In light of March Madness, a quick little fable:
The gym was packed. The tension was palpable. The fans were loud. The team was ready.
The roaring din of the crowd trailed off into muted expectation when the coach confidently approached the sideline, the ever-present aluminum whistle hanging precariously from his lips. His team readied themselves, muscles tensed, poised to spring into action.
The whistle blew, the crowd roared, and the entire basketball team took off as one. First to the other end of the court and back, then the far free throw line, then half court, and finally the near free throw line. They attacked the conditioning drill with all they had, leaving everything on the court. And the crowd’s support was practically deafening–it felt like everyone in town was stomping their feet, clapping their hands, screaming ’til they were hoarse.
Both the team and the crowd kept it up for hours–through conditioning drills, shooting drills, and the end of practice scrimmage. The crowd quieted when Coach walked the guys through the offense, and the intense focus was evident on every player’s face, from the starters all the way down to the bench warmers.
Another day, another great practice. Enthusiasm permeated the gym lobby as everyone filed out, back to their homes. “Great practice!” they said to each other, “Coach really knew exactly what the team needed today!” and “See you next time!”
It was the same every practice.
But the games were a different story. Only a handful of fans bothered to show up for the game, and even they spent most of their time glued to their phones. But the team didn’t really take much offense–they were lucky if they could muster a 5-man roster on most nights. They typically played tired, out of sorts, generally disinterested.
They hadn’t won a game in years, but no one seemed to mind. They hadn’t even come close to being competitive in years, but again, no one really cared.
Coach, his players, and everyone in town knew that practicing hard is what mattered. And while none of them would actually say it out loud, they all pretty much felt that asking someone to practice hard and play hard during games was well… that was asking too much.
Which is pretty much the same approach many churches take every single Sunday.
Practice will always matter.
But it’s never our mission.