Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary former football coach at the University of Alabama, was seemingly larger than life (he earned his nickname at the age of 14, when he wrestled a bear at a traveling carnival.) The following year, he tried out for the high school football team, and played in the very first game he had ever seen. He developed into a hard-nosed, physical player, earning a scholarship at the University of Alabama, where he demonstrated his toughness by playing a game with a broken leg (In 1937, Alabama played in the Rose Bowl and while out west, Bryant had a screen test with Paramount Studios to become an actor. He was offered a contract, but his new wife refused to move to California!)
Bear Bryant followed his desire to be a college coach, and in 1958 he accepted the job at Alabama, where he would remain a fixture for the next 25 years. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, no college team won more games than Alabama, and the Crimson Tide. In his first nine years at the helm of the Alabama football program, his team won three national championships and experienced unparalleled success. By the late 1960’s, however, Alabama’s football team began to falter, finishing two straight seasons unranked. Many fans started to wonder if Bryant had lost his touch. Many journalists assumed that the college game had passed him by. Even Bear was frustrated with his team’s performance, and in January of 1969, he flirted with the idea of making a clean break and a fresh start, initially accepted a five-year $1.7 offer to coach the Miami Dolphins. He quickly had a change of heart and decided to stay at Alabama (the Dolphins ended up hiring Don Shula).
But Bear Bryant realized that things had to change. His current course was no longer good enough. In 1971, he began a complete overhaul of the storied Alabama program, secretly switching from the more traditional pro-style offense to the newly developed “Wishbone” formation (many fans had called for him to do this earlier, but Bryant originally scoffed at such notions.) This major transformation propelled the once-proud Crimson Tide back into the national spotlight, winning eight SEC titles in a nine-year span and amassing three more national championships.
Bryant could have rest on his laurels; he could have fought the call to change. But his desire to grow was greater than his will to stay the same. The Bible speaks of God’s desire to see each of us changed. 2 Corinthians 3:18 declares that “we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.” In other words, once we are followers of Christ, the Lord continues to stretch us, grow us, challenge us, and guide us, all in the goal of making us more like Jesus. God is in the life-changing business. He takes us, just as we are, and fixes us, heals us, and renews us. I know many folks who, unlike Bear Bryant, are satisfied with the status quo. Change can be unsettling. But God calls us to more. Better yet, He doesn’t call us to do this on our own. Rather, He is the one who provides the transformation! How are you becoming more like Jesus? Can those around you see the change? As a Pastor, do I want to become more and more like Andy Stanley? Or do I want to become more like Jesus? As a leader, do I want to become more like that innovative megachurch CEO down the street? Or do I want to become more like Jesus? As a visionary, do I long to see a church made up of humble, growing disciples, or do I wish my church looked more like that fast-growing congregation that everyone’s talking about? As Church Planters, we’re all about change. We embrace it – we forge ahead point blank into it. But I have learned that before Jesus will use me to change the lives of those out there, he needs to change me – my expectations, my hurts, my fears, and my view of myself (and of Him!) It’s easy to become frustrated when the world around us won’t change (at least not for the better.) But, I must admit (and repent) – I am often more difficult to change than anyone I could ever meet “out there.”