You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 NAU)
I never played competitive sports. My body wasn’t built for athletics and sports were not valued in our family. I think my interest in sports developed at work. I needed to be able to talk about something with my co-workers and the healthiest connection I could find was professional sports. As I grew older I became fascinated by management and leadership and found that team sports provided many fitting examples of good and bad leadership.
In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul is practicing what he describes in the verses above. The words Paul uses have subtle differences in meaning and all involve coming alongside with words that challenge, encourage, and request. Often, we know what we need to do and just need someone to challenge us to do it. There are also times when we aren’t sure what we need to do, and we need someone to clearly spell it out for us. There are times when we are afraid or tired. We think we cannot do what needs to be done. At these times we need words that will build our courage. Maybe the hardest times are those when we are not motivated to do what needs to be done. At those time we need someone who cares about us and that we care about to show how much what we’re doing matters.
Our grandson played outdoor soccer last year and the team, coaches, and parents were all on the same side of the field. The coaches often wore t-shirts with words like these: They play, I coach, you cheer. This is very important in youth sports. Instruction needs to come from the coach and encouragement needs to come from family. Outside youth sports this is more challenging. Within families and communities, we are always players, coaches, and cheerleaders. The wise person knows how to quickly assess each situation and determine what role needs to be emphasized.
This past year was a coaching challenge, but next year will probably be even more challenging for Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors. Everyone will enter the season with the same goal, to win another NBA championship. It is very difficult to keep that goal in focus as the regular season drags on. It is interesting when we get the sound bites from timeouts. Most of the time what we get to see is the coach playing cheerleader. Unfortunately, much of the exhortation is not suitable for broadcast. The height of imploring his players this year was the night when Kerr let the players coach. I think he was begging the team to care. I’m looking forward to seeing what innovative approaches Coach Kerr comes up with this season exhort, encourage, and implore his team to win.
We have a different goal. Our goal as parents, grandparents, and church leaders should always be that the people we influence live their lives in a way that honors the God who loves us and saves us. We need to be just as creative in our communication to ensure the people we care about get the message.
To my grandchildren:
As you play, pay attention to how your coaches work to make you better.