Summary: If Christ brought you to this congregation, then Christ has given you a special grace to serve in a way that is needed within this congregation.

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Early on in my seminary career, I was asked by a committee charged with my nurture as a fledgling pastor-wannabe about my role models for ministry. “Who,” the committee asked, “did I consider to be an example to follow?” “Who was my role model for ministry?”

I guess it was a reasonable question, but I stumbled over my answer. I tried to get away with simply pointing to Jesus. Hey—what better role model could there be? The committee wanted an answer with flesh and bone, though, and pressed me for another response. I finally stammered out three names: Pastor Rusty at my home church, because he was a good preacher—he really knew how to tell a story; Pastor Deborah at my home church, because she was a great listener who radiated compassion; and Rev. Ed at the homeless ministry downtown, because he cared and he wasn’t afraid to challenge people in the churches to remember people on the edge. Each of these people had a gift for doing ministry that I admired.

I still admire their gifts, but I’ve had a few years to think about it, and I’ve become more familiar with Ephesians 4:11-12. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Now I would give a different answer. My role model for ministry (aside from Jesus, of course) is a woman named Yela (not “yellow”, “Y-E-L-A, Yela”).

I knew Yela when I was in college. She was a 5’ 5” powerhouse, full of explosive energy. She always had a twinkle in her eye and an infectious smile on her face. She was smart, she was funny, she was kind. Yela was my volleyball coach my freshman and sophomore years.

I’m going to use volleyball as a metaphor quite a bit, so let me say a few words for those of you who may not be familiar with the game. You don’t need to know a lot about volleyball to follow the metaphor, but a little knowledge may help.

In volleyball, two teams of six players each face each other on opposite sides of a tall net. Like tennis, the idea is to keep the ball in play on your side of the net and force the other team to fail to keep the ball in play on their side. Unlike tennis, each team can use up to three touches to return the ball. Each of the six players has a specialized role, but they also cover for each other as need arises. It is nearly impossible for one player, no matter how spectacular, to take over a volleyball game the way a point guard or a center can take over a basketball game.

To be honest with you, we were not a very good volleyball team by conventional standards. We didn’t win many matches. Our school, in general, was not exactly known for its athletic prowess. (Ours was the only football team ever to be included in the Guiness Book of World Records because the players’ average IQ exceeded their average weight.) My freshman year, only two people on the whole team had even played volleyball in high school. Most of my teammates had never played any sport competitively.

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