True sports fans, I have a lesson on coaching and mentoring. What’s a true sports fan? Do you know what sabermetrics are? Do you know what a perfect QBR is (158.3) and why the system is flawed? Who did Brett Favre throw his first completion to? (himself) Bonus- did you know how to spell Favre? And have you spent more than a passing thought about how you could design a better college football playoff system? If you can correctly answer the above, you, my friend, are a true sports fan.
Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks (that’s American football, for the rest of you), in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, was asked a few questions about his team and his style of coaching. I thought his answers were incredible. They asked him about how he was able to get his players to play for him with such abandon- to be so bought in to the system. His reply was that they set out to evaluate talent, maximize strengths rather than focus on weaknesses, and build their gameplan around the players. There was no “system” to box them into.
This is next level coaching. It goes beyond the generic “same size fits all” mentality that most bring to the game. The “my way is the best way and my scheme is the only scheme that I can teach” idea. And the same is absolutely true about how we approach discipleship and mentoring. So today, I want us to talk about that a little bit.
The other question I thought he answered amazingly well was about their usually self-promoting cornerback, Richard Sherman’s, comment that their media-avoiding, Skittles-eating running back, Marshawn Lynch, was the heart of the Seahawks team. Carroll replied that Sherman has grown and matured over the last year. People know him and know his talent, so he doesn’t feel the need to promote himself anymore. He’s leading now by pointing out the strengths in others instead of himself.
And again, I thought… man, we could learn a lot from this. How much time do we spend promoting our own agenda versus actively pointing out the best in others around us? Do we elevate people or do we mitigate them?
But here is where I make my first apology of the day. Those of you who know me well know that I often do or say things with a hidden agenda or message in mind. And so, I’ll confess that I baited you a little just now.
How did you all feel when I mentioned “true sports fan” and then proceeded to give you my own criterion for what makes a true sports fan? Do any of you consider yourself a sports fan and didn’t meet my standards? Maybe your interest level is simply lower than mine. Maybe your mind doesn’t retain a plethora of useless information like mine does. Or maybe you could teach me a thing or two about how much better Bayern Munich is than Hamberg, or the proper dive technique from a 25m platform. I just didn’t hit the sports you were interested in. And so what I just did was marginalize you by telling you if you weren’t doing it a particular way, you weren’t doing it right.
Apology number two: To those of you who aren’t sports fans in any way, and are perfectly happy with that, I’m sorry to have used so many sports analogies on you just now. I hope you got the points I was trying to get across. Not having an interest in sports is perfectly acceptable. But that’s the big difference between sports and discipleship. Not having an interest in discipling and mentoring… not acceptable by any biblical standards.
All authority has been given to me, and so I charge you that as you are going, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And remember that I am always with you. (Matthew 28:18-20, paraphrased)
Here we have, not a flawed human perspective on an earthly occurrence. Here we have a perfect perspective on a spiritual mandate. Make disciples along the way. Baptize them. Teach them to obey me in the same way that I taught you. As you are going.
If we’re to teach obedience in the same way Jesus did, it would be a good starting point to understand how Jesus taught. Without spending too much time here, we know from scripture that he primarily taught using storytelling and parables. His backdrop was typically as conversations arose, along the road, using mostly small formats, and he left plenty of room for lots of questions and interaction.
Keeping that in mind, how do you think the disciples felt when Jesus said he was leaving? There was a sense of not only sadness but also abandonment. We miss that part, but I think it’s the reason Thomas protests that they don’t know where Jesus is going, so how can they go there too? And why Peter is adamant that he wouldn’t leave Jesus’ side. He wasn’t feeling brave in that moment. He was terrified of being left behind, alone.
What was the promise he then made to them in that room and why was that so significant?
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” – John 14:15-17
That word “advocate in the Greek is the word paraklētos (pa rah clay toss). It’s translated elsewhere and in other versions as “comforter”.
But wait, you say. What does that have to do with mentoring and discipleship? Look here:
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” -2 Corinthians 1:3-7
The same root word is used 9 times here. The word literally means “one who comes or is called alongside” or “to encourage, strengthen, or instruct”.
Paul is saying the reason we have been given the Holy Spirit as a “comforter”, a “parakletos”, is so that we can be that same comfort to others. This is what it means to be a discipler. This is what it looks like to live on mission for the kingdom. We can’t miss this. It should be at the very core of our DNA as followers of Jesus.
Let’s unpack this a little more. For the sake of unifying terminology, let’s refer to Coach as someone in the position of a team coach, choir director, or lecture professor. The other term let’s use is Mentor. Here let’s consider someone who does private lessons or tutoring as opposed to the previous list. This allows us to compare and contrast them a little. Do so, and you’ll likely come up with a chart like we have below. I’ve done this with a few groups and the results are strikingly similar.
The world has plenty of coaches. And, as we’ve outlined here, you don’t need a lot of them to go a long way in getting large groups of people headed generally in the right direction. What we desperately need more of is the common man and woman to step up and be willing to walk beside the average, everyday people we are in contact with every day of our lives.
But here is where the questions and excuses begin.
What do I teach them? What do they want to know? What are you already modeling?
What if I don’t have the answers? James says be slow to speak and quick to listen. Sometimes, that’s all anyone wants anyway. And it’s ok to say “I don’t know”. It’s even better to follow that with “let’s find out together’.
What if I don’t have a schedule that makes it easy to meet with someone? Then don’t plan a meeting. Instead, consider inviting them home to dinner. Or, if you’re really brave, give them a key to your house. Nothing says “I am with you no matter what” like being willing to take someone into your home or being the one who gets that phone call at 3am saying “I didn’t know who else to call”.
What we’re talking about here is inviting them into your life, and becoming a part of theirs. This isn’t something you can do an hour a week on a Tuesday over coffee. This is real life colliding with real life, experiencing real problems, and resulting in real life change. You can’t buy that with a $5 latte.
We need more people who can point to their successes in life and not say “I did this by myself” but say “none of this would be possible if not for that man right there”. We need more Pauls and Timothys. We need more Moseses and Joshuas.
You can be doing all the coaching, teaching, modeling in bits and pieces as schedules allow that you want. If you’re not present when… things… hit the fan- if you’re not already involved in their life before things get bad, the only thing you’re really modeling is how to be absent. Everyone runs to a car crash. Everyone looks on when a house is on fire. We need more people already in the building carrying people out. I don’t want us to be known as a people who were simply not there.
Each one of you, I know, has at least one or two people running through your mind right now. It could be people in the room as you read this, it could be people at work or even in your own families. Some of you thought of those people because, as we talked about what a mentor was- what a parakletos was- this person was the image that came to mind. Seek them out. Today, if you can. You’ve got plenty of time. Some of you thought of those people because you realized they just might have been put in your life for you to come alongside and walk with as a mentor- a comforter. It’s a scary thought, I know. But remember the promise Jesus gave at the end of his charge to make disciples. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Get in. Roll up your sleeves. It’s time to get messy.