How High School Basketball Gave Me Tips on Pastoring


It has been so many decades ago that I don't even recall whether we won more games than we lost, or where we ended up in the standings for any of those happy, youthful years. My mind can only bring back quick snapshots of faces, places, highlights and neat overnight trips with friends. My memory tells me there were no disappointments or low times; though my common sense tells me there must have been plenty of them. North Carolina was known even then for basketball, and we mountain boys from the western part did all right, but what we were learning was going to last a lifetime, even for me who knew then that I was entering ministry.

So how did that experience on the round-ball court translate to the pastorate? Well, for starters I learned that teamwork and sharing the load was the only way we were going to play well and have a chance to win. There were always more-athletic players and better-equipped teams out there, and we had to play our game and play as a unit. Another item that was drilled into us from the start by our coach: “There are no stars on this team!” We did have a star who later did rather well at a Division I college! But what I learned quickly was that Skeeter's picture-perfect shot was not possible without the taller boys like me sweeping the boards to set him up before the defense could get down court. I also learned that encouragement and picking each other up were essential when the going got tough during a particularly hard stretch either in a single game or a series of games. I learned that we won together and we lost together and there was no blaming one other. Early into my sophomore season I suddenly learned this last lesson: every member of the team is important. I had been a bench warmer for our first two games. Suddenly, five minutes apart, two of our guys went out with twisted ankles and I was into the thick of it bodily, if not mentally.

All of these lessons easily can be transported into the pastorate and especially into the council room and dealing with fellow officers. It took me several pastorates to realize just how valuable and practical my basketball training was and how it would work in the pastorate; but once it dawned on me, I began to make it a vital and core part of my pastoral leadership philosophy and one of the first things I would discuss with any future council and pulpit committee. My overwhelming experience has been that people want a pastor to be a team player and demonstrate all the qualities our coach taught us back in those beautiful Great Smoky Mountains so long ago.

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