Team Sport

Discipleship is a team sport. By discipleship I mean of course the whole realm of learning to follow Jesus. Being a Christian, and growing to be a better Christian. The crucial question for the church today in the west is how we become more like Jesus? That’s discipleship: learning to be a disciple. It’s the crucial area and of course it’s what Jesus told us to do isn’t it? Go into all the world and make disciples of every tribe and language. We can so easily miss it though and think we’re to be doing other things: make ‘converts’ and get converts to ‘go to church’. Gandhi famously said “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians!” Ouch! The more we can become like Jesus the more people will probably start to follow Jesus too.

Now I know that Jesus was God in flesh so it’s a pretty high bar we’ve been set, but we’ve also been promised all of heaven to support us and the incredible Holy Spirit within us. But of course it is difficult, and grace is needed as we try and fail, and make mistakes, and get things wrong. Building a culture of grace, where people are allowed to make mistakes is so important.But here’s the thing: Discipleship is a Team Sport. It can’t really be done individually. Yes we all stand alone before God responsible for our own lives. It is not other people who ‘save us’ but only faith in Jesus. But spiritual growth is a community thing. I can be very holy on my own. In fact, I’m pretty patient and loving on my own. I get on with everyone when I’m alone, don’t you?! But, rather like Jude Law at the end of ‘Alfie’ – “you’ve seen through my veneer!” You can see my failings can’t you? What good is it to claim you’re patient and loving when there is no-one to love, when there is no-one who tests your patience. What is my love if it doesn’t survive being thrown back in my face, rejected, left hanging? So discipleship is a team sport. Christian faith is practised in community, in relationship. That is both the blessing and the challenge. We have to re-frame our picture of the Christian life and move from a lone follower carrying a cross, to a group of people following Jesus together. Jesus discipled people in community. We need to recapture a very high value on community.

George Ford – only 5’10”

I love team sports, especially rugby. I know the image of a professional rugby player is a mountainous muscle-bound hulk, but the man of the match on Friday between England and Wales (had to mention it didn’t I? – did you know England won?) was a 5’10” average bloke. At amateur level there is a place for every type of athlete: fast, slow, strong, short, tall, kickers, passers, tacklers, dodgers, grafters. To make the team work everyone needs to take their place and do what they can for the collective good. As a team member you are reliant on each other. Over time you form bonds of friendship because you and your friends have protected each other, taken physical ‘hits’ for each other and that inter-dependence has brought you closer.

Jesus trained people in community.

So it is with discipleship. As we journey together with a group of people, we must each take our place and play our role, relying on the others to come together and from something greater than the sum of four parts. Over time we forge bonds of depth because we’ve been at it together, building trust. Of course, there are ups and downs, we let each other down, some days we’re off, other days it’s other people who have a bad day. That’s not failure – that’s just community. And that’s what changes and develops us. That’s what matures us into more Christ-like people.

We can only do so much on our own – and if we really want to grow in faith we have to get serious about community – real community that goes deep. Can I encourage you to not settle for the mediocre Christian life and invest in deep community? Go for it. You’re needed.