The coach as shepherd

February 8, 2022
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by Shannon Caughey

I love being part of discussions among coaches who are committed to following Christ and are eager to know what this looks like in the day-by-day realities of coaching. Often these conversations focus on what we should do in various coaching situations if we want to honor Christ. However, it can be more helpful to consider who we should be as coaches who want to follow Jesus. Who is the Lord calling you to be within your leadership role as a coach?

The Bible utilizes multiple images to point to God’s heart for leaders. More than just telling leaders what to do, these images help us understand who God is calling leaders to be. When we see ourselves according to these biblical images, it provides texture and substance to what it means to be a coach who follows Christ – and what it means to live this out day by day.

One prominent image is this: God-honoring leaders are shepherds. Repeatedly in the Bible, being a shepherd is the analogy used for leaders (e.g., 2 Sam. 5; Ezek. 34; 1 Pet. 5). Jesus Christ is the ultimate Shepherd-leader and therefore the model for us. Here is how Jesus describes himself in John 10:11-15 – 

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

In your leadership role as a coach, God is calling you to shepherd your athletes and others connected to your program. You experience what this means at the hands of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Follow Christ’s model in being a coach who is a shepherd:

1. Care personally – The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him (v. 14). Rather than being mere numbers or a means to an end, Jesus personally relates to and cares for each member of his flock. Coach, you honor Christ as you build genuine relationships with and care personally for those who are part of your team. Make the effort to get to know your athletes outside of the context of your sport. Find ways to care personally for them even as you coach them toward their athletic potential.

2. Be uncompromisingly loyal – In contrast to a hired hand who abandons the sheep when his own interests are being threatened (vv. 12-13), the Good Shepherd is loyal to his flock in spite of the cost to do so. Jesus sees us as his own. He’s uncompromisingly committed to our ultimate good. Jesus won’t abandon us – even when we compromise our loyalty to him. Coach, follow Jesus’ model through being loyal to the members of your team. Set aside your personal interests for the sake of the good of your athletes. Though they mess up (sometimes repeatedly) or compromise their loyalty to the team, don’t abandon them. Keep working for their ultimate good in spite of the cost to do so.

3. Provide sacrificially – Out of his uncompromising loyalty to his flock, the Good Shepherd provides for their needs. In fact, Jesus sacrifices his life for us, his sheep, in order to meet our ultimate need for salvation and eternal security (vv. 11, 15). Coach, to be a shepherd rather than merely a hired hand involves providing for those under your leadership. Because of your influence as a coach, you can impact your athletes’ need to find their identity in who God created them to be, to feel known and valued, and to mature in their character and perspective. This will require sacrifice on your part, however: the sacrifice of self-focused agendas; the sacrifice of time that might be given to coaching physical skills in order to give attention to coaching the mind and heart; possibly even the sacrifice of being misunderstood or criticized as you live out your commitment to Christ in how you coach your team.

God-honoring coaches recognize the Lord’s call to be a shepherd. Coach, the Lord has entrusted you with a flock: the athletes and others connected to your program. As you follow the Good Shepherd’s model, Jesus works through you for the ultimate good of those you coach.

For reflection: Take some time to praise Jesus for being your Good Shepherd. Reflect on which dimension of being a shepherd – care, loyalty, provision – you’d like to grow in. Share this with the Lord, trusting him to enable you to move forward in this.



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