I know an 83-year-old tennis player who has one arm. He has a bit of a belly. He doesn’t run well anymore. But if I’m choosing a partner for doubles, I’m choosing Jack. Jack knows more about the game of tennis than anyone else I know. He doesn’t beat himself. He’s the master of winners and forcing his opponent into making mistakes. Did I mention that Jack usually wins?
Jack knows his weaknesses as a player and has learned how to play to overcome them. More importantly, as a coach, Jack knows your weaknesses and can help you overcome them and become a better player. As good as Jack is as a player, he’s a better coach.
I have been athletic enough through the years that what I didn’t know about tennis in gamesmanship, I could make up in athletic ability. As I approach age 50, those days are long gone.
In my job as a pastor, it’s just the opposite. It’s not what I don’t know that usually gets me in trouble; it’s what I know.
I’m approaching 25 years of full-time Christian ministry. I haven’t seen it all. I haven’t experienced it all, but I know my way around the pulpit, hospitals, the study, funerals, weddings, deacons’ meetings, potluck suppers, and vacation Bible schools. And that’s just the problem. Familiarity can breed a kind of “smugness,” an overconfidence that’s bound to create problems.
Have you ever noticed that you can’t tell a person much who knows everything? I have learned a lot in 25 years of ministry but I don’t know it all. In fact, the longer I spend in ministry, the more I understand the Apostle Paul’s words when he said, “We see through a glass, darkly.”
What I have concluded is that when we find a wise soul to sit and share our journey with, someone to coach us through some of the difficult stretches, but also someone to hear us express where the joy is coming in our lives and steer us to experience more of those times, not only are we better for it, but those we seek to minister to are also beneficiaries.
I noticed that two members of my staff, Rev. Justin Safely and Rev. Erica Cooper, both graduates from McAfee School of Theology, looked forward each month to their conversations with their coaches. They received affirmation they needed; added confidence for decisions they were making; a place to voice frustrations, ask questions, and report accomplishments. Their coaches were trained to ask the right questions, the most important tool used by a coach.
So after watching the benefits that coaching brought to Erica and Justin, I found a coach of my own. Proverbs 16:18 says that “pride goes before destruction.” Why be too proud to ask for help? I realize that having a coach will not keep me from making any mistakes. However, I hope that he will recognize some of my weaknesses and help me overcome them. I hope he can keep me from making some of those unforced errors. I hope he can help me with my service and my gamesmanship.
So far, I feel that after our time together I return to my parish encouraged, wiser, and better prepared to meet the demands that are placed on me as a pastor. It seems that the demands only grow as the years go by. I think I need a coach now as much as I did when I started ministry. What about you?