Last Friday and Saturday my facebook feed was full of congratulatory responses to students winning end of the year awards. It’s a good reminder of one’s accomplishments that have been recognized by others and took me back down memory lane. Perhaps one of the awards I am most proud of was not awarded to me by my college or seminary but by my middle school volleyball coach.

The daughter of a multi-lettered high school athlete, I inherited my father’s love of playing sports. I fell short of the “natural athlete” gene and realized early on that I would have to work hard to be a good team player. I was elated when I made it on the girls’ volleyball team my eighth grade year. My parents were strict about maintaining good grades while playing sports. That fall semester I earned my best grade point average yet. On the court, I relied on our top players to help me hone in good technique. It was Nancy who taught me the team cheer and how to serve. Heather demonstrated the perfect set. At home and at after school practice, I worked to practice what these more seasoned players had taught me. By the end of the season, I had been moved from the second string to one of the starters and most memorably, I was given the award for the “Most Improved Player.”

As a thirteen-year-old, it was a good lesson for me to learn. With discipline and hard work, improvement can be made. I didn’t do it alone though. It was with the help of my teammates who were willing to coach me along. These are lessons I still take with me in ministry today. There are gifts in ministry that are God given and the tools I received in seminary, but it’s the instruction of my peers in ministry who have taught me how to use them in the real world. Those peers include Tamara who gave me instructions on how to sit on the platform and David who taught me how to slide my manuscript without distraction. There are the countless others who have read through a sermon and offered encouragement. They are all a part of who I am as a minister today.

I believe we should all be making improvements in our role as ministers. Let us not forget that God is always calling us to be who we are and to share from that place with others. Congratulations recent Seminary graduates! As you begin your ministry placements, find your “teammates”, ask for help, and keep sharpening your skills in ministry. As we move forward, perhaps the greatest lesson found on the court and in ministry is that we are never alone.

LeAnn Gunter Johns has served on church staffs in Georgia and California. Now living in Macon, Georgia, she is busy writing, preaching, and enjoying her husband, Barry, and son, Parker.