You’re coaching a championship caliber professional football team. You’re one of the greatest coaches in history, and these are some of the best and wealthiest athletes in the world, many of whom are now in the Hall of Fame. Things are not going as well as they should be, and you need to get the team back on track. What words of wisdom, what spectacular play, what fiery pep talk, what irresistible incentive will you pull out of your bag of experience to motivate them on to greatness? If you’re the legendary Vince Lombardi, you hold up a pigskin and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
The coach did not intend to demean or humiliate the players; he just wanted them to return to the basics. It is very easy, especially in times of trial or defeat or despair, to forget the fundamentals of the game and either give up or panic and seek other methods of success.
The church of Jesus Christ is a team—more than that, a body—that can easily forget its mission and the fundamentals needed to accomplish that mission. Sometimes we need to go back to basics.
Occasionally, we need to be reminded that the mission of the church is, in Jesus’ words, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20). The mission is simply to make disciples, obedient followers of God through Christ. The methods, or “plays,” are many, but the mission is one.
A professional player must maintain a high level of concentration on the game. The same is also true, for example, of a soldier. Paul says, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4, NASB). Distractions can easily take your eyes off the goal and sap your strength from the mission, spelling sure failure and disaster. True, there will be setbacks and letdowns, but that usually means we have forgotten the basics of our mission and have to go back and refresh ourselves.
Coaches have play books; soldiers have army manuals. School children have text books, and musicians have exercises. Many top musicians and singers often return to the basic finger or breathing exercises to stay in shape. It is not demeaning to do so—it is necessary for honing their skills. The Christian needs to do the same.
In this age of the information superhighway with its myriad tourist traps, and the technology revolution with its siren calls of isolation and distraction, it is easy to follow the goals and methods of business, culture, society, psychology, and personal preferences, and forget what our manual says about how to conduct our mission, or even what our mission is.
What is our manual? The answer is obvious: it is the Bible. When Jesus said to go and make disciples, he prefaced it with, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Coach Lombardi was the undisputed authority over the Green Bay Packers, and Jesus Christ is the undisputed head of the church. When they speak, their teams listen (John 10:27). Jesus has temporarily left the earth, but he still speaks through his Word and the Holy Spirit. He promised that, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He also said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). We find the words of Christ, and all the words of God, in the Bible: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
There are many “manuals” and “coaches” to be found in every conference, bookstore, broadcast, and web site. They can even be found in Christian outlets. It’s easy to be distracted by reading the latest books, following the most popular methods, toying with the highest-tech gadgets, and immersing yourself in the latest “Christian hits.” We should not stray far from the Scriptures. We often need to get back to basics and study the Word.
Ignorance of the play book will ensure defeat in the sports arena. Neglect of the manual will frustrate the car owner and kill the soldier. A dusty Bible will shrivel the soul and leave the team open for defeat, the body of Christ subject to weakness.
If you want to understand and participate in body life on the church team, try reading the Book of Acts for a start. It’s as basic as you can get, yet as profound as eternal life itself.
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