Producing coaches, not just players

April 10, 2013 | Viewpoints
Phil Wagler |

I was watching my son’s baseball game with a bunch of other parents on a beautiful spring afternoon. The loud “snap” of ball in glove, the distinctive “clink” of bat making contact, took me back—way, way back—to my own playing days. Nostalgic longing crept over me. Oh, to stand in there, push that scrawny tween out of the way and swing for the fences!

I began to think about how much goes into the development of players. We parents look for any small glimpse of potential and fill our kid’s schedules in desperate attempts to wring it out. We are determined to turn these kids into players. Coaches, for their part, show up early, nurture and occasionally consider ramming their head into the backstop out of sheer frustration.

And yet, in the overwhelming majority, we are simply planting the seeds of future nostalgia. Most will play a few years and eventually find themselves in the stands watching their own kids, suppressing dugout homesickness and a host of “what ifs.”

A handful will eagerly become coaches, while a few others will be backed into the role because, if no one else does, the kids can’t play. This shortage and reluctance shouldn’t surprise us; after all, we’re busy investing in the pipe dream of making players, not coaches.

And then, pastor that I am, I begin to think about the church. Every local fellowship is intent on making disciples. We know this is what Jesus commissioned us to do (Matthew 28:16-20), and we like to think our methods are accomplishing this, but in reality we’re simply producing players and not enough coaches.

Stay with me. If our goal is to make disciples, we’re not wrong, but we’re just not aiming high enough. Jesus commissioned his followers to teach others to “obey everything I have commanded you.” This implies an emphasis on playing in order to coach. We are sent not to make players who can perform for a spurt, only to retire to the bleachers. No, we are to develop player-coaches. Jesus wants no player retired into obscurity, but everyone developed into a coach of others. Everything he has taught us through wins and losses, errors and home runs, is to be invested in others who will become player-coaches, too.

This may all sound like a metaphor trying to be stretched into a triple, when I should have been content with a double. But listen to what Dallas Willard has to say in The Great Omission: “[Jesus] told us, as disciples, to make disciples. Not converts to Christianity, nor to some particular ‘faith and practice.’ He did not tell us to arrange for people to ‘get in’ or ‘make the cut’ after they die, nor to eliminate the various brutal forms of injustice, nor to produce and maintain ‘successful’ churches. These are all good things, and he had something to say about all of them. They will certainly happen if—but only if—we are and do what he told us to be and do.” That is, constant apprentices making more constant apprentices.

In other words, we are called and commissioned by our Lord to be player-coaches of those who are to become player-coaches. We are drafted by Jesus to be, and to make, disciple-makers. Anything less is to not heed the coach.

Phil Wagler ( loves a good ball game and still hopes a scout is out there looking for a preaching pitcher. No, he’s not holding his breath.

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