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Leading the league in assists

James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Dean Smith
Left to right: James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and coach Dean Smith, legends of University of North Carolina basketball. Photo by Zeke Smith, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I have been a college basketball fan since high school. I remember my heart breaking that night in 1982 when Georgetown guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, mistakenly passed the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy with 7 seconds on the clock, icing the championship game for the Tarheels.

This weekend I plan to watch all three games. While I’m not a fan of any one of the four teams left in this year’s madness, I will be rooting for Michigan State and Kentucky (a) because I picked them, and (b) because one is the underdog and the other is going for history. Won’t that make for a great championship game story?

One of the things I like about college basketball is the importance placed on the assist. For those not familiar with basketball, a player receives an assist when they make a pass that leads to another player scoring. While the guy hitting the 3-point shot or making the thunderous dunk may get most of the applause and headlines, assists get noticed. They are an official stat listed alongside points and rebounds in the boxscore.

During one of the games this weekend you may notice a player who has just scored pointing as he races back to play defense. He is pointing at his teammate who made the assist. I recently heard on ESPN and see it confirmed in this article, that the pointing practice was brought to college basketball by the legendary coach of that 1982 Carolina team, Dean Smith (those darn Tarheels are everywhere).

A huge proponent of teamwork, Smith wanted his scorers to share the spotlight with those who helped make it happen. Teaching his players to recognize their teammates, drew attention to the passers, and encouraged all players to focus more on the team scoring than their individual point totals.

We all want to be the scorer. On the court, in the boardroom, and even in the church. It feels good as an associate pastor to be recognized for the sermon on the Sunday after Easter (one of two Sundays I have deemed our days), to see one of your ideas find success in the congregation, or lead a charge to make a procedural change.

But far more often, we’re not the scorer. We set things up, work behind the scenes, deal with handfuls of people. We’re making the assist. Maybe that’s why not all that long ago we were commonly called “Assistant Pastors.”

Wise lead pastors will point to their associate pastors after a big score. All good leaders ought to publicly recognize their team from time to time. But if your lead pastor is stingy with the praise, take it from me, the assists matter.

While the lead pastor may get most of the recognition, count your assists. The growth of the congregation is happening because of your work others may never see. Those new ministries took off because of your agile passing. Sunday’s Easter extravaganza of worship is able to happen because of the work you did when no one else was in the building.

As Associate Pastors, we are called to be the assist leaders of our congregations. You many never win an MVP trophy, but you and I know you are an integral part in making glorious things happen for the Kingdom of God.

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