It was a beautiful fall day. One of those days when you wished that it was twenty-five years earlier and you were the one suiting up for a thrilling soccer match. There is something about the cool, crisp air in the fall that just beckons any true soccer player to the pitch. Although I was not the one playing, I was equally excited to see my three boys playing on that fine afternoon.
As the game progressed, I stood on the sideline and listened to the coach. To be honest, I couldn’t tell if I was listening to a cheerleader or a coach. To be fair, he was trying to inspire nearly every player that got close to the ball. However, looking at the level of play on the team, it was apparent that there had been more inspiration dispensed than instruction over the course of the year to that point. Continuing to watch their level of play, I was convinced that there had been much more cheerleading than coaching. Certainly a coach should inspire his players. There are times when he needs to encourage them to play above their level. However, the primary responsibility of a coach is to instruct, to teach, to train.
I attended a good Bible college for my pastoral study. The courses were very practical and I am very grateful for what I learned. However, in hindsight, the thrust of the education was largely inspirational. In my opinion, part of this was due to the lack of expository preaching/teaching; part was due to the “superstar” status of the leaders at the college/church where I learned. Much of the teaching/preaching was delivered in two basic themes: don’t give up and don’t ever quit! Tremendous advice to keep you running while the coach is yelling your name when the ball comes near or when you are on the field. Not the greatest advice for a team during a twelve-sixteen game season.
Nearing the end of his life, Paul, in one of the pastoral epistles, instructs Timothy to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” In the next chapter, he encourages Timothy to continue in the things which he had learned. You cannot continue in that which you haven’t learned first. I am convinced we have many young men at our Bible colleges full of zeal, brimming with vim & vigor for the Lord Jesus Christ, ready to set the world on fire. However, most of that stems from inspiration rather than instruction; cheerleading rather than coaching; and “rah, rah, rah” rather than re-instructing, re-teaching, and re-telling.
There is a classic scene in the movie Hoosiers that deals with the importance of the instruction of the fundamentals. The movie is based on a true story of a coach that takes a team out in the sticks and builds them into an Indiana high school powerhouse. Early in his tenure at the school, Coach Dale says the following words to his team, “I’ve seen you guys can shoot but there’s more to the game than shooting. There’s fundamentals and defense.” He goes on to instill in his players the fundamentals of the game and it serves them well throughout the season right on into the state championship. Yes, like any good coach, he provides inspiration throughout the year. However, by and large, the Hickory Huskers won a championship not because of inspiration, but because of good instruction.
What is the primary purpose of a coach or a teacher? Is it not to teach the fundamentals of the sport or subject so that they will be ready for the game or for ministry or for whatever it is that is facing them in life?
My goal as a parent is to teach my children principles by which to live so that long after my wife & I are gone, they are continuing on in the fundamentals they have learned…with or without a cheerleader cheering them on from the sidelines.
My goal as a teacher of the Word of God is to instill bedrock, Biblical principles to those whom I am privileged to teach so that long after the inspiration of a spiritual mentor is gone, they continue steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Teacher, principal, pastor, coach, youth pastor – whoever you are – please pass the pom-poms to the cheerleaders on the sideline and throw yourself into the work of teaching fundamental principles of the subject at hand. That team or group of people will thank you later on.