Becoming a Player

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, July 25, 2016

Becoming a Player

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Many years ago, when my oldest daughter Rebecca was only four, she informed my wife that when she grew up, she was going to be a farmer.

My wife replied, “That’s nice, dear.”

“Yep,” Rebecca continued, “when I grow up, I’m gonna be a farmer, and I’m gonna marry Daddy!”

Then Susan asked, “But if you grow up and become a farmer and marry Daddy, what will Mommy do?”

Rebecca pondered that seriously for a moment or two, then she brightened up and said, “You can be our cow!”

All of us have different dreams, different ideas of what we want our lives to be like. And for most of us, there is a common denominator:

We want to make a difference.

We want our lives to stand out and to count for something. We know we are players in a game, and we don’t want to be sitting on the bench.

Making a difference matters – not just in terms of personal fulfillment, but also with regard to spiritual development. And the heart of difference-making is the giving away of yourself, the investing of yourself. According to the math of spirituality, the more you give, the more you receive.

This is why Jesus was simultaneously the most influential figure in all of human history and the ultimate model of spiritual living. For He “did not come to be served, but to serve,” and to give His life away (Mark 10:45).

So how does this actually work? In four ways:

1. Serving Others Gets You into Spiritual Shape

It’s how you get a spiritual workout. When you serve, you build up your faith. Think about how it works with your body: when you lift weights, you increase the levels of contractile proteins and connective tissue in the muscles you exercise, making those muscles bigger than they were before.

Your spiritual life works that way when it comes to serving, because it is through serving that you give your faith the necessary workout it needs to grow strong. If you’re not serving, your spiritual life will be weak, flabby and undeveloped.

2. Serving Others Gets You into the Game

It’s the way you become a player and get involved in what God is doing in the world. This is one of our chief purposes in life, for the Bible says: “God made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that He has prepared for us to do” (Eph. 2:10 GW).

You were created to take who God made you to be and put yourself into play. And following that purpose will put more gas into your spiritual tank than you could possibly imagine. Think about it:

Are you more passionate about something you’re involved in or something you just watch from a distance? When you get off the sidelines and become a player for God, what God is doing becomes a lot more important to you.

3. Serving Others Lets You Make a Difference

Serving others enables you to make a difference in this world: to do something more than just making money, or putting together a business deal, or buying a dream home, or taking a vacation.

We want our lives to count. We want to do something with our lives that will matter. And there’s only one way for that to happen:

To make the investment of service.

And once you do, make no mistake, you will taste what making a difference is all about. All you have to do is see one changed life, hear one “thank you”, see one brief glimpse of impact from some act of service that you’ve done, and your life will never be the same.

Then you’ll see things from a different vantage point – a little higher, a little more eternal. And you’ll say, “Most of the stuff I’ve done with my life won’t add up to much, but this, this will live on. This mattered. This made a difference.” And it doesn’t get much better than that.

4. Serving Others Amplifies Your Impact

Throughout his presidency of the United States, Ronald Reagan kept a sign on his desk that said, “It’s amazing how much you can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Making a difference does not always mean taking center stage. Serving enables something to take place because you supported it and helped make it happen.

During one of his television performances, the famous orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein was asked by an admirer, “Mr. Bernstein, what is the most difficult instrument to play?”

He responded quickly: “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

True servanthood is what allows you to make a strategic difference.

And this life of service to others is a high calling.

James Emery White


Story about Leonard Bernstein was adapted from Charles Swindoll, Improving Your Serve.

Adapted from James Emery White, You Can Experience a Spiritual Life (Word Publishing). Available on Amazon.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.