This was very frustrating for many of us. For example, I, personally, was not used to being treated (by people I knew) as an untalented player, especially since I had been fortunate enough in my volleyball career to have played on two different teams that competed in the Nationals Tournament. It seemed like something should be done.
We believe that the Holy Spirit moved us to begin contacting some extremely talented Christian volleyball players. We wound up with two separate teams, at different playing levels, an 'A' team and a 'B' team. The 'A' team included several players who concurrently or recently played on strong college teams. The 'B' team included very talented players, but those whose lives didn't necessarily revolve around (Jesus and) volleyball.
The premise was to enter volleyball tournaments and to submit the teams in various leagues. Uniforms would indicate in a modest or light-spirited way that the members of this team were Christians. At first, many other teams would automatically disrespect the playing ability of such a team. However, by including strong Christian players on our teams, and having sufficient practices so that all of them were used to playing together, we felt we could be competitive enough to possibly win games, tournaments and leagues.
If and when that would happen, we felt that some of the competing players might open up their minds a little toward just what Christians actually were. In addition, if we selected wisely, and had players who were very competitive but still good-natured (as all Christians are supposed to be!) then there might be evidence of joy and happiness among our team. Often, that seems missing in many competitive volleyball teams. I always have found dark humor in the grim expressions of many competitors, since they seem to approach the game as a life-or-death situation.
A brief aside: I happen to be a very, very good blocker. Often, when an opponent spiker goes through my block or faces me or otherwise makes a great play, I congratulate him. Generally, this is unexpected, and often looks of surprise appear. In one high-level tournament, after having done that early on a match, I happened to get a really good block on the same guy. A moment later, I heard a quiet "nice block". When I looked around, he repeated it, again quietly, and it was like a ventriloquist, where his mouth hardly moved! That was the high point of the day for me. NOT because I got the compliment, but, rather, because I realized how hard it had been for him to offer it to an opponent. I felt like I (or rather, the Holy Spirit) planted a seed that day!
So, the reason for the team was to sort of be "ambassadors" for Jesus, in a sports venue. Very importantly, we had an active team rule, that we would NEVER, NEVER approach ANYONE else regarding a Christian or otherwise religious subject. We felt that was important, partly because of the bad impression that extremely aggressive Christians have sometimes developed in our society. Of course, it was our hope that some individual might quietly approach one of us, while we were sitting out waiting for our next match, and in that case, we could release our enthusiasm! But, even then, not too publicly. Someone nearby, who was skeptical about Christians and Christianity, could be frightened away by an intense religious conversation, and that would defeat one of our main purposes. If an extended discussion was called for, it could be delayed to a more appropriate time, maybe after the tournament when we were all getting food.
This concept was developed early 1994. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1999.
This presentation (and an associated Volleyball Strategy - Practical Power Play one on Volleyball Strategy describe the efforts of a group of young Christians in the South and West suburbs of Chicago, beginning in 1994. Some modern Christian Churches (for example, Willow Creek Community Church, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago) are inspiring great interest in young people, partly due to including interesting and exciting diversions in their Christian efforts. We thought there might be value in carrying over these ideas more specifically into a sports venue, where many young people spend a lot of their recreational time.
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This is a variation on the recent movement in many churches toward "Small Group" Ministry. The two main distinctions here are (1) the initial sports centering; and (2) the fact that new members of the "Small Group" would not be recruited, but rather welcomed at their initiative.
Since this approach relies entirely on the non-Christian choosing to approach us regarding religious matters, the requirements on us are substantial. As human beings, we must seldom anger, seldom be moody, be non-pushy and seldom use questionable language. As sports enthusiasts, we must bring a competitive spirit to the game; we must understand and play as part of the team concept; and, at whatever level we currently play, we must each realize the existence of and strive for that "next level." As Christians, we must each feel a strong personal relationship and commitment to Jesus, and we must each desire to strengthen that relationship.
Note that no reference or requirement was made regarding sports playing level. We hope to eventually field Outreach teams of all playing levels. We suspect that the lower (C) level Outreach teams might someday do the greatest good, since that's the level where most Industrial League teams play, and those are the teams who are generally most disorganized and in need of practice and coaching.
No requirement was made as to years of being a Christian or any other rigid documentation as to depth of our players' beliefs. We believe that a diversity of experience and background among our teams' players may be desirable. If one of our newer Christian members gets approached by a non-Christian (and we HOPE this will happen often!), then that conversation can be joined by another member of our team who might be more grounded in apologetics or whatever other Christian discipline is appropriate. Our team members can "lean on" each other in such conversations. It is quite possible that non-Christians might feel most relaxed at approaching our younger, less-experienced members rather than a member who seems like he might belong on the Supreme Court bench! The important thing is that we offer an inviting environment for a non-Christian to make the first step.
We trust that all of the members have a level of physical coordination appropriate to the level of play desired. This does not necessarily represent any basic limitation. In fact, it is eventually hoped that we will be able to field a Physically Challenged Volleyball Outreach Team.
(a) We should avoid initiating conversations of a specifically religious nature. Too many non-Christians have been chased away by well-meaning Christians who have acted over-zealously and over aggressively in pursuit of their souls. We believe that there is little value in "getting in someone's face" when trying to help them find the Lord. Under NO condition should we EVER do or say anything to make any opponent feel uncomfortable in any religious area.
On first thought, it might seem desirable to have a team of almost identical Christians. However, there may be more ultimate value in having a team made up of a variety of personalities and Christian backgrounds. A non-Christian might more easily find an individual on our team to relate to and build a relationship with. Also, the perception of diversity on our team may help overcome the "slavish, cultic blind followers" image some non-Christians believe of us. Finally, the diversity should help to establish that WE are pretty much just like THEM, that we're not so weird after all.
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