My rookie year with the Baltimore Colts seems like it was only yesterday. The first words out of Coach Don Shula’s mouth were a challenge: “Men, you will be better prepared both mentally and physically than any team you play this year—the rest is up to you.”

I hung on every word, and immediately felt inspired to practice and prepare as hard as I could to help the team win. His words of confidence made me feel like a winner before I had even played my first set of downs in the National Football League.

In our Coaches Outreach Bible studies this semester we’re studying the letter of First Corinthians. Some of the first words from Paul’s pen are similar to those spoken by Coach Shula. They are direct, challenging words written to a rookie church in Corinth. “Coach Paul” cut it straight with these cocky first-round draft choices of the first century. Paul begins by opening these Christian rookies’ eyes to a squint at first. But as the letter to the Corinthians goes on, his words make sure their eyes are open wide to the truths they hadn’t seen before!

Like college players who come into the pro ranks, the new Christians in Corinth thought they had arrived spiritually, but didn’t know they had forgotten the fundamentals. Coach Paul starts with the most important one: “Think about the circumstances of your call,” (v.26). He reminds them that it is God who drafts us. There was and is nothing special about us that isn’t provided by God Himself. In fact he shows that God likes to take the sorriest-looking athletes and make them into Super Bowl contenders: “God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong” (v. 27, NET).

When we read those verses we are tempted to think like the Corinthians, “Hey, come on… give me a little credit. I have some Christian friends who think I’m pretty special!” But Paul hits them with more fundamental truth about their lack of worthiness: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something…” (v. 28, NET).

This is what any boot-camp sergeant knows as “breaking them down.” Paul hits us with the cold smack of reality that, in this army of believers, everyone starts at the foot of the Cross. Your previous or present status has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Why? “So that no one can boast in His presence. He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus…” (vv. 29–30, NET).

It’s exiting to know that right now over nine hundred coaches in our Bible Studies are taking these fundamentals seriously and building on them. In chapter three Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready…” (vv. 1–2, NET). Even though they work long hours, coaches are taking time to study our curriculum because they are determined not to stay in spiritual diapers, but grow mature in their faith. They’re not relying on baby food, but, thanks to the meat of God’s Word, they are putting on spiritual muscle. They are strengthening themselves—they are preparing themselves for service.

Good coaches know what Don Shula said to me so many years ago, that there is no substitute in sports for good preparation. This principle is also true in spiritual life. Our coaches studying 1 Corinthians are thankful they’ve been drafted by God, and know why they must stay focused on the fundamentals… “Christ Jesus… became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:30–31, NET).

Tommy Maxwell (ThM, 1983), former Super Bowl winner, serves as executive director of Coaches Outreach, a ministry to high school and college coaches. Copyright © 2005, Coaches Outreach. Used by permission.