June/July 2011 Jill Ewert
Atlanta Dream guard Shalee Lehning has a favorite example of teamwork from the Bible. It’s found in Mark 2, and it tells the story of a group of men who were dead-set on bringing their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing.
According to Scripture, when these men arrived on the site, Jesus was experiencing the B.C. version of a public Justin Bieber sighting. There was no way they were going to get their friend a healing touch unless they worked together. “These men had faith,” said Lehning, now in her third season as the Dream’s point guard. “They knew that all they had to do was get their friend to Jesus, and He would do the rest.”
FCA’s Kim Boyce has been strategic in serving the Atlanta Dream and helping facilitate the ministry efforts of co-chaplains Freda Doxey and Lisa Johnson. After joining FCA staff in 1995, Boyce recently took over the position of FCA’s Director of Staff Development and Training in Atlanta. Through her current position, Boyce is able to supply the chaplains with Bibles for the team and also to contribute meals for team Bible studies.
“Kim Boyce is a friend whom I admire greatly,” Doxey said. “She has supported our efforts from day one. She tirelessly works to lend her ear and provide resources, books, Bibles, money, shirts, food, tickets and anything else we need in order to make serving as a volunteer chaplain easier.”
In addition to tangible provision, Boyce also serves the Dream by occasionally leading worship at team chapels.
For more on what God is doing through Boyce and the rest of the FCA staff in Atlanta, visit fcaatlanta.org.
One can only imagine the scene as the men carried out their master plan: cutting a hole in the building’s roof and lowering their friend into the presence of Christ. Regardless of the strategy, their teamwork paid off. They successfully worked together to get the crippled man a front-row audience with the Divine Healer Himself, who granted their request.
“Teamwork is seen in so many ways through that passage,” Lehning said. “They believed in each other and knew they could and would do anything to get their friend to Jesus. To me, that shows how teamwork and believing in each other is what brings success in the bigger picture of life.”
Lehning has firsthand experience with effective teamwork. Last season, she and the Atlanta Dream experienced positive transformation both on and off the court through selflessness, hard work and, above all, love. By attending chapel together and applying the biblical principles they learned, the team of “Dream girls” jelled so well that, at season’s end, they found themselves competing for the WNBA Championship.
“They really learned to love each other,” said Lisa Johnson, who, along with Freda Doxey serves as co-chaplain for the Dream. “That made the difference. There was no ego involved. It was all about how the girls could serve each other, love each other, and make each other better as athletes and teammates.”
In today’s individualistic and independent society, the concept of teamwork is highly undervalued, and the athletic community could be considered Public Enemy No. 1. It’s a culture that prizes MVP awards, All-American nods and record-setting performances, and it views Jesus’ teaching to love God and others as antiquated at best and selfdestructive at worst.
The Christ-followers on the Dream’s roster, however, know that life is about the Lord and showing His love to others—even through sports—and that a faith-filled, selfless lifestyle is the only one that will bring true fulfillment.
This month, STV circled up three Christian members of the Atlanta Dream—Lehning, Armintie Price and Sancho Lyttle—to discuss that all-but-lost art of selfless teamwork, how it is modeled by Christ, and how it brings success to the court in greater ways than through the score.
Shalee Lehning – #5
Born: Oct. 27, 1986
College: Kansas State University
Years Pro: 3
Shalee Lehning - Guard
STV: How important is teamwork in the sport of basketball— specifically to the Atlanta Dream?
SL: “Teamwork is the foundation of any program desiring to have success. Last season we worked so well as a team. Nobody cared who got the attention; we all just wanted to work together to get the win, and because of that we had success. To me, nothing great was ever accomplished alone, and our team has embraced that and used the power of ‘team’ to our advantage.”
STV: What are some ways that you work to get better as a team?
SL: “Obviously we spend a lot of time practicing together, which helps us with our basketball skills. But we also get better as a team off the court. We spend a lot of time together doing things that aren’t related to basketball. We had a team Bible study in which half the team participated, and that allowed us to form a deeper bond with each other as more than just athletes.”
STV: What are the most essential characteristics of a good team?
SL: “Communication, trust, togetherness, selflessness and unity.”
STV: Talk a little more about the communication aspect. How important is communication during competition?
SL: “Communication is everything. During competition, things are constantly changing, and if we played without communicating, there would be mass confusion on the court. Through communication, we not only know where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to be doing, but we also can show that we care about each other and have each other’s backs.”
STV: How does the concept of “team” apply to your life as a Christian?
SL: “I mentioned earlier that nothing good comes without teamwork, and that is what I believe about my faith. Nothing good comes in life without Christ being at the center of it—being on His team, and working with and for Him. Because, with Him, my life can make an impact, but on my own I have no purpose.”
STV: How do your Christian teammates help you stay close to the Lord?
SL: “As teammates, we spend a lot of time together, so they serve in roles similar to accountability partners. But another important element is their constant encouragement. If I’m having a bad day or feeling discouraged, they understand and can provide the uplifting words I need.
“My teammates also help me know that I’m not alone. No matter what spiritual warfare I may be facing, they are right there beside me. The power that comes from knowing I’m not the only Christian around really helps me stay focused on my faith and what is truly important.”
STV: How does your faith help you be a better teammate?
SL: “I wouldn’t be the player or teammate I am without Christ. I have a passion for basketball, and that passion comes from Him. Because of my faith, I give everything I have the moment I step onto the court. I’m able to be an encourager for my teammates because I know that’s what I have been called to be.
“My effort, energy and emotion on the court come from my faith. Without it, I would play without purpose and would be just going through the motions. I know why I play the game and why I try to be the best teammate I can be, and that is simply because of my faith in Christ.”
Click here to get the inside scoop on Brittainey Raven and the rest of the "Dream Team."
STV: Describe your ideal teammate on the court.
SL: “Someone who is unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes for the team. They are competitive, committed to winning, reliable, consistent and hard-working—an ultra-encourager who is upbeat and fun, and who holds other teammates accountable.”
STV: Describe your ideal teammate in Christ.
SL: “Someone who pushes me to be the best in every area of my life. They would catch me whenever I was in the valley and encourage and uplift me when I was on the mountain. Basically, my ideal Christian teammate is someone who loves me for who I am in Christ and challenges me to go deeper in Him.”
Armintie Price – Guard/Forward
Armintie Price - #22
Born: April 3, 1985
College: University of Mississippi
Years Pro: 5
STV: You and the Dream really came together as a team last season. How did faith play a part in that?
AP: “It goes back to the lessons our chaplains were instilling in us, which helped us be respectful of other peoples’ feelings and in how we treated and talked to each other. If they would teach a lesson about love or giving, we would remind each other about it throughout the week. Because we were in chapel together, we used those lessons to learn how to speak to each other with love and respect. Then, if we did have disagreements, we would just talk it out and let it go.
“We’re all pretty smart when it comes to basketball, so when it came to God, we’d all take the pieces of what we knew about the Word and put them together. By doing that, we’d achieve one understanding of what we knew, what we believed, and how we were going to carry that out.”
STV: While great teamwork doesn’t automatically translate into wins, we know that it certainly helps, which was the case for the Dream last season. How did good teamwork and that love and selflessness translate into success on the court?
AP: “I think of it like this. First, we went to chapel and learned the Word of God. We learned how to talk to each other and how to use His Word in our lives. Then, once we got onto the court, since we already knew how to talk to each other and how to communicate, we were like sisters. We knew every move to make. We knew every pass to make. We knew how to talk to each other.
“Sometimes Shalee, being our point guard and captain, would raise her voice at us to get us where we needed to go, but we didn’t take it the wrong way because we knew she just wanted us to be better. We knew not to take things personally and to appreciate her communicating and letting us know what was right and wrong.
“We just took it to a whole new level. Instead of things always being negative, we viewed correction as positive. Then, if there was something we didn’t understand, we would bring that teammate to the side and talk it out. I credit it all to God because, like I said, when you are around spiritual people and are reading the Bible, you’re going to have His love.”
STV: Based on your personal experience, what do you think are the most essential qualities of a good team?
AP: “Selflessness. Putting yourself aside and being able to help others—being there for them and finding out what’s wrong and knowing what’s going on in their lives. For us, we knew each other outside of basketball so we could ask about what was going on and let each other know that we cared.
“On the court, a good team should be able to communicate and talk things out so that issues don’t become personal. For us, we could correct each other without making someone feel bashed on and instead feel encouraged to do better next time.
“Last season, our team was one— there was no specific superstar. We would say all the time that we were one and that we each had a special gift that helped make us great as a team.”
Sancho Lyttle – Forward
Sancho Lyttle – #20
Born: Sept. 20, 1983
College: University of Houston
Years Pro: 7
STV: In general, how important is teamwork in basketball?
SL: “Teamwork is incredibly important because we need each other to win. If we didn’t rely on and need each other, we would play individual sports.”
STV: How do you and the rest of the Dream develop and cultivate good teamwork?
SL: “By communicating. By leaving the word ‘me’ behind and embracing the words ‘us,’ ‘we’ and ‘our.’ “When it comes to what facilitates a good team, I think that’s the key. I only have one characteristic that I would consider most important to a great team, and that is unselfishness.”
STV: What would you say are some of the most essential characteristics of a healthy spiritual community in general?
SL: “I would say love, faith, and the ability to forgive and understand.”
STV: In your opinion, what is required for good teamwork among the body of Christ?
SL: “Communication is the biggest factor on any team, and it’s no different for a Christian team. Communication keeps us accountable. It encourages us and lifts our spirits when we are down. All these things are needed for successful living.”
STV: How does your faith help you be a better teammate?
SL: “It reminds me that we all make mistakes, but that, with the next breath we take, we have the chance to fix it. On a team, there will be a lot of mistakes, but when we can all come together, we can fix the problems on the court.”
STV: Describe your ideal teammate on the court.
SL: “My ideal teammate is someone who puts the team and the players above their own selfish ambitions.”
STV: Describe your ideal teammate in Christ.
SL: “Someone who is honest, but not judging—one who lives by the concept of love first.”
For the last two years, Freda Doxey and Lisa Johnson have served as co-chaplains for the Atlanta Dream. Doxey, who had filled the role since 2008, first met Johnson at a Christian breakfast event in Atlanta and discovered that Johnson had baked cookies and brownies for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols. Seeing an opportunity to bless the Dream, Doxey asked Johnson if she would be willing to contribute some treats to the Dream at an upcoming game.
Johnson quickly agreed, and it wasn’t long before her generosity led to a bigger role with the team. In 2010, she officially began ministering alongside Doxey as the team’s co-chaplain, and she still brings brownies to every game.
“I think I have 30 boxes of brownie mix in my pantry right now,” Johnson laughed. “We provide brownies for our team, the coaches and for the visiting team, along with a copy of the FCA More Than Winning tract, and God has definitely been using it.”
Through their roles as spiritual guides for the athletes, Doxey and Johnson have witnessed the Lord’s hand at work in powerful ways, including His covering of love and selflessness in 2010.
“Last season in chapel we studied 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter—and they really applied what they’d learned and took it onto the court,” Doxey said. “They made unselfish plays, passes and shots as a way of showing their love and appreciation for the Lord and each other.”
In a season that ended just shy of a WNBA Championship when the Dream fell in the finals to the Seattle Storm, the intangible rewards of healthy relationships and spiritual growth produced a prize even greater than a title.
“These girls really loved each other and didn’t care who got the credit, and I think that mattered just as much, if not more, than what happened on the court,” Johnson said. “It’s rare to get a group of women together who are that talented and not have a few of them wanting it to be about them. But I think that’s a beautiful picture of what Heaven will be like some day. No one will be able to say, ‘Look at what I did to get here.’ It’s all about setting aside our personal agendas, and these women got that.”
With the success of last season and most of the squad returning in 2011, Johnson predicts more positive results both on and off the court.
“If you watch them, you’ll see that it’s all about the team,” she said. “You won’t see players on the bench sulking if they’re not getting to play. They will be cheering each other on knowing that they are there for a purpose and to help the team as a whole.”
|BRING IT HOME|
Last season, members of the Atlanta Dream achieved great success on the court through selfless play.
By choosing to love and serve their teammates instead of pursuing selfish gain, they experienced a breakthrough season, winning the Eastern Conference Championship and making it all the way to the WNBA Finals.
Did you know, though, that the greatest victory ever achieved through selflessness took place miles away from the athletic arena? It happened in the city of Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, literally gave up His life for the salvation of us all.
Because our sins had created separation between us and Him, God chose to send His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross in order to pay the death penalty our sins demanded (Romans 6:23). After Jesus was sacrificed in our place, He achieved the greatest victory of all by rising to life again three days later and defeating sin and death for good. Now that’s selfless love!
Do you want to be included in that eternal victory, which includes atonement for any and every sin in your life? You can! By believing in Jesus Christ—in His life, death and resurrection—and asking Him to become the Lord of your life, you can receive an invitation to the greatest victory celebration ever, which is continually taking place in Heaven. What’s more is that you will also be able to live out the rest of your days on earth knowing you are at peace with God, loved by Him unconditionally, and covered by every one of His promises outlined in Scripture including salvation, wisdom, hope, peace, joy, and many more.
You don’t have to wait any longer. You can call out to God right now in prayer and ask for His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Then begin living in relationship with Him as Lord and experiencing the most powerful love and victory available!
Visit morethanwinning.org, or call FCA’s National Support Center at 1-800-289-0909.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images