Gilman High School is an independent, academically rigorous (and very expensive) school for boys in Baltimore, Maryland. As a part of an extensive and required athletics program, it also has a very successful football team.
Gilman’s football coach is an alumni of the school. His name is Biff. (Maybe the best name for a football coach ever)
Biff Poggi leads his team to on-the-field excellence. Lots of coaches do that. But he coaches much more than football. He has developed a culture that shapes young men to live a certain sort of life, with a very specific set of values.
In the church, we call that discipleship. I have no idea if Biff is a Christ-follower or not, but we can learn a lot from him. Consider
Coach Biff’s Ten Values for Being A Church That Shapes the World
+ Lead and saturate everything with love. The first day of football practice each year, Biff and his coaches gather the 80 boys who make up his j.v. and varsity squads.
On behalf of the coaching staff, he asks the boys, “What is our job?”
Led by the older players, the team yells back, “ To love us.”
“And what is your job?”
“ To love each other”
The church of Jesus Christ is not to be defined by its religious performance, attendance, finances, buildings, cultural influence, community standing, stance on social issues, life-stage programming, impressive worship services, or cool factor with the kids. Its primary value is to simply, relentlessly, ferociously, love
“And Jesus said, ‘A new command I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. This is how all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love one another. ” (John 13:34-35)
What is our job? To love. Everything else in our life and mission will emerge from that.
+ Value every member simply for who they are and that they belong. Coach Biff says, “I don’t care if you’re big or small, huge muscles or no muscles, never even played football or star of the team — I don’t care about any of that stuff. If you’re here, then you’re one of us and we love you. Simple as that…”
It is so easy for a church to approach members like children picking teams for a game on the playground. The first ones noticed and picked are the extroverts, high-capacity leaders, spiritually mature or church-experienced, big givers and “good families”. Everybody else filters in after that — introverts, exhausted single parents, fearful witnesses, brand-new Christians, the aging, those who struggle with faith, even the quietly prayerful. Belonging is too often tied to performing.
“Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I choose you….For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ…you are the body of Christ and individually members of it….” (Jn 15:16, 1 Cor 12:12, 27)
Because the same bloody cross is the entry way for every church member…if you’re here, then you’re one of us.
+fight for unity in the family. The Coach says, “The rest of the world will try to separate you. That’s almost a law of nature…. to separate you by race, by socioeconomic status, by education levels, by religion, by neighborhood, by what kind of car you drive, by the clothes you wear, by athletic ability. You name it—always gonna be people who want to separate by that stuff….Don’t let it happen. If you’re one of us, then you won’t walk around putting people in boxes….every single one of them has something to offer. Every single one of them is special. Look at me, boys. We are a program of inclusion, not exclusion.”
Yes, it is true that the gospel itself is a separator from the world. But inside the family, we commit to include all people. Our church’s vision is to be a “multi-cultural, multi-generational, counter-cultural community of faith.” That takes work because our daily the pressures of society are to separate us into interest groups or demographic slices.
“Jesus prayed, ‘that they may all be one, Father, even as we are one….Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility between us….maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” (John 17:22, Eph. 2:14, 4:3)
Jesus’ family is a wonderful, beautiful mixture of people unlike any other group in society.
+expect and encourage the best from those in the family. Coach Biff challenged the boys, “ I expect greatness out of you”. Wonder how many young lives have been changed because a caring adult simply expected greatness rather than mediocrity — or nothing?
Our world tips us towards disappointment with people rather than delight in them. It redefines mistrust as relational wisdom. It trains us to be cynics rather than cheerleaders. And that attitude can cling to God’s people, too.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walking them… I give thanks to my God always because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus..” (1 Cor.1:4, Eph.2:10)
At church, you rub elbows with people who have a God-designed purpose for eternal impact. Look for the evidences of grace and with grace, expect the best.
+ Serve others first. Biff clarified his expectation of greatness: “The way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people’s lives.” He said that the boys would make their mark — “bring the most love and grace and healing to people by constantly basing their thoughts and actions on one simple question: what can I do for you?” The question is “Not, what can I do to get a bigger bank account or a bigger house? Not, what can I do to get the prettiest girls? Not, what can I do to get the most power or authority or better job title? Not, what can I do for me? The only question that really matters is this: how can I help you today?”
This is where you begin to get the clearest sense of the source of Coach Biff’s coaching philosophy. Selfishness is so pervasive. The natural impulse of our hearts is to do what works best for me. But Jesus presents a totally different way to live.
“If anyone wold be first, he must be last of all….whoever would be great among you must be your servant…for even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many….do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility cunt others as more significant than yourselves. let each of you look not only to His own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Mark 9:35, 10:43-45, Phil. 2:3-4)
+ deepen your capacity for compassion and empathy. Coach Biff asked, “What’s empathy? Feeling what?” A senior captain named Napoleon responded, “Feeling what the other person feels” Coach said, “Exactly right. Not feeling for someone, but with someone. If you can put yourself in another man’s shoes, that’s a great gift to have for a lifetime.”
We interact regularly with people in all sorts of pain —physical, emotional, mental, relational, spiritual. Everybody has a story and few people are living a fairy tale. They bring the mess with them on Sunday mornings, too. So many people are just dying for somebody, anybody to understand what it is to live their life in this moment.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd…[He was] moved with pity….rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Matt.9:36, Mark 1:40, Rom.12:15 )
+ live with integrity. “not only when it is convenient to do so. Always.”
Integrity is a lovely combination of truthfulness, honor and consistency between what we say we are and what we actually are. Seamless faith-living, without playacting or hypocrisy, is crucial to both our internal relationships and our external witness.
“speaking the truth in love….having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another ….be doers of the word and not hearers only” (Eph.4:15, 25; James 1:22))
Integrity gives the world an attractive, compelling reason to believe in Jesus, not an excuse to avoid Him.
+seek justice Why? “because it is often hidden”
Justice upholds what is right. It is to speak up when others are silent. To address issues that are beneath the surface and shape everything above it. To battle for it, even when it is unpopular and may not personally affect you.
This is fundamental to God-honoring faith and to living in the steps of Jesus. Jesus engaged in conversation with a shady women in public— breaking through racial, gender, social, and religious barriers — because it was the right thing to do. He boldly challenged the ruling religious class who were laying crushing moral burdens on people’s backs, because it was the right thing to do.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?…a bruised reed [Jesus] will not break and a smoldering wick He will not quench until He leads justice to victory.” (Micah 6:8, Matt.12:20)
+encourage the oppressed. Why? “because they are always discouraged”
So many live their days in discouragement and oppression. Those with terminal or incurable diseases, babies in their mothers’ wombs, those addicted to prescription meds or alcohol, families unraveling in crisis, the poor, racial minorities, those caught in the horror of human trafficking, those starving in famine, orphans who long for families, people in war zones, even those who are simply easy to overlook and live their lives in loneliness. For them, no day has a sunrise, and the darkness is suffocating.
There is a desperate longing for hope. Who will bring it? Not the politicians. Not the billionaires or the entertainers. Not the merchants or the inventors. Only Jesus and His gospel can do that.
“Jesus said, ‘Come to Me,all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light….according to His great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (Matt.11:28-30)
When the people of Jesus speak and practically, sacrificially live out the good news of Jesus into oppression, they bring sunrise to dark places and shadowed hearts.
+ Live out this mission at all times— even when you’re scattered and not together. Coach Biff has “an ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy — teammate or not — eat lunch by himself. ‘You happen to see another boy off by himself, go sit with him or bring him over to sit with you and your friends I don’t care if you know him or not. I don’t care if he’s the best athlete in the school or the so-called nerd with his head always down in the books. You go get him and you make him feel wanted, you make him feel special. Simple, right? Well, that’s being a man built for others.’”
Church is never an insider job. We are never just to enjoy one another and have inside jokes and special language and blessings reserved for those already “in”. It is always looking to add more, to connect with those who aren’t here yet.
“As the Father sent Me, I am sending You….the Son of man came to seek and save the lost….Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (John 20:21, Luke 19:10, 2 Cor.5:18)
Jesus is planning an eternal banquet for all who will trust Him, and on that day, no one will eat alone. Rather, they will gather with those from “every tribe and language and people and nation” enjoying the delicacies of divine grace, hope and love—forever, together with their Savior and King.
Coach Biff Poggi says to his team, “in case you haven’t noticed yet, we’re training you to be different”. So also the church is raising up a different sort of people called disciples. People with a firm allegiance to Jesus, citizens of His Kingdom with engaged minds, tender hearts, calloused hands and worn knees, committed to go hard in the world with His love every day until Life ends and we all go Home.
The story of Coach Biff Poggi and the Gilman football team is told by Jeffrey Marx in Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood (Simon and Schuster, 2003) The above excerpts were accessed from delanceyplace.com.