The Golden State Warriors and Church Leadership

“Even though our super-star, celebrity-driven culture has the tendency to search for a single player to pin a basketball team’s success on, that’s just not consistent with reality.  Basketball doesn’t work that way.  And neither does the church.”    

I love basketball. I love the pace of play, I love the accessibility of the game, I love the sound of the ball splashing through the net.  But, most of all, I love the team dynamic of the game.  In fact, I have long thought that the team dynamics of basketball are one of the best analogies for the team dynamics in the church.  Just like a basketball team, church leadership is unsustainable when it is predicated on the gifts of one singular leader.  Just like a basketball team, church leadership was designed to weave together multiple members with different yet overlapping skill sets into a cohesive team that functions at its best when its members are serving one another and seeking to make one another better.  This is why I have so greatly enjoyed watching the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors.  Each player is important and each player has a role.  However, overlapping skills and similar playing styles have not caused rivalry among the Warriors’ players. Instead it gives them the opportunity to thrive in ways the league has never seen.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, humor me for a minute as we look, briefly, at some of the members of the Warriors and you’ll begin to see what I mean.                                                                
  • It’s hard to talk about the warriors without starting with Steph Curry.  He’s the player my kids run around the house pretending to shoot like.  This year he became the first NBA player to ever make 300 3-pointers in a season…by making 402!  Curry is a once-in-a-generation talent, but he would have been nothing but a fun side-show (think 2013-2016 Kobe) without a team that complimented his skill.
  • It’s hard to talk about Curry without mentioning Klay Thompson.  In making 276 3-pointers this season, Thompson now holds the record for most 3-pointers in a season for a player not named Steph Curry.  How do two players with such similar skills co-exist?  By not co-existing.  They took everything we thought we knew about basketball and turned it on its head by pursuing a selfless, long-range game, and in the end actually made each other better by eschewing petty jealousy and rivalries.
  • But the Warriors, on and off the court, could not experience the same kind of success without the heart and soul of their team, Draymond Green.  Green was a low 2012 draft pick, but is now the de facto captain of this juggernaut, and arguably the best defender in the league.  Green doesn’t look or play like other superstars, but  whatever he lacks physically he makes up for in work ethic and intelligence.  While Curry will assuredly be named the MVP of the NBA this season, it is Green who could easily be named the MVP of the Warriors.
  • Andre Iguodala is the “sixth man” of the team.  He doesn’t start most games, but instead comes off the bench.  A role he’s been happy to continue to play (and thrive in) even after he was named the MVP of last year’s NBA Finals.
  • The incredible teamwork of the Warriors even extends to their coaching staff.  Steve Kerr, the architect of much of what the Warriors are doing right now, was out for the first 43 games of the season this year because of back surgery, yet Luke Walton (the interim coach) was still able to guide the team to a record 24-0 start to the season.
  • This is not even to mention indispensable contributors like Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, or Shaun Livingston (yes, that Shaun Livingston, Clippers fans).

Now, you may be saying to yourself…why am I still reading this? I don’t even care about basketball! But, I want you to notice something here. I want you to ask yourself if this is how the church (in general) usually talks about pastors. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that instead of listing off the unique and overlapping contributions different church leaders make to the body, many in the church are instead simply trying to identify who’s “in charge” or who the “first among equals” is in a particular church body. This is probably because that’s exactly what far too many self-important pastors are jockeying to become.

We tend to view the church like a football team (with extreme specialization) or a baseball team (essentially an individual sport played on a team). But God designed the church to function far more like a basketball team. Basketball is played by five people on the same court at the same time with the same sized rim. At its best, basketball involves these five people working together, passing to each other, setting screens for each other, creating space for each other in ways that make everyone on the floor better and more effective.

Even though our super-star, celebrity-driven culture has the tendency to search for a single player to pin a basketball team’s success on, that’s just not consistent with reality. Basketball doesn’t work that way. And neither does the church.

Now don’t spend too much time trying to figure out which member of the Warriors best matches with which one of your pastors. The analogy breaks down quickly. But while the NBA playoffs are on this year, take even just a couple of minutes to watch the Warriors play (or watch just a minute of this clip). While you do, think about this analogy. That is what church leadership is supposed to be like. And while you do, don’t miss the smiles on the Warriors’ faces. There’s nothing more fun than playing on a basketball team that plays selflessly like that…except for serving on a church leadership team that serves the church that way. Trust me, I know.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” (John 13:12-14 ESV)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus... (Philippians 2:3-5 ESV)