Let me get it out there from the start that this will not be an easy blog for my hands to type. To write anything that seems to shine a positive light on the Duke Blue Devils seems contradictory to who I am. I am indeed a Tar Heel born, a Tar Heel bred and when I die, I’m a Tar Heel dead (as well as a Tar Heel educated)! Furthermore, to tie in anything with the word “devil” in their name to church leadership seems a bit of a stretch doesn’t it? Anyways, I hope my fellow Tar Heels can hang with me long enough to hopefully get something out of this blog and I hope that those who are Duke fans and those who could care less can benefit as well!
In my last blog I posted about some takeaways from the Duke/UNC basketball game from the UNC side and how that can be tied into leadership. Today I want to (somehow) glean some good from Duke and apply it as well.
The first thing I want to touch on is something that, if you watched the game, was mentioned just about as many times as the fact that UNC could not pull away. It was the fact that Duke only “has six players.” This fact was thrust more into the spotlight when Matt Jones went out of the game with a sprained ankle leaving them with “five” players and the seldom-used Chase Jeter as their “sixth.” Throughout the season Coach K has said numerous times that he has what he has. Many times I think he takes it too far, and believe it is unfair to the other guys on the roster, because I am sure that fifteen guys dress out for their team. It can almost come across as the other 7 or 8 guys are worthless, but, basically, for better of for worse, Coach K has decided that he has seven guys (counting Jones and an earlier injured Amile Jefferson) who are ready to play in a game for his team. Basically, on Wednesday in the second half they were down to five guys that they really were comfortable playing while UNC had at least eight, and, really, consistently throughout the season they have played ten or more players. In the end those five (plus Chase Jeter) they won!
So, what is my point? My point is that it isn’t all about numbers. In leadership, and especially in church leadership, we can easily look at the numbers that other people have and be disgruntled. We can begrudgingly think, “God, if we just had that many people, think about what we could do.” It is clear throughout the Bible that God is far less concerned with the number of people than he is the faithfulness of those people. God decreased Gideon’s army from 32,000 to the 300 hundred who would be faithful. The faithful work of a few people will be more effective than the unfaithfulness of many!
The next thing to glean from Duke is that they know who they are. I saw this both on an individual level and a team level. This was clear from both the players and the coaches. From an individual standpoint, the players they had on the floor knew their roles. Their center Marshall Plumlee knows who he is as a player. He is not a skilled scorer like Brice Johnson. He sets screens for his teammates. A LOT of screens. He rebounds. He plays hard. He is not looking for the spotlight. Derryck Thorton is a facilitator as a point guard. He gets the ball down the floor and gets it to the guys the team is trusting to score. Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram are those guys who the team is trusting to score. They are super athletic. They can run, jump and shoot. Whether you think Grayson Allen walked against Virginia (which he did) or believe Brandon Ingram should have signed with UNC (which he should have) does not take away from the fact that they are gifted basketball players, especially on the offensive end. All of the players on the court sure seem to know their roles and accept them for the betterment of the team. The coaches also know what they are working with. They know that Allen and Ingram are their best offensive players so they have structured their offense in a way that gets those guys the ball in positions where they can be effective. Also, it has been clear for most of the season that, overall, Duke is not a very good defensive team. Coach K has had to (and has been willing to) switch up defenses to best mask his team’s shortcomings. This Duke team, nor the coaches, are trying to be like any other team. This means not like any other college team in the nation or any Duke team of the past. They are making the best use of the pieces that they have.
So, applications for churches and those in leadership, and even for individuals? First of all, know who you are. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Know and continue to learn who God made you to be. Individuals, do not play the comparison game between yourself and others. Churches, avoid that game as well. Now, let’s make it clear that I am not saying you should not look to others for advice, for inspiration and for ways to improve, but realize that trying to emulate another person or group fully is rarely the right thing for you or your group. As you know who you are as an individual, begin to learn how you best fit into your team. Whether it actually is a team, your workplace, your church, or anywhere else, strive to know the people you are working with. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Realize your personality differences and see those as good things, not as barriers. One of the greatest things Nick and I were asked to do during our church planter training was to take a personality test. It helped us to see who we are and how we have been gifted. (Believe it or not, we are ridiculously similar!) Remember that many of the “nuances” we see in each other are really just differences in the way God made us, and we need those differences to be a better team! Remember that some people are better suited for the spotlight and others are more behind the scenes people, but all are equally important parts of the team.
Finally, just like Coach K (regardless of his death stares to officials and the number of times the cameras catching him using words I will not repeat) assessed his team and knew their strengths and weaknesses and has game planned accordingly, so the same should be with your “team.” First of all, if things are not working, maybe it is time to change what you are doing, or the way you are doing it. As a church, to make it as closely related to basketball as possible, we are called to make disciples (leading people to Christ, teaching them how to live as Christians and training them up to, in turn, make disciples as well). This is a win for us, in a basketball sense. As we do this we must follow the rule book (the Bible). Now it is important to point out that while the Bible does lay out do’s and do not’s there is not just one way to “do church.” The rule book doesn’t tell a team the best way to score points or which players to put in the game or how to build their stadium or which music to play before the game. The method, as long as it is not against the rules, is not important, it is the message. That message must adhere with Word of God and the truth of the gospel. Not every successful basketball team plays basketball the same way, and not every church that is being faithful to God’s call to make disciples does it in exactly the same way either. Just remember that as times change, some of our methods might not work as well as they have, but the message must not change! Just as basketball has changed from a game of mid-range jumpers and short shorts to high flying dunks and three pointers, other things change too, and that is not always a bad thing!
As you look at where you are and wonder if change needs to occur, do a couple of things – pray hard (and then do it again) and then access where you are as a team. Do you not have the needed pieces for a worship band? Then do not feel pressure to start one. Do you not have the structure in place to start a youth ministry? Get that set first. Maybe some of your programs are not working like they used to? Do not be afraid to tweak them or get rid of them. Ask God to help you know when it is time to try something new and to know the balance between moving on too quickly and waiting too long to pull the trigger. If a play in Coach K’s playbook is no longer working, I guarantee he will either change it or be done with it.
Alright, I have rambled on long enough about Coach K and his Blue Devils, but I hope these blogs have been some sort of help to you. Be blessed, be encouraged, and all of you Duke fans, I am already looking forward to a chance at redemption on March 5th!
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. -James 1:5