The glory of your child’s bench warming

March 10, 2015

A few years ago, something great happened during basketball season for one of my sons. He sat the bench.

You may be thinking that such news sounds more like a cause for depression than celebration—and at the beginning of that season, my middle school-aged son would have agreed with you. The truth is, I did not want him to want to sit the bench. I wanted him to try with every ounce of his ability to earn a starting position. But, I do want him to know how to be a leader, even when he finds himself—despite his gut-wrenching effort—sitting on the bench.

The reality of the bench

In most of the sports leagues my son played in prior to middle school, the focus was on teaching the fundamentals of the game and giving everyone an opportunity to play. This philosophy, coupled with the fact that he was consistently one of the better players on his teams at that time, meant that he rarely spent much time on the bench. But in sports, as with other areas of life, age brings greater responsibility, accountability and a strong dose of maturing reality. On athletic teams this means, appropriately, a transition from playing time being given to playing time being earned. It also means simply recognizing that God has gifted some people with superior athletic ability.

My son was really excited as team tryouts were announced, he made the team, practices began and the team moved toward the start of the season. He decided he would get up before school in the morning and run two miles on the treadmill to increase his stamina. But when the team began playing games, he rarely got off the bench, and I began to notice his demeanor as he sat on the sidelines. He seemed disinterested and chatty on the bench. He was only engaged and focused on the rare occasion he was put in the game. When he was on the floor, he was loud and fiery, but when he was on the bench, which was most of the time, he rarely left his seat and his posture was relaxed and slouching.

I heard one parent say about their son, who was in a similar situation, “Well, what do you expect when he is sitting the bench? You have to feel sorry for him working so hard and not getting to play in the games.” I didn’t understand that mentality. I was pleased that my son was experiencing bench warming, because it would provide him with the opportunity to learn how to lead when finds himself out of the spotlight. It’s actually the same thing I expect of him when he is a starter: that he would be a leader who uses every ounce of his ability and effort to glorify Jesus Christ. No, I did not feel one bit sorry for him working so hard and not getting to play. The truth is, my son needed to be a role player on that team; and the truth is, most of us end up being role players in life, not stars—or even starters.

The commitment to leadership

One day after a game, I asked my son, “Why aren’t you being a leader on your team?” He glanced up at me with an incredulous expression. Why would I ask that when I had witnessed him sitting the bench the entire game? So, from that point on we developed a strategy on how to lead from the bench. We sought to answer some basic questions: How can you sit the bench in a way that says, I am as committed to the success of the team here as I would be if I were shooting free throws with the game on the line? How can you sit the bench and positively affect the other players on the bench and the players in the game? How can you sit the bench in a way that honors your coach?

Developing our plan began with an honest evaluation of the situation. I asked him, “Do you know why you are not playing in the games very much?” Then I responded, “It is because you are not good enough right now and do not deserve to play very much on this team. Your coach is trying to play the best players to help the team win the games. And that is okay; you can figure out your role and do everything you can to help the team be the best it can be—which is what each player should do anyway.”

I was pleased to see that my son responded well to this honest call to courage and self-sacrifice for the sake of the greater good of his team. The reminder that the team as a whole was more important than any one player and that my son should fulfill his role for the good of the team even if it was not glamorous triumphed over the selfish individualism that had reared its evil head early in the season.

In fact, he was learning about far more than basketball at that point. My son was learning a lesson about pride, grace, temptation and the wiles of the evil one.

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6-7).

Below, I’ve listed the game plan that my son and I created. Perhaps you’ll have a child who will someday be sitting the bench—or perhaps they already are. If so, great! Seize the opportunity for the glory of Christ. Don’t forget that if you prop up the notion that your child’s wants are more important than the good of the team, then do not be surprised when he someday concludes that his wants are more important than the good of his family, his church and everything else.

The game plan for leading from the bench

“So, whether you eat or drink, [sit the bench], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

  1. Make sure your posture communicates that you are engaged. Sit on the edge of your seat.
  2. Be the loudest player on the bench cheering for your team.
  3. Leap from your seat every time your team scores or gets a turnover.
  4. Get out of your seat during timeouts and go out on the court and greet the players who are in the game.
  5. Talk only about the game to your teammates on the bench.
  6. Listen to everything your coach says when he speaks, looking him in the eye.
  7. Be the first one to volunteer if your coach needs something done.
  8. Thank the referees after every game.
  9. When you do get into the game, remember that you may not be the most talented player out there, but you can be the toughest most self-sacrificial player: dive for every loose ball, bang and play tough and never get out hustled.
  10. Make the more talented players better by being tough on them in practice: challenge them, bang on them and make them fight for everything they get. Remember your team spends far more time in practice than games and that you get to be a part of that. Games and championships are won in practice, so your role is vital.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24