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Tim Challies

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What Could Be

I spent almost the entire duration of my education in Christian schools. From the first grade until the eleventh I attended several different Christian schools in various parts of Southern Ontario. The only exception was a year I spent in Edinburgh, Scotland where I attended first the local public high school and then the American School of Edinburgh. While there were many benefits in attending Christian schools, not the least of which were training in the Bible, doctrine and church history, there was also one great downfall. Every Christian school I attended had an abysmal athletic program. Because these schools are privately funded (there is no public funding for Christians schools in Canada) the money can only go so far and athletics inevitably falls by the wayside. Somehow I never had opportunity to participate in athletics in the other schools I attended.

I remember in the eighth grade we had a track and field day where our school competed against other local Christian schools. Because I was a bit taller than average, I was told to do high jump. In the days and weeks leading up to the track meet I do not recall having a single practice. And so it was that I found myself representing my school at a track meet lining up to take my first ever high jump. They set the bar at a pretty good height and one competitor after another took a turn at attempting to jump over. A few made it; most did not. When my turn came I shrugged my shoulders, took an good run and just plain jumped over it. Now I know there is a technique to doing the high jump where you jump almost backwards so you can twist your way over the bar. But having never practiced that particular technique I just ran and jumped over it. I cleared it too. As I headed back down the line I heard people giggling at me, yet I think they were quite impressed that I could just jump over it and land on my feet on the other side. I didn’t win that day because in the end my technique just wasn’t good enough. I could only do so much with the training I had received (which is to say, no training at all). As usual I found myself near the middle of the pack.

That same day I had to run a 400 meter relay and once again, we were victimized by unpreparedness. Our coach (who was also our teacher and principal) neglected to tell us that after the first lap of the race we were no longer required to stay in our lane. The four of us from Timothy Christian School ended up running a significantly longer race than people from the other schools! And of course we lost. I do not come from particularly athletic stock and while I may have dreamed of being a sports star, I knew the odds were stacked against me. The only sport I excelled in was baseball and that was due to long hours I spent throwing a tennis ball against the wall of a local building. One of the proudest moments of my youth was when I tried out for a baseball team and I heard the coach exclaim “that kid’s got a cannon!” To interpret the baseball lingo, that means I had an exceptionally strong arm. One of the first games of the season they put me out on the mound to see if I could pitch. Generally that is something you’d try first in a practice, but as seems to be my lot in life, I was not so fortunate. I stared down the batter, checked the runner at first, wound up and heard “Balk!” And again I fell victim to a lack of proper training. I got an impromptu lesson on winding up and pitched my way out of the inning, never to pitch again.

I often wonder if, with proper training, I could have done better in athletics. I received such abysmal training from the time I first entered school all the way until I left, that I can’t help but wonder if, with proper training, I couldn’t have excelled at a sport or two. Though not particularly strong, I did have good endurance and surely could have played soccer or done long distance running. But at this point I’ll never know. I really never had a chance to find out.

Sometimes I look at the Christian world and wonder what kind of potential there is in the pews of churches that never really teach the Word. Perhaps a man with the brilliant mind and logic of Charles Spurgeon sits every week, listening to feel-good sermons, never realizing that there is a whole depth to the Christian walk that he does not even know about. Perhaps a man with the dedication of Hudson Taylor is in a church that has never told him about the desperate situation of the lost and the unthinkable fate that will befall those who die without Christ. He has never been given an opportunity to see the need to reach out to the lost. Perhaps a songwriter with the talent and depth of Charles Wesley has given up on Christianity, never having heard the true call of the Gospel, even after years of attending church. Perhaps one of these people sits next to you every Sunday morning. Perhaps one of these people is you.

I am convinced that there are so many who could do so much, if only they received the proper training. There is so much potential that may never be tapped, simply because so many churches fail in their duty to adequately train Christians in knowledge of the Bible, in doctrine and tragically, even in the fundamentals of the faith. Training for athletics is hard work. Ask any of the ten thousand men and women competing in Athens today and I’m sure they will tell you that without suitable instruction, without coaches and trainers dedicating their time and talents to the athletes, they could not possibly be the best at their sports. And in the same way we cannot expect to see more giants of the faith unless we provide proper instruction. Churches need to dedicate themselves to training Christians properly, not leaving them with a shallow, superficial faith, but teaching them deep, wondrous truths. Until churches truly dedicate themselves to the training-up of believers, we may only ever be able to wonder at what could be.