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NCAA National Championship and the value of team

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Duke Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook (middle) and teammates hoist the NCAA championship trophy after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2015 NCAA Men's Division I Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium, April 6, 2015 (Credit: USA TODAY Sports/Bob Donnan)

Stars determine the outcome. Or at least that’s the prevailing thought in sports culture. In last night’s NCAA Men’s National Championship game, there were clearly two stars: Frank Kaminsky, from the Wisconsin Badgers, and Jahlil Okafor, from the Duke Blue Devils. At a very basic level, whichever star played better would determine the outcome of the game.

But if all you saw this morning was the line for each player, you would mistakenly assume that Wisconsin won the game. Frank Kaminsky’s numbers dwarfed Okafor’s, with Kaminsky delivering 21 points and 12 rebounds to Okafor’s 10 and 3. In the great battle of premium NBA prospects, Okafor was largely outplayed by Kaminsky.

However, one of the great lessons of basketball is that more often than not, success is not determined by one single player. Great coaches know that their bench players are just as important to the ultimate success of the team as the star players.

The culture around us greatly (over)values the individual, self-made star. This is true beyond sports, because it’s a narrative built into the fabric of Western thought, but it is most clearly seen in sports. Everyone wants to be the star, the headliner, the leader. But what this particular game subtly reminds us is that we don’t need more stars, we need better teams.

In the Christian life, the most persistent attacks of the enemy are pride, hubris, and self-promotion. If he can get us to think more about ourselves than about bringing God glory, he’s won the battle. In sports, team success is dependent upon how much the players invest in the ultimate good of the team over their individual accomplishments. They must move beyond themselves. This is true of the kingdom of God as well. If we become obsessed with our personal accomplishments, we’ll be blinded to the beauty of the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters.

It turns out that Tyus Jones was the real star of the National Championship, with a bench player, Grayson Allen, being his surprise side-kick. It’s hard to predict who will swing the outcome in specific games. The best teams have coaches who help each player see the need to always be ready, because the success of the team is the goal, and you never know when you might be needed.

We need to adopt this disposition in our journey of faith, because joy is to be found in simply bringing God glory, not in our individual accomplishments. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” And as our perspective shifts, contentment arrives, because you never know when and how God might want to use you. The joy of bringing God glory is reward enough for the heart set on Christ.