Hello partners and friends, tis the season for summer athletics around the country. The past 10 years I have had the opportunity to serve as the Vice-President of a youth league and Chaplain of Tennessee Dizzy Dean Baseball and Scenic City Football. During this time, I have had the opportunity to coach some incredible athletes, some inspirational kids, and more teams than I can count. Through this time, there have been many experiences that have taught me life lessons and helped me develop leadership characteristics. The following is a few of the lessons I have learned through little league that can also relate to the Church today.
1. A Leader (coach) is only as good as the people (players) on their team.
I have coached all three of my sons. I have coached my oldest son since he was 5 years old and now at 15 has matured into an outstanding football player. Being the coach of his team of talented athletes was an honor as we won almost every game and strived to play our best every game. This team won multiple Championships, had various newspaper articles wrote about them, and countless other accolades. I thought I was the greatest coach of all time. The truth is, the Lord blessed me with some incredible talent during those years as 12-14 of those young men are now standouts in High School and have many college programs interested in them. My oldest then went to middle school and began playing school ball, which allowed me to start over coaching with my seven year old. At this time, the local park had undergone some major changes and the quantity of players was sparse to pick from. Quickly I realized that the drills, playbook, and skills in motivation did not work the same with this team as it did with my oldest son. A local high school coach once told me, “Pastor Ronnie, it’s not X’s and O’s, but Jimmy’s and Joe’s”. This new team learned differently but battled and in their last 2 years got to play in the “A” bracket instead of the “B” bracket where they started. I was joyful seeing the growth in these kids who had been underrated blossom into real football players. I began to understand that coaching was more about transforming lives, not seeking plastic trophies. There are coaches who will cheat, steal players, and bend rules for that plastic trophy just hoping little Johnny will be the next Peyton Manning. In all honesty, a person has a better chance of winning the lottery than playing pro ball, but as adults that did not achieve that dream we many times want to live our lives over through our children. We must keep the right perspective and understand there are more important things in life. What is more important to you: plastic trophies for your child or seeing them live their life for Christ?
This same principle can be applied in ministry: a pastor is only as good as the people that he gets to serve each week. I’ve learned to never judge a servant of God by the size of the congregation, their bank account, education, building, or the accolades they receive. I am a strong believer in honor and working hard to be successful, but Jesus has given us his model for success while summarizing the Ten Commandments.
Jesus also teaches us that those who lose or suffer in this life will one day be crowned as winners, so be careful not to boast about what you have on this earth.
1 Peter 4:12-14
2. One negative individual (parent, church member, employee) can ruin the Unity of the entire team.
Out of the 30 plus teams that I have coached, there is always one player, parent, or assistant coach that attempts to undermine the plan of the coach. Unfortunately, we see this in the church and in corporate America but the difference is a company can fire that employee but we have to respond differently in the Church. As in little league sports, one should respond with patience and love as they would in Church. Jesus had 12 disciples, but one sabotaged, marginalized, and eventually betrayed him. There will always be that one individual that tries to ruin the experience for everyone else. These types of people are focused on their own personal agenda, family, and if the leader is serving their agenda. If they are not getting praised by the ones in leadership, then they will quickly leave them and begin to criticize and deceive those they have influence over.
Paul told the church in Corinth and the Church in Ephesus the following
1 Corinthians 1:10
Jesus prayed in John 17 that his disciples would become “One”! Teams, churches, organizations, and political parties that become “One” will accomplish their goals and achieve their goals. If Abba’s House is going to be the Church God has called us to be, then we have worked as a team in unity, regardless of our differences.
3. Development takes hard work and many repetitions.
A team can not be great without a good coach that helps them run drills, plays, and conditions them through repetition until the moves are second nature. In the Kingdom of God, we call this discipleship. Churches have been so focused on decisions for Christ that we have failed to implement discipleship programs. A new Christian needs to be taught how to live, study the Bible, pray, and persevere when times get tough; this will take consistency in devotion and being held accountable through discipleship. Churches are operating in dysfunction as many people operate out of emotion instead of being lead by the Spirit. This may lead to good ideas, but we need to be operating under Godly principles. Jesus didn’t tell us to go get rich, brag on our numbers or collect plastic trophies; he told us to make disciples.Even when it is hard, we must invest in people and help each other grow. I want to apologize for times I have not done this for others around me.
The book of Acts tells us that the first church “devoted themselves” to teaching, fellowship, and the ordinances of the church. Devotion is key to an organization winning in their realm of influence. Devotion means to put in the time to reach your goal; as a team, we must all be involved.
4. Leaders build. Losers Run.
Losers Run. Let me explain this. True leaders (pastor’s, business owners, executives) can build a dynasty right where they are. The popular saying, “if you can’t beat them join them” is nowhere in the Bible. God has called each of us to shine in our area of influence. Coach Bobby Bowden, my hero, did that at Florida State University. They had no money for scholarships or stadium improvements, but he gave them 34 years of devotion. He had some tough seasons, but he stayed the course to go down in history as the only coach to finish in the Top five 14 years in a row. Bobby Cox did this for the Atlanta Braves. Many kids today have been a part of at least 5 organizations before they are ten years old. Sometimes it is necessary, but so many times the reason lies in a disgruntled parent that can’t get their way. This teaches little Johnny that he can run from situations he does not agree with until he finds somewhere that gives him his way. I wouldn’t recommend anyone staying in a toxic or abusive environment, but in real life, you will work for unfair people, be on bad teams, not get your way, and have to deal with decisions you don’t agree with. This is called LIFE and it is not fair. I try to teach my boys the principle that if you persevere, then it will pay off in the long run. I have worked for men, women, Republicans, Democrats, and non-believers. I loved some and disliked others. I didn’t run. I made it through it.
We see this is in churches all too often. So many pastors want to run when the going gets tough and things don't happen right away. Likewise, many members are more loyal to their agenda or to a person than the vision of the organization.
Leaders stay and build a legacy. Losers run from responsibility for less accountability. True leaders aren’t afraid to work with what they’ve got. My father has always taught me to work with the people God has given me, and when I need new giftings, then to trust that God will provide for me. Success is more meaningful when you didn’t take a shortcut to get there. Be great where you are! Be great at what you do! Be the same with twelve people as you are with 12,000. God is watching what kind of Legacy you are leaving.
5. Great Teams Finish!
A true leader takes advantage of every second and knows how to meet deadlines. A team with the right pieces must finish the race. Just because you have a lead, a great team or an advantage doesn’t mean you will win in the end. You must FINISH! Paul finished his race.
2 Timothy 4:6-8
I encourage you to run your race that has been set before you (not someone else)! God has a race marked out for you and only you. That is the race you must Run! That is the Race you must FINISH! Please pray for me this summer. We have many mission projects coming up during the summer and fall months for Abba’s House. I will also be traveling to Southhaven, Mississippi in July with yet another team chasing some wins and have been asked to deliver a SERMON on the mound for the Dizzy Dean World Series teams. I pray we have a great harvest.
Dr. Ronnie Phillips, Jr.