The Superstar Syndrome

Leadership Lessons I Learned on the Volleyball Court

In my younger days I used to be a rather good volleyball player, and it was always fun showing off my abilities at our church outings.

Many of those who played volleyball at our church picnics simply weren’t very good. On every team would be several uncoordinated players who frequently missed the ball or hit it in the wrong direction.

Not only did I like to show off my volleyball prowess, I also liked to win. If I was in the vicinity of weaker members of the team, I felt obligated to help them play their position. When the ball was hit their way, I was there to give assistance in case they missed it.

Inevitably, I ended up covering a lot of ground on the volleyball court, helping my less-competent friends in every way possible. Usually they didn’t seem to mind too much, since I was saving them the embarrassment of making a fool out of themselves.

Yet as I went up and back and from side to side, covering for the weaker team members, there often was a troubling result. The ball would drop—you guessed it—right in the position I myself was assigned to cover!

At the time, I really didn’t think much about the problem of volleyballs dropping where I was supposed to be. After all, I was making some pretty sensational shots while guarding everyone else’s position.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized my tendency to do exactly the same thing in my role as a church leader. I saw myself as strong, and I was desirous of helping my “weaker” brothers and sisters with their assigned tasks. If there were “holes to plug” in the church, I would generally take care of them myself instead of waiting for the people who were assigned to the jobs.

The result of this codependent tendency was often similar to my experience on the volleyball court. Although I covered a considerable amount of territory trying to plug the holes left by those who missed their assignments, I frequently found that the “ball” dropped right in the position I myself was supposed to be handling. Again, I was so busy filling everyone else’s job that I didn’t satisfactorily fill my own!

I began to understand the predicament of the maiden in the Song of Solomon, who complained that she had been so busy taking care of other people’s vineyards that she neglected her own responsibilities (Song 1:6). While I originally figured God would be impressed that I covered so many gaps in the church, I now am struck by the reality that He will primarily hold me accountable for whether I fulfill my own appointed role.

It’s interesting to note that a unified team of ordinary players will often be able to beat even an all-star team. The synergy created when players know how to work together harmoniously is sufficient to defeat a team of all-stars who each are more intent on their own success than on the success of the team.

The Bible is filled with stories of leaders who struggled with these issues. Moses had to be told by his father-in-law Jethro to delegate some of his responsibilities in problem-solving for the Israelites (Exodus 18:13-27). King Saul angered God by impatiently usurping the role of Samuel, the prophet (1 Samuel 13:7-14). And the apostles wisely recognized that their highest priority should be giving themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” rather than overseeing the distribution of food to needy widows (Acts 6:1-7).

What about you? Have you found and focused on your God-given role? Or are you trying to be a superstar, unable to work together with the rest of the team? Remember: If you spend your time doing the job of others, you’re likely to find that your own job is soon neglected.