My childhood was centered around coaches. My dad coached my little league teams and when I entered 7th grade, a retired Marine sergeant was my middle school basketball coach. He terrified us in practice with his gravelly voice and stony scowls. In high school, we were led by young men wanting to prove themselves in their first jobs as head coaches. Practices were long and hard and there was no grace for bad attitudes or smart-alecky comments.
I did not always like my coaches, but I did respect them. They shaped me as a young man, pushing me to my limits at times. They often yelled and hardly ever smiled, even after a win. We learned how to be serious and focused, how to fight through pain. My parents never let me quit a team once the season started. If we joined the team then we finished the season, even if playing time diminished or the coaches yelled too much. There was no quick escape.
Sports was also great fun. It was not all drills and grueling practices. We won a state championship and beat teams much better than us. Celebratory dog piles in the middle of the field and getting “District Champion” letter patches on my jacket are all rewards that were earned.
When I became a young man in the workplace, my coaches were replaced by bosses, who had deadlines and quotas. They spoke directly to me and hardly ever smiled. They pushed me to be serious and focused. Fortunately, the sandlots and hardwoods of my youth prepared me for this rough, new world of work. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to be coachable and teachable in my youth.
This was not true for many of the people I met in ministry and the marketplace. Coaching was tough on them as adults because they had never been challenged as children. They quit easily and complained quickly. Coaching did not feel good to them.
Jesus called together a band of untrained, and sometimes unruly men, who stopped what they were doing and followed him through the hot desert. These men were not ready to take the good news to the world when Jesus first met them, so they needed a coach.
Jesus made them a promise:
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19
They were not fishing for men when he met them. They were fishing for Tilapia. They spoke, acted and emoted like hardworking fishermen, accustomed to long hours in small spaces. Their hands were rough from handling coarse nets and they certainly did not trust outsiders, much less want to give their lives to share good news with them. That would change in just three years, because Jesus was a coach.
He challenged them about their pride. He confronted their greed. He pushed them past their prejudices. He did not tolerate their thin faith.
Jesus was not a drill sergeant or a bully. He was not unkind or rude. He was sometimes angry, but never irate. He did speak directly to the problem, though. He loved his disciples enough to be honest with them. He needed them to grow up and to do better.
We all need a coach, especially ones that love and model Jesus to us. We need people who will confront our pride, our greed, and our self-centeredness We need coaches who will make us better but not let us quit. We need jostling, disruptive language from coaches who care about us.
Ministry life is not easy but it is easy to fall into sloppiness. We need coaches and mentors who will remind us of our mission and point us to a better finishing line.