-team is a body with one part is doing all the work, it will quickly become a monstrosity.We’re basically telling other people they are not needed.
  • Not scriptural.  Scripture is incredibly clear that leaders “are to equip the saints for works of ministry” moving towards a body where “each part is working properly” as we grow in Jesus.

Many years ago I came to terms with the fact that I’m not the Kobe Bryant of church-planting.  Chances are neither are you.  That is more than OK.   Thankfully, God chooses and empowers relatively ordinary people to lead teams of Jesus-followers to do extraordinary things.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

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