As I reflect on this year's middle school boys' basketball season, I am so proud of the way our team did! No we didn't go undefeated. No we didn't beat any of the good teams. And overall, we may not have had a "winning" season. However, having said that, I know that God is very pleased with their performance.
Coach Mark Jenkins, as well as assistants, Chris Kelley, Steve Caldwell and Darren Stockett, have been working for three months to improve the abilities of each player. Countless hours have gone into teaching the techniques of the game. More importantly, however, is the amount of time spent showing these young men what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Chapels before each game, prayer interspersed throughout and Christian living carried out by the coaches have had a major influence on the lives of each player. This is something of eternal value.
I attended several of the games this year and I was pleased to hear from parents of our opponents after the game how well behaved and respectful our players were - something that is unusual in this day and age. I assumed that this was something that could be said about all Christian schools and their teams. I mean that is what being a Christian is all about, right? Shouldn't we treat others as Jesus would treat them?
This week we are attending the WVCAT tournament in Williamson, WV. Let me say first that this organization is great and doing a fantastic job organizing Christian school athletics. Having said that, I was appalled at some of the things I have experienced here. Some of the coaches have the mentality of the worldly coach - treat your players like dirt, yell at them, do whatever it takes to win. One coach started yelling loudly at one of his players on the court while the game was going on. There was no reason for him to yell as the crowd was almost totally silent and you could see the shame and degradation on the player's face.
I know that maybe I am idealistic, thinking that we as Christians should act different than the world in all areas of our lives, but I truly believe that God should be evident in all we do and I have talked to many non-Christians who have been wounded deeply by the actions of "Christians", so much so that they want nothing to do with Jesus.
We played a game against a school this week and they beat us by almost twenty points and rightly so as they were so much better than us. Our boys played hard, but we were outnumbered and out skilled. When the end of the game arrived and it was time to shake hands, the traditional phrase to say is "good game" or say nothing and all and just shake hands. Some of the other team's players felt the necessity to tell our players (who had put their best into the game) that they sucked.
I was proud of the team for the way they played and was very satisfied with the results. However, when the players told me this, I was outraged. It broke my heart that other Christian schools would allow their players to act this way. My first thought was to immediately go to the coach and explain what happened. However, I am sure if I did he would just think it was sour grapes. I decided to take time to pray about it and came back to the hotel and looked up the school's webpage. I was amazed at what I found in the Athletics section. This quote shocked me to the core.
“Winning” for the Christian school means much more than out-scoring the opponent. In Christian athletics, winning means doing everything (practice and warm-up as well as competition) in a way that honors the Lord (Col 3:17) and doing everything heartily, as unto the Lord (Col 3:23). Winning, then, is measured by a different standard, not just the scoreboard but in the heart of the coach and athletes.Winning and losing is based not on a “now-centered” perspective, exhibited in the win-loss record, but on an eternal perspective. This is evidenced by achieving victory in the spiritual realm through demonstrating a Christ honoring testimony, persevering through difficult situations, winning or losing the contest with dignity, and treating opponents with respect.
My conclusion- it is easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. You may say that the coach didn't know this happened and that he wouldn't approve and I hope to find out if that is true when I talk to him. However, most coaches tell the players what is expected of them at hand shaking time. We have never had a public school team ever do anything like this. And although the boys are tough and will be okay, they were shocked to see such actions out of their "Christian" competitors.
We will never win the world to Christ as long as we continue to operate in the ways of the world. The world is looking at us to see what Jesus is like. Let's live each day in a way that is worthy of his calling and remember that actions speak much louder than words.
Who is this guy?
David Friend is an ordained elder in the Evangelical Methodist Church and has been the headmaster of Covenant Christian School for over fifteen years. He holds a bachelor degree in Business Administration from West Virginia University and a bachelor degree in Christian Education from Asbury University. He is married to Rachel, his wife of 27 years and they have four grown children, Brian, Joshua, Nathaniel and Hannah.