Thursday, October 29, 2009

Powerful Team Leaders

Mark 10:32-45
Three Team Discussions

Powerful Team Leaders Boldly Face Their Opposition.
1. Who are the best team leaders you’ve known?
2. How did these leaders boldly face their opposition?
3. How was that similar to or different from how Jesus did it? (read verse 32)
4. Tell us about a time when a team leader gave your team an ominous scouting report about an upcoming opponent.
5. How would you have reacted if you were one of Jesus’ disciples hearing this report? (read verses 33-34)

Powerful Team Leaders Know the Cost of Leadership.
1. When have you seen teammates play political games to gain leadership positions?
2. What would be the football equivalents to the positions for which James and John were asking? (read verses 35-37)
3. Why would they be asking for such positions?
4. What was the cost associated with the “cup to drink” which Jesus would drink?
5. What would it cost to be “baptized with Jesus’ baptism”?
6. What might it cost you to be a powerful team leader? How willing are you to pay the cost?

Powerful Team Leaders Pay the Price to Lead.
1. Let’s make a list of some characteristics of great team leaders.
2. What does Jesus say makes a leader great? (read verses 42-43)
3. Why would that be true?
4. How does one serve his teammates?
5. Who is the most ambitious team leader you’ve ever known? Who is that one who always wants to be first?
6. What does Jesus say someone who wants to be first should do? (read verse 44)
7. How and with whom does such a leader do that?
8. Who is someone you know who leads sacrificially and frees those he leads? (read v. 45)
9. How can you take on Jesus’ style of powerful team leadership by:
· Serving your teammates?
· Being the slave of everyone associated with your team?
· Sacrificing to free others?
(Choose one and tell us how you will do that.)

Friday, October 23, 2009


I hear it every week on television sports broadcasts and occasionally from the mouths of players and coaches, “We play with a swagger…” “This team has a real swagger about it.” What do they mean when they say it? From where does swagger come? Is it a good thing or not?

For some, their swagger is a strong confidence which comes from hard work, good coaching, and sharpened skills. The real, authentic swagger is genuine and resides in the players’ hearts.

For others, their swagger is a mask of hollow bravado which covers their inadequacy, their fear and poor preparation. The false, imitation swagger is plastic and resides in the players’ imaginations.

On the field of competition, it’s easy to discern the difference between the two. False swagger reveals itself when the first moment of adversity arrives and it tucks its tail in retreat. Authentic swagger is equally apparent when the same adversity reveals a solid confidence and unshakable emotional composure.

We who play our hearts out often seem to have an attitude characterized as swagger. Let’s be sure to check the source of such swagger. Is it authentic or artificial?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where are the Leaders?

I have noticed an alarming trend in sport over the last several years. The leaders have disappeared. I see it when watching both high school and college athletics teams. Many of the teams with which I’m familiar seem leaderless and their coaches are pulling their hair out.

For decades the world of sport has been an incubator for leadership skills and both players and coaches have used it for training and development. That seemed rather natural for a long time, but no more. No longer do the strongest competitors and most powerful personalities become a team’s leaders. Too often they simply blend into the background and defer leadership to the coaching staff.

I have given this a good deal of thought and prayer over the last few years and have reached one simple conclusion. Most competitors of this generation would rather be popular than be leaders. They sacrifice their influence and authority to lead on the altar of popularity and politeness. They rightly assume that leadership may require them to confront foolish behavior, to challenge their teammates to higher performance and to raise everyone’s expectations. They believe these actions will lead to their being less popular with their teammates and would hinder their social standing.

What they misunderstand is the true nature of leadership. To quote Chris Lowney’s book, Heroic Leadership, “We’re all leading and we’re leading all the time. The question is whether we’re doing it well or poorly.” These players are leading, even without trying to, but they’re doing it passively, by default and very poorly.

If you are a whole-hearted competitor, you are a leader already. Lead purposefully. Develop your leadership skills and determine to take the risks to lead strongly rather than to foolishly prefer popularity over wise service of your teammates. We who serve the players and coaches must help them choose to lead strongly rather than passively. Let’s further challenge them to lead in a Christ-honoring manner.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I was thinking overnight about some of the qualities which enable sports chaplains and sports mentors to be most effective in their work with coaches and competitors. One of those is Empathy. Empathy is the ability to see situations from another’s point of view, to even feel what the other is feeling. Empathy shapes our attitudes and aligns our hearts and emotions to be most effective at communicating God’s heart in any given situation.

For those of us in sports ministry, we need empathy to properly engage people’s hearts. In failure, empathy helps me to feel the pain along with the player or coach. In success, empathy allows me to rejoice with them and to share their joy. In frustration, empathy keeps me from saying something foolish or acting as if their frustration is unwarranted or foolish. In pain, empathy keeps me from communicating in trite clichés. In loss, empathy keeps me from saying, “It’s just a game,” thus creating distance and distrust with the coaches and players.

Empathy is dangerous and brings about significant emotional and mental risks. It’s easier and safer to stay aloof and untouched by the pain, frustration, loss and even the exhilaration of success. To remain untouched by these emotions limits our connection with those we serve. To risk the dangers of empathy also brings with it the reward of deep connection, trust and genuine community with those our friends in sport.

The challenge for today is to take the risks to empathize with the men and women of sport in your circle of influence. Give them your heart and trust the Lord to sustain you and to speak through you in the process.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Notes on Team Travel

Let’s think for a moment about the various ways we have traveled to and from competitions across our lives in sport. Low rent or first class, those who play their hearts out find joy in the journey.

· I remember traveling to high school wrestling meets in school busses. I remember teammates spitting in paper cups to lose the last fractions of a pound so as to make weight. I remember the smell of oranges being peeled and snacks from mothers being shared among teammates. I remember the raucous rides home after victories and the deathly quiet following painful losses. I also remember being slapped by a cheerleader, but not having enjoyed the offending pinch.
· I remember riding twelve hours with three charter busses from Carbondale, Illinois to Cedar Falls, Iowa for a football game at the University of Northern Iowa. One bus broke down before we even got out of town. Thankfully, the Athletic Director was in the seat in front of mine and we’ve flown there ever since.
· I remember a road trip to Northern Iowa and Peoria, Illinois with a Women’s Basketball team. It was so cold the VCR froze up and we couldn’t watch movies. What a boring drive! Worse yet, we lost both games.
· I remember a bus ride with that same Women’s Basketball team between Des Moines, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. The head coach and I both knew she would likely be fired upon our return home. We had a very good heart to heart talk on the quiet bus in the late evening. We anticipated accurately and I was very glad to have had that talk with the coach.
· I remember boarding the chartered plane after our football team had just lost its first game of the season. We had entered the game 10 and 0 and had a lead in the fourth quarter, but came up short. I sat down and the head coach asked me if I was okay. I said, “Coach, I forgot what it felt like to lose.” It was a bitter flight home.
· I remember a whole college football team traveling to Tampa, Florida on commercial flights. This was before 9/11/01 and security was a little easier. Still, trying to get a traveling party of 85 through two international airports was a logistical nightmare for our office manager.
· I remember a friend who played college football for our team and went on to play in the Arena 2 League for 4 years. His team had a sweet, tricked out bus in which to travel. It included beds, big screen televisions, video games and more. I asked him once about what he would miss about football, “Road trips,” was his answer. He loved everything about being with his teammates, the bus, the hotels, the meals and all the camaraderie which we who play our hearts out enjoy in sport.

Whether you ride in a rattling yellow school bus, a shiny motor coach, a Boeing 737 or even a private jet, find the joy of travel with your team in the rich relationships to be cultivated in every mile of the journey.