The Joy of Competition

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air” – 1 Corinthians 9.24-26

Over the past several months I have watched my wife fall in love with the sport of swimming again.  To swim at the University of Minnesota she had to have passion for the sport but we graduated college a while ago.  While we were out in California she joined an adult swim team and enjoyed swimming under the sun most mornings.  After moving back to Minnesota that experience was no longer available.  (Something about swimming outside in -17 degrees doesn’t work well.)  Back in May, she was hired as an assistant swim coach for the Lake Superior Swim Club.  I now live with Coach Knabe and I love hearing her talk about the ways she is coaching her athletes to help them succeed at their goals.  I always think it a bit odd that she doesn’t wear a swim suit to practice as every wrestling coach I’ve had always was on the mat with us.  That said, the way one coaches swimming is not by being in the water, she has to do it from the pool deck.  She has to create a framework for them to learn without her ever getting in the water.

The framework the athletes work within dramatically affected the outcomes.  I think this holds true in the church also.  The framework we work within affects the outcome.  From my experience working in six different congregations, a common framework in the church is that of pastor as performer.  The pastor is paid to perform sermons and religious stuff while the congregation watches passively.  Unfortunately, many pastors are content with this arrangement because it always ensures them a paycheck.  It helps them feel needed and valuable.

The biggest problem is that this perspective leads in the opposite direction of the protestant principle “priesthood of all believers”.  A better framework would be that Christ is the head coach, pastors are assistant coaches (or maybe waterboys), and the congregation is the athletes on the field or in the pool.  Finally, God is the spectator.  The head coach sets the tone and guides the big picture.  Assistant coaches work with individual athletes to ensure they are playing in the best way possible whatever their position may be. 

How does this perspective shift change things?  One, instead of pastors and church staff being the performers we watch, they become assistant coaches working for the success of the team.  Second, congregation members change from being passive observers, at best, or armchair quarterbacks, at worst, to being athletes competing to the glory of God. These athletes look for coaching.  We are reminded that we are all following our great Head Coach who has created a team ethos that will transform the world. 

Just as Lindsay was once an athlete being coached, she has now matured to being a coach.  This is the role of disciples within a congregation.  I pray that we may all continue being coached so that we can be Christ’s assistant coaches to those who desire to join this transformative team!

Christ’s Service,

Pastor Jeremiah