Despising the Rocket Kid


You can learn a lot from a six-year-old's soccer game.

Though I never participated in organized team sports as a child, just about every kid's in them today. Who wants their kid to be the one sitting at home lamenting that the neighbor kids are all missing, away at baseball games or soccer practice? Plus, as an only child, my son needs the communal aspect of team sports. (Though I agree with Randy Frazee that organized sports for kids are hurting our community in the long run.)

Last Saturday, my son's undefeated Blue Thunder team took on a chief rival, the Red team. Their last meeting wasn't a blowout by any means, but the outcome never lay in doubt. My son's team has two guys who outplay most of the other kids in the league by a large margin. One has superior ball control and the other has a howitzer for a leg. Both have a furious set of wheels. Amazingly, at least at this level of soccer, they pass to each other well, a 1-2 punch that KOs most teams.

Prior to Saturday, the team coach (Howitzer's dad, of course) told me he'd never lost a game, and he intended to keep it that way. That he's ridiculously tough on his son made it hard for me to relate to the guy. Plus, I think kids need to develop the skills to deal with losing rather than developing a win-at-any-cost mentality.

So onto the battlefield these sub-4' titans strode. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 5-1.

But not in our favor.

Seems last time these two teams played, Red's star player, a speed demon, wasn't feeling up to snuff. Here's to the Rocket Kids...But this time, he not only showed up healthy, he'd found another gear. He ran like someone had strapped a rocket to his back.  Our best two players, no slouches in the speed department, got more than their share of good looks at Rocket Kid's cleats.

Rocket Kid lacked the ball control or the leg of our best two guys, but that didn't matter. He blew by our entire team like they were standing in semi-congealed Jell-o. Shellshocked Blue Thunder parents stood on the sidelines shouting hysterically to our team to "Stop that kid!"

The sun shone on Red that day. While our own Howitzer singlehandedly tied it up later on, a ten kid scrum at our end of the field resulted in a dying bird goal against us. No joy in Mudville— six to five.

Coach Never-Lost-A-Game, who at the end of the first quarter boasted a deer in the headlights expression and bits of half-chewed ballcap between his teeth, seemed relieved to have walked away with a one-point loss. He actually had a smile on his face. I liked him more after the game than before. Maybe we all learned something that day.

I say all this to make a point. When you've got a Rocket Kid on your team, all is well with the world. More often than not, you'll win the game. It's a great feeling to know that his effort will no doubt win you the championship.

God's put Rocket Kids in the Church, too. They may not have great ball control or a killer leg, but they're out in front, leading the charge for the rest of the team. More often than not, they score.

But something's strange about the American Church's attitude toward the Rocket Kids who play on our team. Instead of cheering Rocket Kids on, we tend to despise them. We point out their lacks, their faults. Secretly, we may even wish they'd go away for no other reason than they make the rest of us look bad.

We're despising the Rocket Kid.

In the Church, Rocket Kids minister in ways that may make others uncomfortable. Rocket Kids have big ideas that break long-held traditions. Rocket Kids are so far out in front, those of us better labeled "Pedantic Kids" can't understand what they're about. Rocket Kids demolish conventional thinking.Rocket Kids look foreign to us, almost as if they're playing on the wrong team. Rocket Kids bring change, and change makes us feel unprepared, even ignorant.

I don't need a word of knowledge to know that some reading this will immediately fall back into a familiar "He's asking us to endure heretics in our midst."

Here's my simple answer to that.

Let's consider world missions.  The conventional wisdom for years looked like the following:

  • Teach American (or British) missionaries the culture and language of an unreached people group, then plunk them down in the mission field to evangelize those people.

But at some point in time, a Rocket Kid thought this:

  • Bring a Christian who speaks his unreached people group's native tongue (and understands the global language of English) to the United States for training, then send him back to evangelize his own people.

Now I don't have a Wayback Machine to whisk me to the seminary classroom where the Rocket Kid behind that idea first proposed it. However, I can imagine what the rest of the class thought: they despised the Rocket Kid and his crummy idea.

No doctrine lay mangled on the theological floor as a result of that Rocket Kid's paradigm-shifting idea, though. But he suffered for it, I'm certain. Chances are, that change in missiology may have even shattered ideas of racial superiority within some sectors of the Church. Today, you won't find a missiologist worth his salt who would support the first proposition over the second.

We've got to stop reflexively busting the the chops of Rocket Kids in our churches. Just because we're staring at their backs as they press on ahead of us doesn't mean we shoot them so we can catch up.

Sometimes I wonder if we Evangelicals are like the oppressive government Handicapper General in Kurt Vonnegut's extraordinary story from 1961, "Harrison Bergeron."  (It's worth reading the story—it's brief.) We want status quo and lowest common denominator rather than Rocket Kid concepts. Rocket Kids blow past us with big ideas and paradigm-busting practices, and we're too busy, shotguns blazing, to discern the Holy Spirit speaking truth to us.

Rocket Kids walk into gay bars to minister to the lost people there. Rocket Kids question economic injustices perpetrated on the poorest of us. Rocket Kids take unpopular stands against the status quo. Rocket Kids see the flower growing in the crack in the sidewalk that others miss. Rocket Kids believe that Christ bids us come and die, and they walk out that death daily, no matter what other people think.  Rocket Kids are misunderstood, opposed, and hated in their time, sometimes even by "The Church," but go on to be enshrined in the pantheon of Christian greats.

How much would it cost us to listen to our Rocket Kids, even if we don't understand them, to see if what they might have to say is worthwhile? What if we drew alongside that Rocket Kid, much like Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos under wing, and helped him or her fuel the rocket? Are we more afraid that someone might leave us—pedantic and ordinary as we are—in the dust? Perhaps we're still standing on the sidelines yelling, "Stop that kid!"

God forbid that I should hold anyone back. I don't want to see the Church despise and stifle Rocket Kids. I want to engage Rocket Kid ideas and see if God is speaking truth to me through them.

More than anything, I'm glad we've got Christian Rocket Kids on our side. The worldly have their own Rocket Kids, so we need to treasure and encourage ours to the glory of Jesus Christ. Because, in the end, Jesus Christ made Rocket Kids for a reason.

23 thoughts on “Despising the Rocket Kid

  1. Mike

    “Just because we’re staring at their backs as they press on ahead of us doesn’t mean we shoot them so we can catch up” So true.

    Good insights. I heard a speaker last year talk about a man who went on a missions trip to a South American country (forget which one) and did nothing for a year but listen to people. He listened on the streets, in the bars, on the trains. Wherever people would talk he would listen. People at his home church thought he was nuts, but now he’s pastoring one of the largest churches in that country.

    Where the Spirit leads, follow.

  2. Wow, thank you so much for this!

    There have been times – in fact, yesterday was the most recent incident – when a Christian friend has told me that my “strong faith intimidates everyone.” (Although I know even now my faith is probably not even mustard-seed sized!) She tlls me “people need Jesus with skin on” as opposed to the apparently impossible things I talk about. It caused me to seriously step back and ponder if I was doing the correct thing by pursuing God wiht my whole being. (I told you my faith isn’t even mustardseed sized!) I was shaken until I once again realized the truth.

    So thank you, your post jsut reinforced the lessons God has been teaching me last night and today. I hope I did not come accross as prideful in this comment, if so feel free to rebuke me. I only intended to share what a blessing your message has been. The Lord bless you!


      • Francisco

        well, and true is also that some of us might step back for fear of being labeled ‘fake’ or ‘religious’. I got one roommate who smiles when someone labels him as ‘religious’. The other despises such label. I don’t get it.

  3. Ekval

    Great post Dan. As a former high school basketball coach, I can definitely tell you that bringing down the Rocket Kid is the game for many kids, I mean kids on RK’s team.

    As to the second part of the article, I think we have a problem on both sides. Some think that the latest Rocket Kid can do no wrong, while others do as you say, and pooh-pooh any ideas that show any sort of change.

    I would say that a prime example of this Rocket Kid thing in today’s church is Mark Driscoll. I mean, there could be entire blogs devoted to arguing solely about him and his ministry. Even people on his own team (Reformed) seem to want to bring him down or at the very least nitpick while he is actually out there doing something.

    Anyway, is awesome to have you back Dan!

    • Ekval,

      No doubt. There are some Rocket Kids out there who will burn out, along with their followers. In many cases, that’s because they never got the right influences. Remember that Apollos was on the right track, but Priscilla and Aquila knew he needed some good mentoring. Those Rocket Kids who deviate from the path never got that kind of support from us.

  4. Dee

    “Bring a Christian who speaks his unreached people group’s native tongue (and understands the global language of English) to the United States for training, then send him back to evangelize his own people.”

    Didn’t God have this idea first? It happened at Pentecost when folks from around the world heard the Gospel in their own languages and took that message with them on their return journeys.

    Good post, Dan. Welcome back!

  5. Dee

    Dan, I just sent an email to the address at the top of this page and to one other address I have for you. Both were returned. Are you experiencing technical difficulties?

    • Dee,

      Since I have my own domain names, I’m subject to domain name hijacking by e-mail spammers. They take my domain names and tack a fake address on the front. Then they mail out the spam. My domain winds up being blacklisted at some ISPs as a result. Not only that, but I wind up getting all the bounced spam whenever the mailer daemon at another ISP doesn’t have the intended spam recipient at that address anymore.

      No one seems to have an answer for this. It’s just another reason to hate spammers. Contact your ISP and tell them that neither of the domains is a spam domain and then maybe they’ll take them off their blacklist.


  6. I’d be curious to hear you elaborate on your comment, “I agree with Randy Frazee that organized sports for kids are hurting our community in the long run” ?

    • Amy,

      Frazee’s points:

      1. Kids used to spontaneously play together. Now, too much of their play time is scheduled and organized.
      2. Spontaneous play encourages community to form organically.
      3. Spontaneous play requires no scheduling nightmares for parents.
      4. Spontaneous play doesn’t require time spent driving from home to practice or games.
      5. Spontaneous play costs less, so parents don’t have to work extended hours to pay for more expensive organized sports costs.
      6. Spontaneous play draws on the imagination of children.
      7. Spontaneous play doesn’t involve a “win-at-all-cost” mentality that tends toward Darwin’s survival of the fittest, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

      Those are all compelling observations, and I would agree. My brothers and I never participated in organized sports, but we played for hours on end with the rest of the kids in our neighborhoods in spontaneous play. Nowadays, kids are so run around going from one organized event to another that we’re seeing burnout in kids as young as five. Not only that, but the neighborhood suffers for all the reasons above.

      I don’t think Frazee’s perfect on this, though. There aren’t too many kids in what comprises our neighborhood, unlike in the suburbs, so our son may very well benefit from organized sports since he doesn’t have a ton of other kids around, nor do we live in a cul-de-sac with fifty houses on it. Still, his principles in this are sound, and I agree with them in theory.

      • Francisco

        Perhaps I met one of those win-it-at-any-cost kids last friday playing ultimate frisbee. Honestly this kid was becoming a little bit annoying. And she even hit my wrist to make me drop the frisbee. Sigh…at the end of the game she said she was sorry to be ‘too competitive’…..Needless to say my team lost.

        Whatever happened to ultimate-frisbee-just-for-fun? Will the age of organized sports take the fun out of all what is left around?

  7. I think that organized sports and rocket kids in the church are related in a different way….I was like you and shunned the organized sport-thing because I hated the whole culture around it. Yet now, I see it as an established part of our culture that we need to embrace for the sake of the Gospel. That is, instead of avoiding it like a gay bar (am I being extreme?), we need to have our kids be involved and learn how to interact with moody coaches, love the bratty kids, and even learn humility while sitting on the bench. My children have learned to overcome fear and intimidation, as well as endurance and patience. Also if my kids can learn the basics of basketball or soccer–an international sport–it may open doors later for them in life to share the Gospel.

    Those are the things that have been motivating me. And have you noticed how many people are so into these sports? Saturday morning is a great time to be missional in your community by having some conversations with those parents sitting around you at the game or at practice.

  8. Dan Edelen.

    A few thoughts and comments on “Rocket Kid” and the soccer analogy. Isn’t it the opposing side that screams “stop that kid”? Do you not find that in the vast majority of cases the “rocket kids” within a local church or congregation are greatly appreciated and many people draw near to and encourage and appreciate such a person rather than criticize them?

    I think what would have been a greater shame was if Rocket Kid (RK) fellow players on the same team (or their parents) started thinking RK was taking all the limelight and showing up his team mates as well as the opposing team. I believe this is the point you are making- that we the members on the same team as RK must see him as the one who will lead us to the trophy.

    I would add that the (adult and mature) RK also has a responsibility to act as a team player, to encourage those less skillful, energetic and enthusiastic than him/her with patience, humility and love. And here is my own brief analogy. The Ghana national soccer team qualified for the 2006 world cup for the first time after 40 years of trying using a team without any outstanding rocket kids. In previous years when we had “rocket kids we failed to qualify; better analysts than I have suggested that it was because our “rocket kids of that time were not team players.

    The most successful soccer teams are the ones where the rocket kid has brought everyone almost near to his own level such that even though he is still noticeable, the team plays as a unit and can win without him or on his off day. The great German and Italian national soccer teams come to mind. The rocket kid in the Church bears similar responsibility to lead and encourage and above all to keep the Body united in purpose.

    By the way, always nice to see the North American take on a soccer game “a ten kid scrum at our end of the field 😉


  9. Excellent Post Dan,
    I am blessed to have a Pastor and Ass’t Pastor (husband/wife team) who are “Rocket Kids.” There are times it is hard on those of us known as Senior Citizens, but when we truly listen to the Holy Spirit and get under them in our prayers, love, and involvement in ministry — wonderful things happen. I am watching it and enjoying the newness. The revival so many of our churches need are waiting for such “rocket kids.” May the church of the 21st century be one who encourages such people.
    Again, thanks.

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  11. bob

    A good metaphor but rocket kid still needs a great deal of expert and wise support from Mission Control. You’ve blogged often about the rise and implementation of ideas that didn’t hold up. One example: we’re tired of liturgy and autopliot, we get contemporary p & w. Now that’s empty and formulamatic, the old liturgy is better. * sigh *

    Never throw a bucket of water on rocketkid but steer his trajectory. My radical idea is asking God what He wants.

    (interesting photo, alas, the moon shouldn’t be there. A full moon never rises or sets in a sky like that.)

  12. Hebrews 11:37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

    Yeah, rocket kids.

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