They Do It Better Than We Do

Tim Brister —  February 11, 2014 — 25 Comments

Imagine with me a disciple-making culture that looked something like this.

Disciple-makers have decided to commit a minimum of 9-10 hours a week providing hands-on practical training. This commitment did not coming with compelling arguments. The disciple-makers love it. They want to invest their time in the work. There is a team of disciple-makers–seven in all–committed to making a total of 12 disciples together over the course of several months. The kind of teaching and training they provide is not a classroom lecture, though there certainly is an intellectual component to it. But it is more than that. It is hands-on with a high level of participation and practice where those being discipled have an immediate opportunity to work it out. Along with the practical instruction and increasing depth of knowledge, there is constant encouragement from the team of disciple-makers. Any opportunity to affirm change and progress is acknowledged, not only by the team of disciple-makers but also those being discipled. Corresponding to the high level of challenge is a high level of celebration as it becomes evident that there is a high level of change taking place in those being discipled. The heads (instruction), hearts (encouragement), and hands (practical application) of those being discipled are trained by those modeling the life and work before them in their own context.

Sounds like a pretty amazing disciple-making experience, right?

What I just shared with you is my 6-year-old’s city league baseball team.

One year ago, my son was playing tee ball with 4-year-olds, where toddlers would race to wherever the ball was hit (and then the gang pile). Now, he is learning game scenarios and fielding techniques from his coaches, and kids twice the age of those he played with last year modeling for him how to do everything from running bases to cheering on his fellow teammates. For the past 2-3 weeks, it has been an amazing sight to watch my son go from making “confetti” with grass in the outfield to learning how to react differently to fly balls and ground balls.

My son’s team practices three days a week, and each practice is approximately two hours long. Most of the seven coaches arrive 30 minutes early for kids who want to shag balls or get some extra one-on-one instruction. Each kid invests a minimum $200 for the season, which includes registration, batting helmet, glove, and bat. None of this is coerced or has to be explained. Both players and coaches just know these are the expectations, and the desire to play the game is greater than any of these expectations placed on them.

As I began to process what was taking place here, I could not help but notice the dynamic disciple-making culture of the team and wonder why the church does not take a similar approach to making disciples. If we took baseball out of the equation and placed it with gospel-centered living, would we find 7 disciple-makers committed to 12 disciples for 10 hours together each week over the course of 4 months? Would each disciple be willing to not only invest the time but hundreds of dollars to get the necessary resources and tools to be well-trained as a follower of Jesus Christ? Such a commitment seems ridiculous for Christians these days, but it is normative and expected for little league baseball run by the public recreation department! What gives?! And we wonder why disciples are not being made and lives are not seriously being impacted with the transforming power of the gospel?

The fact is: my son’s coaches make disciples better than us. They are more committed than we are. They are more excited and desirous to make disciples than we are. They don’t complain about it. They celebrate it. It’s a privilege and joy. They are not going through some pre-packaged “discipleship curriculum” for one hour a week with a few questions. They are on the field, not the classroom, and they are asking dozens and dozens of questions and helping kids answer them with application, not just information. They are doing it one-on-one, and they are doing it as a team of 7 dads serving as coaches to get the most out of these boys. And the boys are loving every minute of it because they are being challenged and changed in the process.

It’s a sad commentary and indictment when little league baseball coaches are more successful and committed to training and developing boys into baseball players than disciple-makers are to making and maturing disciples of Jesus. They have a sport; we have a Savior. They are given trophies; we are trophies of grace. They a game to win; we have a life to gain. At the very least, I have enjoyed going to school in learning how to make disciples of Jesus by being one of the seven coaches on the field training kids to play baseball. I’m going to be a better discple-maker for the sake of the gospel because of this. I just wish I had this kind of disciple-making training earlier.

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  • http://firstboynton.com Keith Baker

    Wow! Great insight, Timmy!

  • bill

    Your point is well taken. However sports appeals to the sinful desires even at 4 & 6. If men & families took the discipleship of their children as serious as sports then kids would be learning the truths of eternity not shagging flies. As pastors we must train parents to own their discipleship responsibility.

    • Living a Full & Abundant Life

      You’re right… Jesus never did anything except sit in the temple and study the Torah. He never as a little boy played in the mud, ran around with his friends, or enjoyed the wonderful and amazing life God has blessed us with.

      Live a little. God has called us to do so.

    • timmybrister

      Thanks for your comment, Bill. I am in agreement with, which is the point of my post. Am I willing to spend time in family worship helping my boys understand the gospel, memorize Scripture, and learn catechism questions? Am I going to see all of life as training ground to show them how to live according to God’s Word? As their dad, I am coaching them 24/7, including when I fail and need to repent before them and ask for their forgiveness. But the point is I want them to see a clear and consistent picture of what it means to follow Jesus. I am praying by my discipling them, God will deliver them from being Pharisees and prodigals but followers of Jesus ground in the good of the gospel.

  • http://www.lightforeachday.com/ Lynn Rutledge

    Amen! Thank you for pointing out the sharp contrast between the amount of coaching our kids receive in order to achieve sports victories versus discipling toward a victorious Christian life! A sad indictment, indeed, of our priorities.

  • http://adam4d.com/ Adam Ford

    Tim, your insight is awesome. I’m continuously blessed by what you share here. Thanks.

  • http://brenthobbs.com/ Brent Hobbs

    I think there are some good and important points we ought to take from this analogy, but overall I think it’s more problematic than helpful. This quote really gets to the heart of the problem: “If we took baseball out of the equation and placed it with gospel-centered living…” The problem is those two things aren’t comparable. One is an activity with clearly identifiable physical skills that calls for high amounts of repetition. The other is a way (manner) of doing life.

    I’m just trying to figure out what this kind of thing would actually look like. At baseball practice, you practice running bases and catching fly balls. What would we do at “gospel-centered living” practice for 10 hours a week?

    I agree with the diagnosis – that most of the time our discipleship practices are deficient. I’m just wondering about how far the sports practice analogy goes to helping us find the solution.

    • timmybrister

      Thanks for the comment, Brent. You raise a valid question. What would it look like for Christians to be living in community where they spend 10+ hours a week. For many of us, that is a foreign concept because what unites us is usually events, activities, or weekly gatherings. So basically we are looking at 4-5 hours a week at most, and during that time it is usually one-directional in a large group setting.

      I believe Christians need to develop rhythms of life where we are living together in community during the course of everyday life. For example, I have a rhythm in my neighborhood that causes me to spend more time investing/discipling people in my neighborhood than I do in my church family. We eat together, play together, are in each others houses, and communicate through text and phone on a daily basis. Obviously we cannot do this with everybody, but neither did Jesus.

      Practically speaking, Christians need to be “trained” and learn the “skills” of living out their identity in Christ–family of servants on mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. We need to live out the implications and applications of the gospel in every arena of life and through every relationship in life. Gospel-centered living, if rightly understood, is an ongoing work that we spend the rest of our lives learning how to do. And it would indeed require high levels of repetition as we learn to repent and believe again and again in new ways and in new places of our lives so that the story of the gospel continues to rewrite the story of our lives.

      Whether it be spiritual disciplines or simple things like making decisions based on the Word of God or learning how to love other people in messy situations. Every day presents itself with enough challenges and opportunities that someone looking at life through a gospel-centered lens will have more than enough reason to be “in the school of Christ” with learning from “coaches” (disciple-makers) committed to seeing others matured spiritually, mobilized missionally, and multiplied personally in the lives of others.

      • http://brenthobbs.com/ Brent Hobbs

        Am I wrong in thinking that you are actually getting together for meals, playdates for the kids, and other event-type gathering and disciplining in the context of those? Or are you actually meeting with the people you’re describing with the understanding that you’re “doing discipleship” or working on gospel-centered living together?

        I agree with your intent and and theory in a lot of ways, I’m still thinking the sports practice analogy isn’t very helpful. Instead of saying we need to put in place these “practice” times of gospel-centered living, I’m wondering if you’re actually arguing that we need to seek out regular relationships in community doing regular social kinds of things while seeking to use those as an occasion for disciple making.

        I mean, for baseball practice, people come together for baseball, they practice baseball, for the purpose of getting better at baseball. That’s the primary and really only reason they’re getting together. Did you go across the street and ask your neighbor, “Would you like to be intentionally discipled a few nights a week?”

        • timmybrister

          Ah, ok. I think I understand your point better. Yeah, the analogy isn’t intended to play out literally, as in let’s “practice” Christianity together for 2 two hours 3 days a week. Rather, the point I trying to make is that we easily invest time and energy into things like baseball and are naturally disciple makers. But when it comes to making disciples of Christ, we say we don’t have the time, don’t know how, and it feels so difficult and unnatural for us. A large part of that, of course, is that we have an enemy who hates that kind of work and will do everything he can to thwart the purposes of God.

          To your first questions, yes, the everyday rhythms of life are what I’m referring to–meals, playing in the neighborhood, doing life together in community (going to the park, the beach, church gatherings, babysitting kids, etc.). I think we Christians often make very little investment in the lives of those who don’t know Jesus and expect a sizable harvest where we have not labored. But in those rhythms, there are meetings, such as our Sunday night meeting for neighborhood gospel community and our Sunday morning gathering with my Grace family. We also have neighborhood meetings for things like planning events or activities for the neighborhood which gets us in each others lives together as well.

          But it’s not just first place where this happens. I try to leverage third places to connect and engage people regularly as well. This is where I office (Panera), where I get my gas, do my banking, grocery shopping, servers at restaurants, etc. Those people are regularly interact with and want to move from strangers to missionaries over a prolonged period of habitual rhythms of missional living with gospel intentionality.

  • claywginn

    Fantastic and humbling article.

  • jimpemberton

    This reminds me of an article I read recently regarding sports on Sundays that took families out of church. The comments were starkly divided. On the one side were the commenters who said that they made sacrifices to show their kids that corporate worship with their church was important. The other side were comments like, “You are Pharisees! We have devotions at the ball field.”

    The reason this reminds me of it is even most of the people on the first side are likely not devoting much time outside of church to disciple their children. If you want to know what false god someone worships, say something that puts them on the defensive. Many people worship sports above God and they are willing to invent defenses for their sports worship. Many people worship their independence. Many people worship their social lives. Many people worship their power, business, entertainment, hobby, pets, music, etc. If we worship the true God, we will be defensive about such things as his nature, how he has revealed himself to us, what he has done for us, and our attempts to teach others about him. We won’t be defensive about our involvement in sports, which is certainly okay to be involved in as long as we don’t worship them.

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  • stevemccoy

    Hey Timmy. I like what you are trying to do here, though it doesn’t quite work. I’ve coached three different kids and their teams starting at 5-6 yr olds (nine years ago) and now I’m coaching both 11-12 and 13-14 yr olds along with all-stars and tournament teams for the last several years. I’ve had a series of posts and a book idea in my head rolling around for some time that touches on what you brought up here. On the surface, there is a lot about youth baseball (and other sports) that can illustrate what the church wants to do.

    But your main point, “they do it better than we do” or “the are more committed” doesn’t work. If you want to say that they spend this amount of time on a sport, why don’t we spend more time making disciples, ok. If you want to say we can learn from some different kinds of skills training, ok, and so on. But these are very different kinds of things with very different motivations and hugely different payoffs. After a season often the player and parents, even those who love baseball most, are completely burned out. Making a baseball player at the younger level is incredibly simple and superficial. Making disciples is incredibly complex and lasting. For example, I can coach a kid very well to play better baseball and not really know the kid as a person at all. It’s just a very surface thing vs a very complex thing.

    Can we learn from youth baseball. You bet. In some of the ways you mentioned and others. I’d just be careful with the “they are better than us” thing. That only appears true in the most superficial of measurements.

    • Michael Edwards

      Also, if we believe the stats FCA puts out, the average youth athlete quits organized sports at 12 y/o. I run one of the largest youth basketball programs in America and find that the average youth coach should be locked up in an institution, or at a minimum receive significant therapy. Don’t know that we want to imitate that. The reality is, people don’t need more training to make disciples. They need to know the gospel, make friends, and point people to Jesus. It’s just not that difficult. Having said that, there is a lot of money to be made in complicating the issue.

    • timmybrister

      Steve,

      Thanks for the healthy push back. I think the things you agreed upon are the areas where I’m seeking to expose, viz., the matter of time, commitment, desire/buy in, etc. As for the different motivations, I understand your point, but the fact that they *are* motivated is what gets me. Should the gospel of Christ not motivate believers more than a love for a sport? Where’s the disconnect here?

      As for working with virtual strangers, I agree. I’m not intending to push the analogy that far, at least in this post. Perhaps it would be helpful to list more explicitly why I think they do it better than us.

      (1) hey are wiling to invest time and energy (2) without having to be compelled or won over by argumentation/persuasion. (3) They are hands-on and “in the field” in their training, and (4) they incorporate a holistic approach of dealing with head, heart, and hands in the process. (5) There is a clear team leader dynamic. There are multiple disicplers working with the same 12 disciples, each bringing their experience, gifts, and knowledge as practitioners to the field. (6) Their love for what they do exceeds the high demands placed on them as disciplers. Finally (7) there is a culture of celebrating the change that comes when the kids they are discipling are changed in the process.

      I believe all 7 of those aspects are transferable to a disciple-making context with Christians and the church. For example, is it not a fair question to ask ourselves why Christians would not be willing to devote 8-10 hours a week investing in other Christians on a personal basis? is it not fair to assess why we do not see change/transformation in the lives of people in our community if there is not a context where they are being challenged and coached by disciplers celebrating the fruit of their lives being changed?

      Going back to what you said, I don’t want to push the analogy further than it should, but I believe there are legitimate correlations where we can learn and grow in our discipleship. I don’t understand how those aforementioned parallels would fit under the category of superficial measurements, but again I am grateful that you are forcing me to think harder though this issue and provide healthy pushback in the process.

      • Richie Underhill

        “Should the gospel of Christ not motivate believers more than a love for a sport? Where’s the disconnect here?”….Persecution!!

        • timmybrister

          Perhaps. But we read in Scripture that so much of the normative, community impacting discipleship happened as a lively response to the Word and the power of the gospel. We do not need to wait until persecution comes. We need to embrace that reality that Christ has came, and that changes everything.

          • Richie Underhill

            You got it brother!! We shouldn’t need persecution but it certainly purifies the church. What Christ did on the cross is motivation and throw in the resurrection for the grand finale. What more motivation do you need than that…right? Ultimately it’s about His amazing grace that we live to make disciples. May the Lord give us the grace to respond in obedience to what God, in His Word, has already spoken!

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  • http://humbledonkey.com humble donkey

    Hi there – really appreciate the brew you’re stirring here. It’s always interesting when we compare things, especially like with unlike. It does serve a purpose but usually in providing a jumping off point for a discussion well beyond the object and the thing being compared to. Reading your post and the discussion comments following it would indicate that you have done a very good job in this regard.

    Like others I see immediately the limitations and sometimes the wrong headedness of comparing like with unlike – e.g. look at those JWs selflessly out sharing a false gospel at the rate they do (why don’t you/we?) or when you are at football (insert any sport that excites you here) you get so excited and in to it and yet your expression and engagement at church – ‘not so much’. Unfortunately Pastors and others sometimes unwisely use these as ‘motivators’. I find them anything but.

    However there is something very precious about the coaching methods used in sports, public speaking, acting, you name it. I have been recently involved in sharing life and Christ with a hard to reach group who on the face of it are very alien to me; (below the surface they are very similar and alien all at the same time.) Engagement with them especially their missionary types is quite demanding. Nevertheless it is through workshops where we plan, rehearse and practice for dialogues and doing life. We coach each other – we break everything down to its constituent blocks – familiarize ourselves with them and then learn to use and in time ‘play’ with them (the blocks that is). This does not just extend to information, apologetics and so on but well beyond.

    As this community is hard to reach into because of fears (ours), wrong and right perceptions about them (it’s a complex group), we need to practice among ourselves and those we are leading/serving within this ministry to do basic life skills also – like how to get a coffee time set up with someone. More broadly, hospitality in general is often a lost gift to the church and I imaging we could all benefit from learning how to ask our brothers and sisters in the local church into a hospitality situation. Today the church and tomorrow who knows – even all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. many thanks again. I am ‘favouritizing’ (it’s a word) your blog. I blog at http://www.humbledonkey.com and I’ll be back.

  • Scott Place

    This is a brilliant article that was personally convicting. I’m a former youth soccer coach and middle school Bible study teacher, so I found the points you made very thought provoking!

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