Van full of unprofessional soccer players rush towards a game. Late already the van runs out of gas on a hill and the team and cheer squad have to return down the hill to refuel. Making it to the match just two minutes in, the players are a little confused but also a little more focused because of a pep talk in the car. Excitement abounds, and a strange team unity of purpose too.
Last weeks diamond formation didn’t work. Handing the team a thrashing of 10-3. So the strategy has changed. Play a defensive game to lessen their teams tiredness and heighten the others teams effort to get through the aforementioned defense.
So instead, a two, one, one field was set up. With five on the field and at least five off the field. Up in the bleachers they had a cheer squad of at least 5.
The team was made up of 5 males from my household. Men I lived and served with. And five friends from our close knit community. Two crew from our youth outreach on Saturdays. One of their fathers, a brother and two friends from church. We don’t train together, we don’t have a coach. We loosely have a captain, but most of us have never played soccer at even a local club level.
Our “captain” had sussed out from how we played the week before. We tire quickly in an attacking game and then forget what we are doing. After which we had 10 goals scored against us. So he called the defensive game. Sending our striker way out in front and keeping everyone else on lock down around the goal.
We went out hard. Our goalie kept them to a low score in the first half. Our defense was tight and slowed down play, flying in the face of our opposition, full of good ball work players and solo performances that could’ve gone through our previous weeks team. We passed well, we were in better positioning, we subbed on an off sometimes before we got tired. Less violent and less whistles blown both teams seemed to enjoy the game play. As it was intense and competitive and close. Always less then two goals away from each other.
I’ve always loved sideline or goalie coaching. When you hear that voice whilst on the field that sees the whole game outside of the little you see. “Go left” “get the guy behind you” “watch for the through ball”. Our team was full of it that game. Encouraging each other, pointing out holes, even encouraging the other team when they did awesome things. The combination of the before game plan and the “on the run” type improvising of sending a guy ahead of you when you’re the striker or running to the wings when your winger is slowing up. Or the weirdest one is when a goalie perfectly times running out of his box to send the goal straight back to his striker, surprising all of the defense and ending in a smoothly shot goal.
Throughout the whole process you have the ref, who is there to be impartial. To stop rules being broken, to call the goals or the misses. To call when things have gotten too violent, or to let the soft stuff keep going because the wronged team have the advantage. This harbinger of on-field justice also has those coloured rectangles of material that can spell the end of a game. Like prison or fines off the field the red and yellow cards are sometimes what keeps the game within the bounds of all out riot.
Tonights game didn’t get overly close but I have been apart of games that get so passionate that brawls happen.
And why so passionate?
Take soccer for the example. The aim of soccer is to get a ball across a field and into a box with net around it. Only using your feet (unless you’re the goalie) and not using pushing or shin kicking to do so. In some games the numbers differ but you have 10 players on the field. 5 are yours. So to play such a game well you train. Running fast and for a long time. Dribbling the ball. Not only forwards but sideways and backwards and back and forth to trick your opponent into thinking certain things. You practice using your team mates and supporting your team mates. You train and train, with the single minded purpose to win. To get more goals then the other team. So if you are running as hard as you can, and dribbling as well as you can and playing teamwork as strategic as you could, its easy to bend rules. Its easy to push at those lines that your not allowed to cross.
It begins to get very easy to forget why we originally started playing these games. Whether it be to practice for battle, or play games communally or to just entertain us while we weren’t hunting mammoth, it’s a game.
We wear uniforms so we easily know who to kick the ball too. And to show the world who is supporting us financially. We celebrate victories in a whole bunch of different ways. We eat well to keep our feet running the fastest, we drink enough liquid to keep our brains working.
It’s a lot more then purely what happens on the field to be the best. To be the best can sometimes consume our whole lives.
But are we the best to be the best?
Lets swap this to church. If we “do church” to be the best at church then we cheapen it. Church was never for church sake.
If churches role is just to be church then we would never need to change our strategies. Because we would be church by being church. Like the soccer team that just rocks up, plays awful every week, doesn’t change their strategy but is there purely to be a soccer team. Then you watch the team that is the best on the field, they train all the time and get better and better and better and get the trophy… and then what? What do you do when you’re the best team in the world?
What does it look like to be the best church in the world? If there is one church… and you’re the only group that seems to be doing it the best, then hasn’t something been lost? Haven’t we forgotten the fun that soccer is, the skills in team work soccer teaches us, the fitness we have gained through soccer?
I believe that the kingdom of God is a team of rescuers, hand in hand with our Trinitarian creator God. We have been made into a team. Each with roles and authority to play a certain way and for a certain period of time. We train, we improve, we are set up with a plan that can be changed if it needs to and may even change whilst on the field. Which is called to change by the off field coach or the on field captain.
Does the church need to change its game plan more often? Or are we playing the game well by putting one plan in place and playing with it for 50 years? Are we playing at our strongest when all of our main players are tired and burning out? Can we not play with a few more reserves?
I once got told that change is destructive if its purely for the sake of change. If a game plan on the soccer field is working, and you are winning – why change it? But if it isn’t working then sometimes we don’t know what to change it too but we know we need to change it.
Who calls the change?
Who is our off field coach/ on field captain? And can we hear them over the roar of the crowd?