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Christianity is a Team Sport

There is no “I” in Christianity.

            I always thought that would make a nice saying for a T-shirt or a bumper sticker. The only downside is that the letter “I” occurs three times in the word Christianity. I could always opt for “There is no ‘I’ in church.” Somehow that’s not as catchy.

            I guess I’m just jealous of the pithy sayings of football coaches who love shouting things like, “There is no ‘I’ in team!”

            I never played football beyond one year in the peewee leagues. But I did once get to see a coach transform a group of individuals into a team.

When I transferred to Georgia Southern as a sophomore in the fall of 1981, Erk Russell was just starting the football program there. I was hired by the school newspaper as a photographer and given, among other assignments, the ongoing task of following the team photographically through its first year.

The school had no impressive inducements to pull in the big players, other than Erk. That was fine as Erk Russell was enough. He was a great recruiter because you wanted to play for Erk.

The year before I arrived, Erk scoured high schools, junior colleges and the like all around looking for players with untapped potential. That fall he set about turning them into a football team.

Erk liked to wear a shirt to practice where the giant word “Team” overpowered the much smaller word “me” underneath it. Erk also wore that favored saying of football coaches everywhere, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” These slogans summed up his football philosophy.

Within a few years, Erk Russell, working with the young men he could convince to come play for him and precious little scholarship money, won a I-AA national championship. The amazing Cinderella story was possible because Erk Russell convinced the rag tag group of players that as team they could be better than any of them could as individuals. He did get some outstanding individuals to play for Southern, but it was the team that won the championship.

The Apostle Paul knew that we the people who are the church could do more together than we could ever do alone. In the twelfth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote about how we are all part of the same body, each with our own part to do.

In this passage, Paul sounds like a coach at halftime pumping up a group of individuals to go out and work together as a team. Paul says, “Y’all are the body of Christ.”

I know whatever translation of the Bible you read does not say “Y’all,” but in Greek there is a plural for the word “you” and that’s what Paul uses. The best way I know how to translate that word is “Y’all.”

Paul was writing to the local church to let that one church in Corinth know that it is the Body of Christ. That one church was also part of the larger Body of Christ, which is the total of all the Christian churches.

Paul compared the local church to a body, because it gave him a great way to show how every person in the congregation was essential. The feet need the hands, the hands need the eyes, and on it goes.

Do not decide that you are the tonsils or the appendix. In Paul’s analogy, everyone has an essential part to play and the church will never be all it can be without all its members.

But what if you are not in a church? What if you believe that you can know God through the person of Jesus without getting up on Sunday and worshipping with others. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit make house calls?

I think the Bible is clear that, yes, you can come to faith all on your own, but you can never be the Christian that you are called to be by yourself. From the very beginning, Christianity has been about community. That’s why Paul did not say “You are the body of Christ.” Instead, Paul wrote, “Y’all are the body of Christ.”

Any individual Christian will not have the gifts to be all a Christian should be on their own. At it’s essence, the Bible tells us that we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, you can’t even live out the two great commandments without bringing others into the picture.

The New Testament spends a good deal of time telling us how we can better live in community. There are 42 verses, which use the words “one another” telling us how we should treat each other. Those verses tell us to do things like “love one another,” “encourage one another,” and to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

I am constantly amazed at how much of scripture is not about me, but about us. You need your neighbors to even start to fulfill God’s commandments. To really live into your faith, you need to worship with a community of Christians.

You want to avoid the opposite mistake of losing yourself in a group. Cults call on you to lose your individuality in the group identity. Christianity has upheld both individuality and community through the centuries as we have found this is the best possible way to grow into a deeper relationship with God.

Christianity is about “y’all” because the community part of Christianity is so important. Christianity is not, at its best an individual effort. It is better compared to a team sport. If you don’t have a church yet, go give one a try this Sunday. Find the community of Christians that is right for you.

It turns out that there is a little bit of “I” in Christianity, but it’s still not all about you.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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