This past weekend, the wrestling team I coach competed for the first time this past weekend. And, as with most opening season competitions, the results were mixed – some turned in great results; others’ performances left room for improvement. One thing I noted though, was that our wrestlers who performed best have “bought in” to the training and system we have here at Augsburg College. That is,
- They’ve committed themselves to using and perfecting the technique they’re taught;
- They put maximum effort into the workouts and training demands placed in on them;
- They take care of things academically & perform well in the classroom;
- They behave responsibly in their personal and social lives;
- They manage their diet and nutrition to maximize their performance on and off the mat.
In short, the wrestlers who are “buying in” seem to be doing everything right and are reaping the benefits of it. And while I’m happy and proud of the athletes who experienced success this weekend, and will hopefully continue to do so, the primary question that comes to my mind is,
“What makes an athlete ‘buy in’ at all?”
For as successful as this program and coaching staff has been over the years, not every athlete has reached their full potential. Some quit the team; some quit school and never get their college degree. Some come in with tons of accomplishments in high school, yet never achieve what they are capable of in college. On the flip side, we have kids who have come in with less accomplishments, and who seemingly will never be more than a backup or 50% winning wrestler for us, and they’ve gone on to win All-American honors and even become National Champions. I wonder, why do some wrestlers choose to “buy in” – do everything that is asked of them by the coaching staff, and believe wholeheartedly in the principles and philosophy of the wrestling program here at Augsburg.
The answer for me comes down to trust. Those athletes that “buy in” choose to trust the coaching staff and what we communicate and challenge them with. Those athletes choose to believe in the principles of the program. But they don’t do so blindly, nor do they do it out of fear of failure, out of coercion, or even out of the promise of success. I believe they do it because what they have decided to place their trust in has shown itself to be trustworthy. In other words, their trust has been earned – both by the integrity of our wrestling program, or what values and commitments it stands for, and in the efforts of the coaches who are embodying and communicating the values and commitments of the program.
And where’s what funny to me: I think the same is true for the church. Faith essentially comes down to a choice – a decision to trust in the integrity of the gospel message and in the efforts of the church community in communicating and embodying that same message. Or, in more theological terms, the integrity of our proclamation and witness is at stake. The challenge for the church is nurturing faith in people – getting them to “buy in.” And if church leaders are really honest, that’s what we want from the congregations, communities and people of faith we serve – to make the decision to choose faith in God, to trust in the relationship with God through Jesus Christ – that it has shown itself to be trustworthy; that it is life-giving and transforms those that trust in it.
And I think this raises some very important questions for both wrestling coaches and those who lead in ministry. First, I think it forces us to think deeply about our own integrity as leaders: what we will be committed to and what will we value that we pass along to those we serve? I think we have to consider what those commitments and values are communicating – both positively and negatively. Is winning most important? Is growth strictly understood in church membership size most important? Or is there something with more substance, more meaningful, that we ought to be committing ourselves to?
And the second question I think we as leaders need to be asking ourselves: “How hard are we working to communicate and embody those commitments and values?” It’s an important question, because if we’re not working hard in these areas, then simply, you won’t create the “buy in” I’m talking about here because those around you simply won’t believe you. They won’t trust you. If you’re not invested, then there’s no reason to expect they will invest back.
I know for me as a coach, I know if I want my athletes to “buy in,” I need to spend a lot of time forming a personal relationship with them. I need to be honest with them about their performance, but also honest when I make mistakes as a coach. I need to listen to them, how they’re feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally, and making time for that. And, above all, I try to stress character as the most important thing in life – because that will carry them on well after they leave the mat.
In my pastoral role, I know if I want people to “buy in,” whether a part of the faith community or not, then the same is true. I need to be honest with them about the world they live in, but also honest about this God made known through Jesus Christ. I need to be honest about the mystery of God as well – our religous traditions are limited, and in the end, one has to step out primarily in faith. And, I have to listen and care for them – physically, emotionally, and mentally – and always make time for that, even when I’m “too busy.” And above all, I try to stress the good news of the gospel, God is present with us always, is the most precious thing in this life – because it will carry them in all times of life, even when their faith and trust hangs on a thin thread.
So there you have it. How do you get people to “buy in?” You create and nurture faith and trust in others by being a leader of integrity and being faithful and trustworthy to them first. For me, it sounds a lot like this God who in Christ has shown to be faithful and trustworthy to us first….and perhaps, just maybe, that’s enough for us to “buy in.”