Many of you already know my love and passion for coaching youth sports. For me, coaching is more a matter of teaching rather than motivating, instructing rather than encouraging, and correcting players rather than chiding them. That is not to say motivating and encouraging players is irrelevant, and I recognize a fine line exists between correcting players and chiding them. Nevertheless, those contrasting perspectives highlight why I love coaching. I can control what and how I teach the players, thus training them to enjoy and to succeed at the sport, but I cannot control their responses and emotions.
Coaching, rightly understood, primarily focuses neither on success (winning) nor pleasure (“having fun”), but training (discipleship). In other words, the players determine wins or losses by their actions on the field and decide whether or not they are “having fun” based on their emotions. But my role and responsibilities as a coach are not determined first and foremost by the sting of a painful loss, the exuberance after an unexpected win, or the emotional ups and downs of the season. As a coach, I must consistently apply whatever process will best train my team and equip them to achieve our long-term goals. Only by recognizing such things can I remain patiently persistent in my task.
That perspective has been overwhelmingly lost in today’s youth sports culture. Parents sign up kids for a sport without ever coaching them at home, then wonder why their children are unsuccessful and do not enjoy the sport. Most coaches are more concerned with finding ways to win than they are with teaching, instructing, and correcting their players. In such an environment, winning and enjoyment quickly become entitlements, not goals or rewards. Hard work becomes a burden, not a prerequisite. Labor becomes loathsome and toil becomes tedious because they do not feel “fun.” Or, to put a finer point on the matter, coaches will be labeled “mean” or “too harsh” when they prioritize preparation over other activities (video games, social media, etc.).
Even if you have not coached recently (or trained youth in any other respect), you have probably asked yourself, “How did we get here as a society?” Broadly speaking, our society has placed more value on the goals and rewards (success and enjoyment) rather than the means of finding both (diligent toil). Solomon spoke to this exact thing in Eccl. 2:18ff.:
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
Consider the difficult language in this passage. At first glance, it might seem like Solomon was saying, “What’s the point in working at anything?” However, that is not the case at all. Remember that Solomon was teaching wisdom, which requires intellectual toil for one to understand it. Did Solomon despair over labor/toil itself, or did he despair over losing the fruits/rewards/results of his labors? The needed contrast appears in the following chapter:
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man. ~ Eccl. 3:9-13
Note especially the last verse: “that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.” Enjoyment will never be found solely in the results. Enjoyment must first be found in the prerequisite hard work, toil, labor, preparation, or whatever else you want to call it! Desired results are impossible apart from diligent labor. Profound satisfaction is impossible without persistent toil. And neither enjoyment nor success are possible without due preparation.
Such things are true not only in coaching/sports but apply to every area of life. Why, then, do we treat these universal, common-sense truths as though they do not apply to spiritual things? Why do we feel entitled to satisfaction in “church things” if we have never put it in the prerequisite hard work, toil, labor, or preparation? Furthermore, did not Solomon make it clear that true enjoyment must be found in the toil? The hard work of prioritizing the Lord’s work in His Church, the toil of tithing, the labor of praying , and the preparation for corporate worship – our enjoyment must first be found in those things because our success will be determined by them.
As church members, let us not be like the youth sports world – vainly seeking to hold onto the fleeting emotions of “having fun” or the transitory success of “winning” the numbers game (whether with members, income, or any other statistics). Instead, let us hear, believe, and live out the wisdom of God’s word, diligently laboring to be workmen approved by God.
Begin working this week. Prepare yourselves for corporate worship by reading the following articles:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. ~ Eccl. 12:13-14