Lately, I’ve been reading through a book by Jim Putman, of Real Life Ministries, with a few other guys from my church. Putman is a former wrestling coach, and he uses a lot of sports analogies in discussing things like the work and edification of the church.
It got me thinking about what it might look like if we reversed the metaphor: If we saw coaches running their practices the way many churches — including mine — do church.
COACH (yelling): All right, kids! Bring it in! (Long pause.) Gather round and have a seat. Thanks for coming to practice today. It’s great to see everyone. How are we doing this morning? Good to hear, good to hear. Well, the other coaches and I are certainly glad you all made it today.
QUARTERBACK raises hand.
QUARTERACK: But, Coach, we’re football players. We have to come to practice, don’t we?
COACH: Well, yeah…But we’re still glad you chose to come to this practice. (Pauses to pull out a few papers.) Anyway, let’s start with a couple announcements. The team has a lot going on, so make sure you’re all paying attention to your schedules, OK? You can also check the website. First up, I’m sure you’ve heard about this: We’ve got the big retreat coming up for the offensive line. So, we’re going to take just a few minutes and hear from one of our assistant coaches who is helping organize the retreat.
ASST. COACH (very enthusiastic): Hey, guys! How we doing?! Good, good! Well, yeah, like Coach said, I’m going to tell you just a little bit about this year’s retreat. Hey, real quick: Raise your hand if you went last year. (Pauses.) A few, OK. Well, I went last year, and I gotta tell you guys, it was fantastic! I mean, life-changing! Seriously! It is so great to just get away from it all for a while, and really connect with other offensive linemen. And it’s going to be really fun! Last year, we went to a shooting range; this year, it’s fishing. And we have a great speaker coming. He’ll be talking about all the principles of being a great offensive lineman. OK, well, that’s about it. Any questions?
WIDE RECEIVER: So, this retreat is just for offensive linemen?
ASST. COACH: That’s right.
WIDE RECEIVER: (Hesitates.) Well, if we’re going to have a retreat, wouldn’t it make more sense to have the whole team go?
ASST. COACH: Hey, great question! I’m so glad you asked that. Look, it’s true. We are a team. But here’s the thing: Offensive linemen face all kinds of challenges that are unique to offensive linemen. I mean, the stuff that we go through as offensive lineman is not going to be the same as what you go through as a wide receiver, you know? So, to really grow as an offensive lineman, we need some targeted teaching about being an offensive lineman, and we also just need to spend some time with other offensive linemen every now and then. Any other questions? No? All right. Thanks for listening, and make sure you get those registration forms in! They’re due next week!
COACH: OK, thanks for that, Coach. (Looks at papers in his hand.) What else do we have here? Oh, yes, the cornerbacks are still hosting their weekly study through the defensive playbook, and they’re looking for some new people to help with snacks. Apparently, Joey’s been bringing them every week and it’s getting to be quite a burden. Well, that’s all the announcements we have for now. Let’s invite up our cheering coach.
CHEER COACH: Good morning, guys! Are we ready to cheer for the team this morning? Awesome! Let’s stand.
Is an awesome team
All the other teams
With offense, defense and luck
Our team is an awesome team
Our team is an awesome team
CHEER COACH (clapping): Hey, yeah, let’s hear it for our team. What a team we have, huh? Very nice, very nice. You all sound great this morning! Let’s do one more. How about a bit of an older one, whaddaya say?
How great is our team
That beats all the
We once were not a team
But now, we are a team
And we’re better
Than every other team!
CHEER COACH: Very nice. Thank you all.
COACH: All right! Hey, let’s hear it for the cheer team! We sure are lucky to have these guys, aren’t we? Why don’t you all go ahead and have a seat? Take out your playbooks, if you would, and turn to page 74. We’re going to be in the Book of Formations today.
QUARTERBACK raises hand.
COACH: Yes, Johnny? You have a question before we get started?
JOHNNY: Yes sir. Only, I think we’re all just wondering if we might actually practice today?
COACH: What do you mean, son? We’re at practice now.
JOHNNY: Yes, sir. But all we ever really do is read the playbook, and we never actually practice any of the plays or scrimmage or play games or anything like that.
COACH: (Chuckles.) Well, the practicing and the playing games and all that other stuff is for doing on our own. When we have the team together, that’s the time for us to be studying the playbook, and also looking really in-depth at the history of the sport and the team. Make sense?
JOHNNY (confused): Not really, Coach. It just seems like it would be better to study the playbook on our own time, and then practice the plays when we’re, you know…at practice.
COACH: Well, you are supposed to read the playbook on your own, too.
JOHNNY: Wait, so we have to read the playbook on our own, and also practice the plays and play games on our own?
COACH: Now you’ve got it! This is just our time to cheer together and hear announcements, and also read the playbook together, because you know, I’ve been studying the playbook a lot longer than you guys, and I may have some wisdom and insight that you don’t have, which will help you in your own study of the playbook. And, of course, if you have any questions about the plays you’ve been practicing on your own, you can always ask me after service — er, I mean, practice.
JOHNNY is quiet for a moment, deep in thought. Then he smiles.
JOHNNY: OK, Coach. I get it now.
COACH: Great to hear! OK, before we dive into the playbook, let’s all bow our heads for a moment of quiet reflection about the team…
A version of this piece was published by Venn Magazine on May 2.