Sports culture as it exists today tells us that our performance and accomplishments are what qualify us to be leaders.
God asks us to consider another way to view leadership.
Gospel-centered leaders view themselves and everyone around them as individuals worthy of dignity and respect because every human has been created in the image of God. By not viewing human worth through a performance lens, we operate under an entirely different system of how to treat others and how to view ourselves.
If leaders on sports teams began consistently living out of that system, the world would notice.
However, since the world generally gives leadership positions to those with the best “stats,” how can the rest of us live out these leadership values? If we are not a starter on our team, how can we lead in a way that makes a difference?
Reframing Our View of Leadership
No matter how many minutes of playing time you get, you can—and should—think of yourself as a leader. Leaders, simply put, are people who are trying to inspire a group of people toward a common goal.
There are a limited number of official leadership positions in any team, group or organization, but there are no limits on who can exercise influence and inspiration. The only limits are the ones we place on ourselves.
An important part of being a gospel-centered leader, therefore, is to expand our definition of leadership. Leadership can be a position but it is also a set of actions and attitudes that are not limited to people who have titles.
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Good leadership is about bringing out the best in the people around you and contributing to an environment where change and growth are possible. Anyone can contribute that type of leadership.
The gospel invites those with leadership positions to stop equating their value and worth with their performance. But it also asks those not in specific leadership positions to think of themselves as qualified to have a positive influence on those around them.
It affirms that leadership does not come only from the top down but can come from anywhere. And most importantly, leadership always comes from the inside out. Who we are—our character—matters more to our leadership than anything else.
Character Always Counts
When we lead from our character, we are able to influence our team at any time. Whatever role you have on a team, you can use it to make your team better.
If you are a practice player, you can set the example by doing your best in every drill.
You can show up early to put in extra time.
You can call out your teammates when they are not taking practice seriously.
If your job is to shag balls during practice, be the most efficient one on the court or field.
You can put your heart into every action that you take, even the most mundane. If you consider each activity to be a contribution to a positive team environment, you can make a difference.
I do want to emphasize one point here: embracing your role does not mean that you have to stop trying to get a starting spot. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get more playing time or working to get better at your sport.
The problem is when we tie our identity and value to the outcome of those efforts. God created humans to do amazing things, and He enjoys when we do our best. He especially enjoys when we do our best in freedom, knowing that neither our successes nor our failures define us.
The Road Less Traveled
We need gospel-centered leadership in sports. As athletes, we have been greatly impacted by our immersion in sports culture. We must allow God and the values of His kingdom to infiltrate our beliefs about leadership and our confidence in our own contribution as leaders.
Sports is also a great place to practice skills we need for the rest of our lives.
God is not asking us to be leaders so that we win conference championships or collect trophies. He is asking us to be leaders because the world is full of problems, brokenness and pain. We are called to be lights in dark places, and that will require all of the courage and perspective and grace that we have.
We will need to be gospel-centered leaders that take stands against oppression and that use whatever position we are given to try to bring about positive change.
Whatever our field of influence will be—in a board room, in a living room, in a gym—let us be leaders who lead with grace, love and compassion. Let’s be willing to cut against popular notions of what counts as “successful” in whatever discipline we might find ourselves in and instead lead through a Biblical lens.
The world is in desperate need of leaders who will define their lives and engage other people in this way, no matter the cost.