"Associating" is a Team Sport

I love the smell of fresh-cut grass in the morning. I’m over 40 years old, and I still love putting on a team jersey and taking my position on the field. I still get anxious and nervous before games, even if they are adult recreational league games. I’ll play just about anything, but I love team sports.  


There’s just something about going into competition as part of a unit, knowing that people are counting on you just as you are counting on them. I always wanted to catch the touchdown or score the goal, but there was something equally fun about throwing the pass or getting the assist on the goal with a perfect set-up for a teammate. Because at the end of the day, if my teammate won, so did I.


And I like winning. A lot.


Defining a Win

The 2017 Houston Astros did a lot of winning, right on through the first World Series title in the history of the franchise. To celebrate the monumental feat, players on the team got championship rings. And so did the managers, coaches, and staff of the front office. And so did every other employee in the Astros organization, right down to the ushers and custodians who work at Minute Maid field. The owner of the team, Jim Crane, understands that the players represent the tip of the spear, but that the entire Houston Astros organization should get to share in the experience of winning as a team.   


Baseball is a great sport to talk about winning as a team because of the variety of positions within a baseball team. Of course, there are the standard eight positions plus a pitcher, but the casual fan might not know that baseball positions can be incredibly specialized. Pinch runners, designated hitters, middle relief pitchers, set-up pitchers, closers, the list goes on. Bottom line: there may be a player on a roster who bats once a game on a regular basis, or whose job is to pitch one solid inning in most games. That player gets the same diamond ring as Jose Altuve (American League MVP), Justin Verlander (American League Championship Series MVP), and George Springer (World Series MVP).


Winning in Ministry Requires a Team

Try to imagine a baseball announcer on the radio (work with me, Millennials) describing the following scene: “A long fly ball out to center field… and the pitcher Verlander is running out there trying to catch it but he won’t get there in time. Verlander finally corrals the ball but the runner is making his way toward third. Verlander, try as he might, will not be able to run from center field to home plate to tag the runner before the runner scores a run!”


Baseball isn’t an individual sport. And neither is ministry.


Now imagine another description, and see if it doesn’t strike you as equally ludicrous. “Green Baptist Church has been faithfully serving their community, sharing the gospel, leading people to Jesus, and growing tremendously for years now. They’ve planted three churches, sent missionaries overseas, and even started their own leadership school. But in a city of millions, there’s no way they can hope to make a dent without finding a way to exponentially increase their effectiveness.”

Ministry isn’t an individual sport. In a city of millions, there’s no way we can hope to make a dent without finding a way to exponentially increase our effectiveness.


Doing our best—alone—isn’t enough

I know what some of you might be thinking. “Well, if my church is faithful and growing and tackling our corner, and other churches are faithful and growing and tackling their corners, don’t we all end up in the same place? Don’t we win that way?”   


Here’s the problem: that scenario assumes an unbroken chain of successes and solved problems based on home-grown knowledge. But what happens when a people group moves to your community that you’re not equipped to reach? What happens when you encounter an issue you’ve never faced before and the learning you have is insufficient? What happens when a lot of churches are focused on the same “corner” and other corners are neglected?


“Associating,” or being part of an association, is the conscious decision to be an active part of a team. Playing as a team mitigates the risks of all the questions I presented above, but it doesn’t remove them completely. After all, there is still work to be done.


Playing as a team is hard work

I coach a soccer team of six- and seven-year-olds. There are a few on the team that can take over a game when they want to. But they’re quickly learning that it’s exhausting, inefficient, and sometimes unappreciated to try and do everything themselves. Over the course of the season, however, these first graders have really come a long way towards learning how to play positions, support their teammates emotionally, and physically “back each other up.” You can see it in how they sometimes do the opposite of their natural instinct: instead of running toward the ball and even sometimes stealing it from a teammate, they run to an open support position and get set up for a pass. It’s a beautiful thing to see as a coach, especially knowing how much hard work they’re putting in to learn a new way of playing.    


Over the coming months and years, UBA is going to focus intensely on what it means to play as a team. We believe that churches are better together, and we’re going to put that in practice in ways we haven’t in the past.


You’re going to see new emphases on bringing churches together. Where we could’ve provided services to a single church, we’ll bring churches together to share in the service and share their learning. When we could have counseled a church on how to set up their own program, we’ll desperately encourage a church to reach out and share both the burdens and blessings of that program with churches in their area or the entire association. And we’re going to keep looking for ways to both grow larger and more intimate as an association, adding new teammates to the fold and gaining deeper relationships as we go.


So grab a jersey, and get in the game. There’s plenty of needs to go around, and plenty of places that the team could use what God has given you. We’re better together, and we’re playing to win.

Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.