I don’t know much about baseball.

Because I grew up in a culture without baseball, its appeal eludes me, sadly.  Sure, I’ve seen a few movies about the magic of the game (The Natural, Field of Dreams) or the science behind it (Moneyball) or the romance of baseball (For the Love of the Game). I just haven’t seen much actual baseball.

But that hasn’t stopped me from hearing about this guy from the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein.

Epstein, in case you don’t know, is the president of baseball operations for the Cubs. He guided them to their recent World Series victory, their first since 1908 (expect the film version to be out sometime soon).

He turned around an over a century long losing streak not just by signing the best players in the game, but by looking for the best people. When Epstein and his scouts went looking for players they didn’t just assess their skill level. Epstein wanted players with character.

“In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. We ask our scouts to provide three examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Say what?

According to Epstein, to build a champion team you not only need the right kind of athlete on the field, you need the right kind of people there too. You need men or women of character.

 

This leads me to Ed Smith.  Ed Smith is a journalist and author. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England. He reckons you can see three phases in the development of professional sport.

The first phase emphasized physical prowess. All the effort went into making people faster, stronger, better.

The second phase looked to psychology. Once all professional sportspeople reached a requisite level of physical conditioning, it was thaughty that the thing that could give them an edge over others was their mental capacity and stress management. The world of “sports psychology” was born.

But Smith thinks sports psychology was somewhat overrated. He believes we’re in the third phase: coaching the whole person. Building character. Deepening relationships. Understanding and helping people. Like Epstein does.

In other words, Smith believes it’s a mistake to separate body, mind and character and to work on only one or two. Coaches need to help their charges acquire skills and physical stamina, and to cope with stress and mental fatigue, and to be able to make better choices about ethics, relationships and leadership.

Head. Hands. Heart.

I guess if Theo Epstein or Ed Smith were pastors, they’d say that the art of discipleship includes all three. We need to teach people well. They need to have their minds renewed by gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But they also need to develop missional prowess – the capacity to give and serve and sacrifice. They need to acquire the skills of the servant missionary.

But there’s more. Thirdly, the church needs to grow women and men of deep godly character, with a biblical ethic and an ability to make wise choices in the interests of others, not shirking suffering or fleeing from disappointment or failure.

Men and women of character don’t need accolades or the adoration of others. They care for least in society and speak for those at the margins. They protect the vulnerable and are willing to attract the abuse or criticism of others, including the powerful whose vested interests they challenge.

 

Godly men and women of character know there is a higher calling, a greater thing at stake than their career or the growth of their empire or organization. They have submitted their interests to the will of God and vowed to suffer whatever may come in serving God’s people.

Sometimes I think the best sports coaches know more about shaping the whole person than pastors do. Some pastors want to teach discipleship in a classroom. Others want to reduce it to certain required skills in the field. But the best ones know it involves the intertwining of three significant sinews – head, hands, and a heart of Christlike character. I think it’s the missing piece in much of our discipleship.

Theo Epstein has shown us what coaching the whole person can produce. It was something the church should have known all along.

 

 

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