By Curtis K. Shelburne
“Hey, coach Shelburne! Hey, coach!”
The kids on our brand-new Little League team had a question and needed some answers. No problem. It just took me a minute to answer to “Coach Shelburne.” Who, pray tell, was he?
I was helping coach Ted Johnson coach the team or, well, technically, he was helping me. But it didn’t take long to figure out who the real coach was. “Coach Johnson” just sounded right, and for good reason. Ted made his living coaching student athletes. He was a real live, commissioned, ordained, genuine, professional coach.
I’d helped coach King (as in “Kenneth King”) a few seasons earlier. Kenneth didn’t make his living coaching kids, but he was very good at it. He wore “coach” well.
Me? I was kind of an honorary coach. I had the best of intentions, and I was smart enough to be sure that the guys I was coaching with knew what they were doing. But I was by temperament more of an English-major/music-major kind of guy. And, by profession, I was and am a preacher. Put all that together, and you’ve got a guy who would much rather write an essay on the pros and cons of stealing third base than make a snap judgment and give a kid the sign to steal third or not.
“Coach Shelburne.” Well, I appreciated the honor of the title, and I enjoyed working with genuine “ordained” (so to speak) coaches. But I knew I wasn’t a coach of that variety. I was a fish out of water, a preacher floundering around away from a pulpit.
By the way, I grew up in a denomination that sort of devalued the pulpit. Our idea of that noble and praiseworthy concept, “the priesthood of all believers,” the truth that all Christians are called to ministry and service of some sort, was sort of twisted to indicate that if all Christians are “ministers,” then it doesn’t take much training or experience to be a “professional” one. In fact, we didn’t much like the word “professional,” as far as ministry went.
I never really understood that. Of course, all Christians are called to service and “ministry,” but to say that all Christians are called, educated and trained to be “professional” ministers makes about as much sense as saying that “all Christians are carpenters” or “all Christians are dentists” or “all Christians are coaches.” ’Tain’t so, and if you doubt that, I want to watch what happens when you call a carpenter to do your next root canal or a dentist to put up your crown molding.
Guess what? One of my sons has been hired by our school district! He’s got the training and earned the right to be a full-fledged, commissioned, salaried, “ordained” coach! “Coach Shelburne.” A real one.
“Christian.” Now there’s a beautiful term. God’s son died so that all of his followers might genuinely wear his beautiful name.