Thursday, November 3, 2005

Scrum Half, An Apostolic Pneumetaphor

Growing up, I have had the opportunity to watch my Father in a strange array of circumstances where he was forced to deal with a large cross-section of people. As General Superintendent of our denomination my Father has served as a bridge between blue collar ministries and white collar beneficiaries, new Charismatics and old-time Pentecostals, important political figures and common Canadians, the rich and the poor, the voiceless and those who proclaim, and one or two other dozen such antithetical pairs.

While the Bible originally uses the term apostolos to refer to the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus, that term is expanded beginning in Acts chapter 8 to include other emerging leaders.[1] This term, meaning “one who is sent forth with authority[2]” designates the principal leaders of the Early Church in their efforts as church planters, overseers, missionaries, spiritual fathers, and leaders. Weston describes the Apostle as one with the “supernatural Ascension Gift differing from the 12 apostles [pre-Ascension] that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to assume and exercise general leadership over and equipping the church with an extraordinary authority in spiritual matters.”[3] In our present context, such authority is manifested primarily to start new churches or establish order in existing churches and/or denominations and/or parachurch organizations. Certainly a new worldview requires new methods and metaphors for times of social turbulence. Such leadership is identified by theologian Walter Brueggemann as a reformulation “of faith in radical ways in the midst of a community that has to begin again”[4] and he continues to make the point that “what must survive is not simply the physical community…but an alternative community with an alternative memory and an alternative social perception.”[5]

The office of the apostle is frequently misunderstood and equally abused. For many years Evangelicals have shied from the term, believing that the office was no longer required; yet, the text of Ephesians 4 identifies the timeline of these Ascension Gifts extending “until” the church comes to unity and maturity. Anyone who has seen – for even one moment – the inner workings of a local church in North America knows that this reality eludes us for the present; such that our need for apostolic ministry endures. Indeed the Apostle Paul is listed as the first post-Ascension apostle and though he considers himself “born out of due season”[6] still maintains that his apostleship is in no way subservient or inferior to that of the original Disciples.[7] Paul used his Apostolic Leadership to “send” and “leave” and “persuade” and “encourage”[8] his workers to do certain things for the Gospel, but he did “leave it to their knowing the will of the Lord”[9] and never exercised any dictatorial authority, choosing instead to operate as a spiritual influencer.

Jesus Himself was the proto-Apostle, the first sent one[10], and He models for the disciples what it means to represent the Father and fulfill His purposes. Jesus is conscious that He “bears the exousia[11] of God as God’s representative to fulfill His eschatological will on earth”[12] which Jesus personally passes on to the Twelve[13] and then later the Seventy.[14] It was precisely because of the close connection to Jesus that the disciples were identified as leaders after the Ascension, Paul also made an early claim to Apostleship based on his theophany on the Damascus road, but later the proof of his Apostolic appointment is defended by his calling, not his visions, the exousia the Lord gave him for building up the church, and his competence to be a minister of the new covenant.[15] This informs us that the proof of any claim to apostleship[16] in the present day is demonstrated by the quality of the ministry. I mentioned earlier that the office of the Apostle is frequently misunderstood and misused today, wherein we see many examples of self-proclaimed Apostles without credibility – not the least of which was the punch-drunk amateur boxer who recently arrived at our Sunday morning service and announced to the pastors that he was here to discipline us when we were disobedient. As a result, I feel strongly that any would-be apostles should be made aware of the qualifications for office[17]. Among these being:
1. the character qualifications of an Elder[18]
2. a servant spirit[19]
3. spiritual authority[20]
4. spiritual paternity[21]
5. sound doctrine[22]
6. exemplary leadership[23]
7. manifestation of divine love[24]

I have also found it useful to direct those claiming Apostleship to take a spiritual gifts inventory test. Curiously, no one who ever arrived and promoted themselves as an apostle has yet been willing to take an inventory exam, most having been offended at the notion that their apostleship is in doubt. This is always the first of many bad signs of things to come.[25]

When writing about Leonardo Da Vinci’s Seven Governing Principles for Life and Thought, author Michael J. Gelb interestingly noted kinesthesia, the sense of your weight, position, and movement, as being the most difficult for many leaders to achieve.[27] In choosing the Scrum Half as our pneumetaphor for apostolic leadership, I hope to press us into the kinesthetic realm lead by our imagination. There are six crossover points that I believe keep the pneumetaphor true, and some knowledge of the sport of rugby may serve to contextualize what is being said, though I have endeavored to include the essentials within the body of text.

The apostle/scrum half connects the forwards and backs
Rugby is played with 15 players per side. Each team is divided up into squads while on the pitch, or field. There is a “forward” squad and a “back” squad, and two players known as “half-backs.” The scum half, rugby’s closest equivalent to a quarterback in American Football, is one of the two half-backs and is primarily in charge of getting the ball from the forwards – the tough, direct, aggressive players who “win” the ball in set pieces [i.e. when the ball goes out of bounds or an infraction is committed] – to the backs – the swift, lean, clever players who exploit space and create dazzling opportunity. Typically, the ball is won into play by the forwards and secured by the scrum half [no.9], who then opts to either run/kick/or pass the ball to the fly-half [the other “half-back”, no.10] or directly to the backs. See Figure 1 for a visual of how teams are laid out.

As in many sports, there exists a natural division between the forwards and the backs both on and off the rugby pitch. Forwards tend to be thought of as mindless, having more braun than brain, and backs tend to be thought of as glamour-seeking frat boys. Teams that excel are teams that can bridge this division effectively. That unity is the job of the scrum half.
So it is with the church. Division exists everywhere. Denominations tend to divide, more than gather, believers; theological issues and musical preference divide; political preference and the stand of the church on any number of moral or ethical issues pull us away from one another and into smaller and smaller clusters and sub-divisions. It is the task of the apostle/scum half to unite the team. That unity must then be motivated towards both an offensive and defense game plant. This is the task of the scrum half,[28] the leader, the one sent by the coach with authority.

The apostle/scrum half plays offense and defense
Rugby is an iron man sport. There is only one time-out for the entire match per side, substitutions are only permitted three times and/or in the event of injury, and everyone plays defense. Tackling, then, is a must-have skill for any player and for any apostle/scrum half.

Every player on the rugby pitch is considered “responsible” for the person directly across from them. If that person, usually the opposite number[30] on the other team, gets the ball and makes a run it is our man’s job to tackle. We “attack with the ‘soul’ in hand”, advancing upon the network of friends and relationships the believer has in an effort to connect more people more meaningfully with Jesus Christ. We make “keeping possession difficult” for our opposition by applying power and pressure.

The apostle/scrum half must know how to run, kick, and pass
Rudy Giuliani, a man I have come to greatly respect as a leader, said that the trickiest part of leadership “is working out not what, but when.”[32] Not only must the apostle/scrum half know how to run, kick, and pass; but s/he must know when to kick, or run, or pass. This is no easy decision: a wrongly timed kick could cost our team possession and we might spend the rest of the game trying to get it back. Similarly, a scrum half who always runs the ball his/herself isolates the rest of the team and robs the other players of the chance to shine and contribute their own unique blend of tricks and skills. Leaders, then, in this new world must “find a balance between speed and deliberation”[33]; they must know when to do what and how to execute it. In fact, in almost every rugby game there is a moment when someone other than the scrum half must fulfill the duties of no.9 temporarily, and that is a signal to the opposing side to attack harder and play more aggressively. When the fly half or the hooker, for example, are forced to win the ball from the [other] forwards, everyone gets out of position, poor decisions are made, and chaos results.

The apostle/scrum half must know how to take a hit
The scrum half is never an especially big player. Take George Gregan for example, scrum half for the Australian Wallabys[34] and commonly considered to be the greatest scrum half in the game today. Gregan stands at a modest 5’6” and weighs only 176lbs,[35] yet proves game after game that the scrum half is the most punished player in any sport. Scum halfs are wildly catalytic and incredibly tough, a necessity since they lack the front line offensive line of an NFL team for protection. Still, a good apostle/scrum half has got to take a hit and get right back up with fire in their eyes. This kind of tenacity is honored by Giuliani, who notes that “being decent is not the same thing as being weak”[36], and the good apostle/scrum half knows how to be strong and fierce within the construct of the game.

The apostle/scrum half has to be able to kick with both feet and pass with both hands
Depending on where the defense is positioned, the scrum half must exploit weaknesses and opportunities. Because of the body position required to execute a spin pass, passing with only one side of the body is not an option; in fact, most scrum halfs spend the majority of any game passing to their weak side, a strategy employed by the defenders to make the opposing offense less effective. By learning to pass and to kick in both directions, the apostle/scrum half keeps the defense guessing and minimizes the threat of a compromised offense for his/her own team.

In ministry, we are rarely able to only do those things we do best. Leaders must be able to perform a series of functions, not just one or two, and when our most promising gifts prove to be of no value to us, we must be able to execute an alternative strategy based on contingency plans. If we can’t pass, then kick; if we can’t kick left, kick right; if we can’t pass or kick – run!

The apostle/scrum half is often overlooked in favor of the fly half
While the scrum half spends most of his/her time in digging the ball out of rucks[37], mauls[38], and scrums[39] and providing it for the backs, the fly half is usually situated slightly back and to one side in order to better view the entire field. The fly half is rarely involved in set pieces, or in producing the ball from the forwards, and as a result is able to retain more energy for a quicker offensive strike or classically executed play.

Because the fly half endures so much less contact than the scrum half, and because of the close positioning of the fly half to the back line, the fly half tends to score many more points than the scrum half. In particular, fly halfs are much more prone to kicking for points via a drop goal[40] than scrum halfs and so attract a lot of attention to their offensive flare. So it is with apostles.

True apostles are often grinding out the work of the ministry, fighting for every extra few yards down the fields of harvest, while flashy ministries and cool young men and women are able to be promoted among denominational lines as “rising stars” or the “next great hope.” This was true for Paul when he and Barnabas separated over the issue of John Mark[41] and it is still true today. Unfortunately, there are also instances of apostle/scum halfs who refuse to play with anyone else in order to protect themselves from being in another’s shadow; but, being eclipsed is part of ministry – we are all supposed to be eclipsed by Jesus! – being diminished is a reality that every apostle has to contend with.

[1] Paul and Barnabas [Acts 14.4, 14], Jesus’ brother James’ [Galatians 1.19], Apollos [1 Corinthians 4.9], Silas [1 Thessalonians 2.7], and Andronicus and Junias [Romans 16.7]. As referenced in Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 33.
[2] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 652.
[3] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 33.
[4] Walter Brueggemen, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1997), 108.
[5] Walter Brueggemen, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1997), 108.
[6] 1 Corinthians 15.5, 8 KJV.
[7] Cf. 2 Corinthians 11.15; 12.11,12
[8] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 149.
[9] Ibid.
[10] cf. John 3.17, John 5.36-38, Hebrews 3.1, Colossians 1.18,19
[11] lit. “the power of rule or government.” Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 1849.
[12] P.W. Barnett, "Apostle," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 1993 ed.
[13] Mark 3.13-15
[14] mark 6.7-13
[15] Cf. P.W. Barnett, "Apostle," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 1993 ed.
[16] Paul’s Apostleship is elsewhere validated through miraculous signs and wonders [Acts 14.27, 15.3-12, 2 Corinthians 12.12], his suffering for being an apostle [2 Corinthians 11-12], and his experiences of revelation [1 Corinthians 9.1,2; 15.9].
[17] taken from Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 148-150.
[18] Apostles are Elders, though not all Elders are Apostles. Cf. 1 Peter 5.1-5; 1 John 1.1; 3 John 1; Acts 1.15-16, 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1.
[19] Paul, James, Peter and John all spoke of themselves as “slaves of Jesus Christ.” Cf. Titus 1.1; Phillipians 1.1, Romans 1.1, James 1.1, 2 Peter 1.1, Revelation 1.1.
[20] As with Jesus, they have authority because they are under authority. Such authority was chiefly used for edification. Cf. 2 Corinthians 1.24, 10.8; 1 Peter 5.1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8; Luke 22.24-27; 1 Corinthians 4.21; 2 Corinthians 13.2, 10. As noted in Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 149.
[21] 2 Corinthians 4.15b “I became your father.”
[22] Cf. Acts 2.42
[23] Cf. 2 Corinthians 6.3-10
[24] Cf. 2 Corinthians 12.15
[25] see Appendix A for an abbreviated version of Weston’s Spiritual Gifts Inventory test dealing with only the Ephesians 4 Ascension Gifts. For a full version see Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996).
[26] I had originally thought to use the NFL Quarterback as the pneumetaphor for an apostle, due primarily to the importance of a Quarterback to a team and the familiarity of both the position and the sport to a North American audience. Ultimately, though, I arrived at the conclusion that Quarterback was an insufficient pneumetaphor – and, because of the increasing popularity of Rugby in North American {it remains the second most-watched sport in all the world, next to European Football} began to see the greater potential of the Scrum Half pneumetaphor as it relates to the biblical office of an apostle. I favor Scrum Half over Quarterback in this context because: [1] a Scrum Half is always on the field, [2] there are no pads to protect the Scrum Half, [3] there are no technological aids permitted on the Rugby pitch, as opposed to the devices implanted into professional Quarterback’s helmets for aided communication with the coach, [4] a Scrum Half has to be able to kick as well as pass and run, [5] every Scrum Half leaves every Rugby match as the least protected/most afflicted player, whereas a Quarterback is often protected by the front line, and [6] a Scrum Half must “dig the ball out” of the scrum, whereas a Quarterback has the ball “snapped” back from the Center.
[27] Michael J. Gelb, How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci. (New York: Delta, 1998), 199.
[28] In international play, the scrum half must be considered the captain of the team.
[29] Tony Biscombe and Peter Drewett, Rugby: Steps to Success. (Champaign: Human Kinetics, 1998), 4.
[30] In rugby everyone who plays a particular position wears the same number. A scrum half is #9, hooker #2, full back #15, etc… The University of South Carolina has a great web site devoted to beginner understanding of the game
[31] Tony Biscombe and Peter Drewett, Rugby: Steps to Success. (Champaign: Human Kinetics, 1998), 144.
[32] Rudy Giuliani, Leadership. (New York: Hyperion, 2002), 123.
[33] Rudy Giuliani, Leadership. (New York: Hyperion, 2002), 143.
[34] aka the Australian National Rugby Union Team that competes internationally
[35] Compare to Drew Bledsoe at 6’5” and 238lbs, or Brett Favre at 6’2” and 224lbs.
[36] Rudy Giuliani, Leadership. (New York: Hyperion, 2002), 269.
[37] A ruck is formed when a player is tackled and the other players fight overtop of the player on the ground for possession of the ball.
[38] A maul is formed when a player with the ball runs into an opposing player and keeps his/her feet, thus forming a struggle of two or more players who compete for possession while standing.
[39] A scrum is the rugby equivalent of a tip-off in basketball, or – more accurately – a free kick in soccer. Forwards from both sides collide in a diamond shaped formation while each team’s hooker fights with his/her feet for the ball that one of the scrum halfs puts into the center of the scrum.
[40] In rugby, the ball may be kicked through the uprights at any point in the game for 3pts. without a stoppage of play. Such kicks are made on the fly, often in the middle of a flat run or as the end maneuver in a play. These drop goals must be first dropped on the ground, then – on the bounce up – kicked for points.
[41] Acts 15.37,38

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