Have you ever watched a bunch of five- or six-year-olds playing football? Did you see something approximating to a murmuration of starlings, each child moving in elegant synchronicity with the others, chasing the sphere of everyone’s desire and, along with it, his or her dream of scoring the all-important winning goal? I’d be surprised if you did, to be honest. The comparison to a multitude of birds in flight might make sense, but there’s seldom any sophistication to the flailings and fallings of young children playing team games. Everyone scrambles in pursuit of the ball, each child wants to have it for the longest time possible, and none wants to be left out of the hunt or the glory. There may be a certain kind of beauty in seeing children commit themselves passionately to something so ephemeral as a kickabout in the street, but their dedication and energy do not amount to that which is really needed for victory: teamwork. When five- or six-year-olds play football, teamwork is an accident or perhaps serendipitous. The children know their side has to score goals to win, but they rarely calculate (unless instructed) that goals are usually easier to score if each member cooperates with his or her teammates, recognising and using the strengths of each one to reach the common, um, goal. As the Apostle Paul might have put it: ‘Are all centre-forwards? Do all play on the left wing?’ (And let me be the first to quip: Paul says, ‘I press on towards the goal’ (Phil. 3:14)).
The point here is that the Church is a body comprised of many members and, like the frenetic kids mentioned above, the Church is less effective when not deploying each of its members in areas that utilise the strengths present, when its members are played out of position. Any instantiation of the body of Christ in a given area—that is, any local church—desires to participate in God’s mission in a manner appropriate to the wider community. But God’s mission is not monolithic and members should not be expected to participate in God’s mission as though it were. The danger of everyone doing the same thing in a local church is that each member is jostling with the others for glory, eager to be the one to score first (or to score the winner), and ignorant of what genuine, Spirit-enabled teamwork can achieve.