My mom and dad both played basketball when they were young. My brother played on the varsity team of one of the top interscholastic basketball teams in Hawaii. My two sisters both played basketball in their middle school years. My entire family is a basketball-playing and basketball-following family…with the exception of me. I never played it, and never wanted to play it, and—to be perfectly frank—can’t really play it.
You can imagine, then, just how frustrated I was to have to coach it. But that is sometimes part of the package when you work for a church or a small Christian school as a male with a sports background. I’ve never really enjoyed doing it—either for church camps or for our school program—but I do remember one time when I found coaching basketball to be particularly insightful.
A few years ago, the coach for our school’s middle-school basketball team was out of town for a few days, and I was asked to be a fill-in for two practices. During the second practice while I had them scrimmage, I was shocked by what I witnessed: little boys ranging from 4th to 6th grade regularly going for 3-point shots…and making it! That wasn’t what I remember experiencing in P.E. class when I was their age. Deep threes weren’t all that common when I used to watch my brother’s basketball teams play. Long-range splashes weren’t too frequent when I watched my high school’s basketball team play. Could it possibly be that coaches were forcing these little kids—many of whom who still couldn’t tie their own shoelaces—to be so regularly risky with their choice of shots?
It didn’t take long for me to make the connection. These kids, all of whom were from the Bay Area, had gotten into basketball around the time the Golden State Warriors began to dominate in the NBA. They were simply playing like the man they watched and followed on TV—Stephen Curry, the best 3-point shooter in NBA history.
Why little boys today who idolize Stephen Curry are going for threes on the basketball court is the same reason that little girls back in the late nineties were regularly doing change-of-edge spirals on the ice rink when Michelle Kwan dominated the sport of figure skating. The sport’s current icon directly affects the athletic transformation of the generation who grows up revering them. Who a person continually and reverently beholds is who a person becomes.
This is true in the spiritual realm as well. This is why Jesus said that everyone, once he is fully trained, becomes like his teacher (Luke 6:40). It is why Psalm 115:8 reminds us that we will become like who we worship. To put it another way, it is why so many churches that are characterized by either doctrinal precision or lavish programs are characterized by stunted, unhealthy saints who hardly resemble Jesus Christ. It’s because a people will become like those they continually behold, and if they’re not beholding Christ, they won’t become like him. How can they, when they’re not reading their Bibles and Christ isn’t being proclaimed in their churches?
I’m aware of plenty of churches and para-church organizations whose people I can almost expect to be characterized by two things: sound theology and spiritual immaturity. Why? It’s because the pastors and preachers of that ministry preach with doctrinal and exegetical precision, but they don’t preach Christ. It’s possible, after all, for a person to have a good Christology while Christ isn’t being fully formed in him (Gal 4:19). Such people are those who see Christian living as adherence to rules (hence, they love to ask the question, “Is it wrong to…”) rather than imitating a person. It’s astounding how many Christians who regularly attend church services on Sundays and who can recite their systematic theology like ABCs would look at you dumbfounded if you ask them to describe what Jesus as a person was like and what about Him they are currently aiming to imitate.
So how does a person truly change toward Christ-likeness? The answer is in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Christians, whose eyes have been opened by the regenerating and transforming work of the Holy Spirit, change toward Christ-likeness when they continually behold the glory of Christ as revealed in Scripture. They behold him when they hear him proclaimed by the preacher at church. They behold him when they read their Bibles in their own homes. Let all preachers remember that in order to present members mature in Christ, it is Christ whom they must proclaim (Col 1:28). Let all of us remember that we will become like those we behold.