Problems? Email Us!
On Becoming a 'Team Player'

The words "He's not a team player." have been used in our culture as an insult to a person's ability to work well within a team.  Sometimes the insult is deserved, and sometimes it is not.

Play and work are an important part of our lives, and those who can play together can also work together. It's not about skills as much as its about the certain principles we learn during play. The following is a tribute to the importance of play, and on learning how to be a good 'team player':

This game is all about drawing squares and jumping over a pebble.  It looks easy, but don't let that fool you. Throwing pebbles and hopping over them is not as easy as it looks! That's okay, because this game isn't really about pebbles as much as it's about building confidence. Trying and failing is part of life, and things get easier upon doing it again and again. People can watch until they feel like joining, and it's up to them when they want to join. They can watch forever and that's okay, too. The real excitement of the game is the fact that anyone can do it, and everyone is invited at any time. The rules are easy on purpose; anyone can explain them to you, or you can just figure them out by watching. Whether playing or watching, everyone gets to laugh, argue together over the size of the squares, and poke fun at one another when they miss.  And then we all try again.

It is thought that girls favor Hopscotch, while Boys favor Marbles. Whatever society thinks, either game can be played by both. So if you feel Hopscotch is too childish or sissy, it just means it's time to move on to something else, like the game of Marbles.  In this game, you get to draw circles in the sand instead of squares on the asphalt, and get to use marbles instead of pebbles. Marbles are neat and cool.  If you've lost your marbles or never had any, that's okay because Jesus can help you get them.  But you have to have marbles in the first place to start the game.

You'll find while sitting here in the sand with the rest of us, that some marbles are considered prettier and fancier than others, yet a plain marble is just as cool when it's the only one in the pile or when someone wants them for their collection.  Pretty is relative, and weird is cool. One man's junk is another man's treasure, and so it is with marbles. If your marbles are different than anybody else's, that's great. After all, the important thing is that they are smooth and round! We get to trade with each other, or compete with each other if we want to for the different marbles. Sometimes, nice players will even give you their extra marbles when all is done.  However, it's not as easy to jump in or quit in the game of marbles as it is in the game of hopscotch. That's because marbles are at stake in the game, and they are not the same as pebbles! So if you pick up your marbles and go home over the slightest provocation or difficulty, don't expect other players to chase after you. Some experienced players believe that players who quit so quickly just aren't worth the trouble. High commitment people know that if you don't have any commitment to play, you will just quit easily again later. It's a real bummer to have a game disrupted while you make your grand exit. They might think you are better playing something more for younger children or sissies, like hopscotch. It is likely that they will continue their intense, focused play and not concern themselves with you.  It's not that you are not valuable, it's that you need to have some perseverance.

If you have lacked commitment and been a quitter before, perhaps you can identify with John, also called Mark, in the book of Acts. John once abandoned the game and deserted Paul and Barnabus in Pamphylia. Barnabas wanted to invite John-Mark back in the game, but Paul was not willing to take the risk of him quitting again. Paul and Barnabus hotly disputed this just as much as serious kids playing marbles would dispute over whether to let YOU back in.  In the end, Paul choose Silas as his new companion, someone he could trust, while Barnabus and John-Mark did just fine playing marbles somewhere else. So don't despair if you have been a John-Mark. God will use it for your instruction and get you in the game again, either in the same circle or in another one.

It's better to feel the shame of being a quitter, and then return a little more grown-up later. What if people like Paul and Barnabus chased after you when you were the one who left in the first place? Some people do that, you know, all because you carry real pretty marbles with you. They'll put up with your lack of commitment or your poor-sport attitude for a while until they get that marble they wanted so much, and then tell you to buzz off because your attitude is not worth putting up with you. Who wants to watch you pout or slouch, making everyone else feel bad around you?  Who cares if you pick up and go home so quickly, except for the lack of marbles in the game?

So when you take your marbles up and go home, certain that it's everyone else's fault you are quitting and certain that the game isn't worth your trouble, you can look at whatever pretty marbles you have all by yourself. After you get tired of looking at your marbles all by yourself, you might decide to go bury them in the backyard until Jesus comes back. When He asks you what marbles you won while on earth with the marbles He gave you, you won't have much to show! Just the same boring marbles...

Once you've learned that playing the game is worth more than not playing the game, and holding on to your marbles is not worth the loss of character, you will not care about who has which marbles so much. You can go on to the next class of games.

You may have already been introduced to this next class of games by having snowball fights.  Snowballs are real neat because you can make them yourself and throw them at people.  People can get socked real good by you, and you can all have a good laugh.  You can hide behind trees or walls of snow to get your opponent better, or you can get on top of the hill and throw down. You can even get teams together and really belt it out with one another. When winter is over or if snow is unavailable, you can go play other games like Dodge Ball. The principle is the same since you get to throw a ball at someone, and they get to try to hit you too.

The Tennis or Racquet Ball Match
Pretty soon the ball becomes smaller and you are using tennis rackets or racquet ball rackets.  These are competitive sports where the purpose is to one-up your opponent, just like in snowball fights.

Some people don't like competition, and they may even think of all types of conflict are bad.  But God is not interested in taking you on to becoming a 'team player' until you've mastered the art of conflict, because conflict is for our growth.

One of the main things we learn in these types of games is to hit the ball within the lines. If we do, we can gain a point. If we don't, we automatically lose a point or forfeit our turn at whacking the ball.  This is not the game of Marbles, where the marble can shoot past the boundary. So, we have to learn our backhands and forehands well if we are to have a chance at succeeding in this game.  Inappropriate backhands and forehands grieve the Holy Spirit, and so when you hear the call made of "Out!", just say good-bye to the Holy Spirit for awhile until you get your chance again.  So with this at stake, we will review some examples of the type of things which grieve the Holy Spirit:

The inappropriate backhand (passive-aggressive behavior) The silent treatment as a punitive measure, purposely ignoring someone (Jesus only did this to the man who beheaded John the Baptist. Have you done something like that lately? Do you deserve to be treated in such a way?); gossip, backbiting  and reviling and other-behind-the-scenes behavior -- (These are done WITHOUT talking to the person about what needs to be talked about, of course).  Purposely doing the exact opposite of what is perceived as the other person's needs or wants or requests; purposely failing in sullen rebellion, and then claiming you were interested in completing the task

The inappropriate forehand (aggressive behavior): Labeling, judging, categorizing and criticizing statements about another person's character (this is not the same as describing one's behavior and what it did to you, of course, but many don't understand the difference. It is also not the same as Christian reproving or rebuking, which are correct, appropriate forehand moves. Again, some religious people don't know the difference). Vicious forehands can include false accusations and curses, and other forms of verbal abuse. Aggressive behavior can, of course, mean really losing all vestiges of civilized behavior, and running across the court to attack our neighbor. However, beating someone up with 'just words' is still beating someone up.

When we are not loving our brother and sister enough to stay within the boundaries, getting the upper hand has become too important to us. Even protecting ourselves from something can become too important, when it is motivated by insecurity and fear.  Unproductive and unnecessary conflicts are about power-struggles, egos, and fear.  Therefore, they are likely to contain all kinds of interesting foul maneuvers which the Holy Spirit never thought was up.

Still, there is hope for us who keep hitting the ball out-of-lines.  If we've learned bad form from a poor instructor and are determined to learn it right, that's a good thing. We have a new instructor, Jesus. He can show us the proper way to swing the racquet and hit the ball.

When the other player plays in the most rotten way possible and is not interested in being appropriately Christian, we have the choice of not playing with them anymore.  People learn that it's not worth playing with a bully or a cheater in childhood, yet somehow it seems that all common sense flies out the window when someone calls themselves a Christian. Maybe that's because we keep hoping for unity, peace, and brotherhood, the things that all Christians are supposed to enjoy.  We may feel obliged to keep trying, and play with a member of the club. Clubs are not the same as Christian teams, however.

When we have learned something about not grieving the Holy Spirit and the bond of peace, we can shake each other's hands in the end and still be buddies who have just played a fine game of appropriate conflict. We have learned it's okay to disagree with one another on peripheral issues, and that we are all one in Christ. We are finally ready to play on teams.

Softball or Baseball
There are variations of this same game, yet they are all pretty much the same type of game. This game is a team game with rules that are not hard for anyone to follow.  Just like hopscotch, there is no barrier to easy inclusion into the game.

However, sometimes people feel hurt before the game even starts because they are the last one picked for the team. The test for you is not to get sour on playing games, and remember that Jesus said the first are last, and the last are first.  You don't have to understand it all to trust that what He said is true.  If you remember this, you might not care so much what order people are picked.  And anyway, Jesus will always pick you no matter what others think of you, and then you can really surprise other players who didn't see you through His eyes.

The neat thing about this game if the fact that there are specialized roles.  At first everyone might want to be the pitcher, but he has to put up with heckling sometimes and that's not so glamorous. Then the catcher seems important because they get to wear special armor, but it's a hard job to sit there and get balls flung at you.   Umpires are often not well-liked by anyone and often misunderstood, but then again they have great eyesight along with the authority that comes with that job.  And if you are in the outfield, it may seem like you have less responsibility, but don't go to sleep because a ball may come to you! The 'water boy' seems the least of all, until it's a hot day.

This is where everyone learns we all need each other, and one is just as important as the other, and we should do the best we can at our jobs. If we don't learn that, the game will be more frustrating than fun. And, if we don't come up when it is our time to bat, then Jesus will get another one who is willing. Girls can play just as well as boys in team sports like baseball.  Sometimes, there will be all-girl games or all-boy games, but Jesus didn't mean for us to segregate. That's why he gave the higher gifts to girls, too.  If the boys have trouble with that, perhaps they should go back to Marbles or Hopscotch and learn what they missed there.

Cooperation is the task to learn on team games.  If you spend your time fighting or sleeping, you are not busy paying attention.  Not being alert means a roaring lion might come get you. And if you are foolish enough to throw a ball at a teammate's head, Jesus doesn't take too kindly to that. You should know who your enemy is, and no one said you were supposed to be like the enemy, too.  It is better to go back to snowball fights, if you like to throw so much.

Some are just as pleased as punch with baseball, and others don't find it exciting or fast-paced enough. They are ready for something more complicated which take greater cooperation. I've chosen football because it's a more complex game with more rules, requiring a high degree of team unison. The card game of Bridge involves complex team playing too, but most everyone is more familiar with football. Plus, football has a coach.

Jesus is the coach, and He knows where to place people, when to switch their roles, and when to call them to rest on the sidelines. Football is a rigorous game; no one can play forever without getting tired. Therefore, everyone has to sit on the sidelines and rest up sometimes. We can always choose to disregard His direction and listen to our own wills, or make the quarterback king of the hill and listen to his will only, but then we will lose the game against the enemy if we practice such foolishness.  Coaches have information quarterbacks just don't have.  He always has a game plan, and if we listen to Him well, we will all do just fine. Sometimes He speaks through people, and by now we ought to have learned to listen for when that happens, too. If we are too proud to hear through people, we definitely get confused and disoriented. The Coach speaks to whom He will speak to and relays his messages, or He may speak to the whole team at once if He likes, and all will hear. The message is important, not the messenger.

In baseball, we learned to yell out "I got it!" when the ball is coming to us. Here, we need to communicate and listen much more than that. For instance, it's not an advantage for team members to keep their activities and intentions secret.  In fact, experienced players know that these players are much like the inconsistent marble-players of earlier times. Secretiveness and keeping vital information to yourself conveys a sense of power and independence for you, but it spells major disaster for the rest of the team.  Everyone thought you were going one way, when you suddenly went the other, leaving a nice hole in the field for the enemy to take advantage of. You have betrayed the the whole team! Independence is cute in Hopscotch and Marbles, but not here!  If you haven't yet learned what is vital to share and what isn't, just ask. Or listen. Team members aren't dentists and shouldn't have to pull teeth to be informed of your basic needs, important ideas, or agendas. Speak up and ask for the soap and towels in the showers. Likewise, they shouldn't always have to say, "Where's Johnny?" and chase after you when the huddle is called, and you shouldn't have to wonder when huddle IS called, either.  The Lord God communicates with us, and so we must likewise communicate with others.

So let's review what we learned in play, so we can be fine 'team players':

Team principles aren't too hard for us. Let's play!


To read mail about this article.

by Teri Lee Earl © Copyright 1997 All Rights Reserved

This article may be posted and distributed without charge for nonprofit use, with the following copyright information:
by Teri Lee Earl, Copyright 1997, HarvestNETwork, posted at the following URL:

To Reformation page


JavaScript Menu, DHTML Menu Powered By Milonic