Today’s post is the second of three attempts to address an understandable but growing protest of frustration: I’m done with church. My contention: following Jesus is a team sport. Discipleship was never intended to be a solitary endeavor.
My reflections are built around sports analogies, and last month it was golf. We may prefer to go through life playing alone with Jesus, but we are called to play well with others. In life. In church. In difficult situations.
In this segment we’re going to talk about our Coach. Yes, the church has one. You have one, the Holy Spirit – a corporate and personal trainer assigned to you by Jesus.*
Does that sound odd to you? If you haven’t thought about this concept for some time, then it’s quite possible that your “relationship with God” needs an inspiring pep talk from your Coach.
I love this picture; it brings back memories of coaching children’s soccer for several years. But it also reminds me of church, which is how I hope you’ll see it.
Please imagine yourself in this photo. (Psst -- you’re one of the kids. You don’t get to be the coach). The Holy Spirit is at eye level, is interested in you and wants to help you to thrive in the arena of life. He’s doing what good trainers do.
What does our Coach do? We’re barely going to skim the surface of several roles. Each of our topics will speak to – or should I say warn about – the growing tendency to check the None box for your church affiliation. Although my thoughts will be brief, I hope they will spark lengthy reflections within you about your congregational involvement … or lack thereof.
A foundational role of the coach is to speak while the members of the team listen. There are at least three platforms upon which our Coach speaks:
1. The written manual called the Bible, in which we are given stories of God’s team as well as the Head Coach’s instructions. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!**
2. The team meetings, generally held on Sundays.
3. Personal nudges and counsel, given by a variety of means.
Be honest. How often are you inclining your ear to listen?
Most people who have passed on option 2 – skip the team meetings altogether – have also found that their Bibles gather dust around the house. If that’s your case, you’ve basically informed the Coach how you prefer that he speak to you -- #3 only, please. Thanks.
Have you made life your own personal buffet, where you choose from God only what you desire? Do you see the folly in that?
Let’s proceed by looking at some of the specific roles of the Holy Spirit as Coach.
Our Coach Instructs
The Coach tells the players what to do and how to do it. On the first day of his ministry Jesus said that Coach Holy Spirit had sent him into action with a specific mission, as he read in the synagogue from Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to ….***
For the next three years, Jesus followed the Coach’s orders. And then at his first resurrection appearance to his disciples, he spoke the following words: As the Coach (Father) has sent me, I am sending you.
Don’t miss this. The Coach has sent the church, the people of God, on a mission – literally, the word “mission” means to send – to continue the work of Jesus. Why? Because together we are Christ’s body, faithfully continuing the prophetic work assigned to us by our Heavenly Father.
When someone leaves the church, the missional community of faith, they sever themselves from their life source, for our God is a trinity, living and thriving in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It’s a short step from being vigilant to follow the coach’s instructions … to becoming a vigilante, – a self-appointed doer of justice. But there are no vigilantes in the Kingdom of God. We don’t operate that way.
The Coach Motivates the Players
I love baseball, and am a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan. I was saddened in 2019 when the beloved manager Bruce Bochy decided to retire. (In baseball, the head coach is called the manager). The picture above was taken at the ceremony honoring his thirteen years of service. Bochy led the team to three World Series titles and was deeply respected by his coaching staff, and by the teams. The Giants simply loved playing for him. He inspired them to play well, to do their best.
We follow Jesus, accepting his gracious invitation to join his team. And to this day, Coach Holy Spirit brings the living, loving voice of Jesus to his followers. He does that well, and it’s important that we follow his instruction, receive his reproof, be inspired by his encouragement, and let him renew our spirits. That’s standard fare for his team members.
In my work as Hospice Chaplain, I commonly hear people declare: I’m spiritual but want nothing to do with organized religion. I won’t say it to the patients I serve, but I’ll say it here: if you’ve decided to formally walk away from any involvement with the church, it wasn’t because the Holy Spirit was counseling you to do that. Who might be giving you that message?
Again, I say: The Coach speaks. We follow, right? I’m currently reading through the book of Ephesians in my morning worship time, and recently read Ephesians 2. Check out the first five verses, where I have emphasized the concept of following:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
We’re all following someone. Who are you really following?
You and I will always struggle to listen to the right voice, to hear the encouragement of our Coach, the Holy Spirit. But the loudest voices in our ears are encouraging us to follow the individualistic instincts of our fallen nature and our world. When we heed those calls, we’re actually following the coach of the opposing team – the ruler of the Kingdom of the air.
Granted, the Holy Spirit might advise you to leave an abusive or toxic congregation, but he won’t hand you a get-out-of-church-free lifetime pass. He will always inspire followers to get in the game, to be patient and long suffering with others, just like Jesus has been with you.
What you desire and what you think you need must not drown out the motivating and inspiring voice of Jesus – deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Be very careful who you are following!
Our Coach equips us
Before the team leaves the locker room and heads out to the field, they are supplied with all they need to succeed. Equipment, resources, skill development, knowledge – everything counts.
As members of God’s team, with a mission to fulfill, your Coach has made sure that you are well-stocked with everything you need.
And that includes your team jersey. Huh? We have a uniform?
Yep, and that’s our topic for next month’s post. We’ll explore how the coach has equipped us, and you’ll receive important instruction on how to properly wear our jersey. How embarrassing to put it on backwards!
Benediction of Blessing
May you live every day with the knowledge that you have a Coach with you always.
May your ability to hear and to follow Coach Holy Spirit’s encouragement, instruction, and reproof continue to grow throughout your lifetime.
May your commitment to God’s mission and to his team be a blessing – to you and to your fellow team members.
* Please read John 15:15-27 and 16:5-15 for Jesus’ words about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. For further reading and added wisdom, check out Proverbs 8-9.
**I Corinthians 10:11-12. See the first nine verses to know what Paul meant by “these things”.
*** The beginning of Jesus public ministry is recorded in Luke 4:14-20. Luke tells us that he stopped reading Isaiah 61 in the middle of verse 2. I’m inclined to think Jesus kept reading all the way through verse 7, which is a fuller version of God’s mission and its effect on people.
Soccer Team: Shutterstock
Bruce Bochy Farewell: SF Giants/MLB.
SF Giants: Associated Press