The Lakers and a lesson

This week the Los Angeles Lakers hired a new basketball coach. After five losses to open the season, they replaced Mike Brown with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach, Mike D’Antoni. Discussion of the Lakers choice of D’Antoni has already been fashioned into five minute, segment-sized, portions that nestle nicely between commercial breaks of your favorite sports argument show.

As difficult as these argument shows are to watch at times, they are not as hard to as the road that lies ahead for D’Antoni. He is charged with making a winner out of a team of fickle superstars, and superstar talent is not the only ingredient in a winning formula. Other ingredients include adaptability, flexibility, focus and a genuine passion for winning above selfishness, story-lines and statistics. Swallowing selfishness, story-lines and statistics is often difficult for superstars. It is also difficult in the life of a church.

Regularly, I stumble across a version of the headline, “The Church Is in Crisis.” There seem to be twice as many, “And How to Fix it,” articles written to address the crisis at hand.

These prognostications are fine. Some of them are even helpful. But, most of them gloss over (or simply assume) the same issue: building a successful team is hard work. Team-building is rarely for the keepers of statistics and is not for the faint of heart.

Paul writes beautifully about teamwork through his rich metaphor, The Body of Christ. His treatment of The Body is so eloquent we forget the actual friction that accompanies  building the team of a church. Helping a local church or a denomination-like structure (like, for example, CBF) work as a team is not easy. Helping a family of believers flourish as an expression of the body of Christ is beautiful, but it does not happen overnight.

Jack McCallum’s book and documentary about another basketball team, Team USA’s 1992 Dream Team, highlighted the difficulties of teamwork. It would seem that a gathering of legends including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Christian Laettner and Michael Jordan,(1) would gel quickly, but they did not. Half of the television documentary addressed the difficulties of making the team work together, as a team, instead of a collection of competitive superstars.

In the end, the Dream Team won Gold and the superstars are proud of their accomplishments. Though they were hardly challenged on the court, they were challenged to become a team. None of them claimed that being a part of the Dream Team was easy, but all admitted the work resulted in something truly great.

In the days ahead, as the talking heads babble about Mike D’Antoni, I will try to look for  something different. I will watch to see if these Lakers will become a team. And I will be reminded again that being a part of a team, or in our case, a body, is not easy work. The path ahead has bumps, holes and snags, and turning our body, into The Body, takes faithfulness and perseverance. But,there is no other Body I would rather. There is no other team for which I would rather play. There is no other Kingdom for which I long.

It will be hard for Steve, Kobe, Pao and Dwight, but they may succeed.

It was hard for MJ, Magic and Larry Legend, and they succeeded.

It is hard work for our congregations to become and stay The Body, but God helps us.

Paul does not promise that life as The Body is easy. But when we put aside selfishness, story-lines and statistics, we will achieve more than championship trophies or gold medals. We will become The Body that ushers in the Kingdom of God, and we will win as we bless and change the world.

(1) My confession: Of course, Laettner was hardly a critical member of the Dream Team. He was the token college player. I just stuck him ahead of Jordan to raise a few competitive “Blue” eyebrows.

Written by Chris Aho with assistance from Brandon Hudson.




Chris Aho

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Chris Aho is the Pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. He is a fan of sports, pop-culture and the church. Chris is a graduate of Baylor University and Duke Divinity School.

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