Mark Richt is a man of faith. He is also the head football coach at the University of Georgia.
Richt is a man who takes his religion seriously. Some think that his religion is football.
I am a person who enjoys sports, including college football, and I pull for the Dawgs from UGA. But I do not bleed red and black. Others do.
Recent news stories reported about some of the ways Coach Richt is living out his faith in Christ. Some people have criticized him. Suggested that his Christian commitment is in conflict with his leadership in the athletic arena.
While Richt was on a week-long mission trip to Honduras this summer Fran Tarkenton, successful businessman and former star quarterback at the University of Georgia and in the NFL, talked about him on a local sports radio talk show. He said "He is a wonderful guy. He is a good Christian guy. He wants to be a missionary. He goes on missions. That is a wonderful thing. But do you know the religion of [Alabama's] Nick Saban? Or [Auburn assistant] Gus Malzahn? Or [Oregon's] Chip Kelly? I don't think we care what their religion [is]. We hire them to be football coaches. If we are hiring religious instructors, let's go to the Candler School of Theology over here in Decatur and get some of their people to come and coach our football team."
Richt does not agree that one has to choose between Christian beliefs and career. One can be a servant and a success at the same time.
"Ask Tony Dungy if he (put his Christian faith aside)," said Richt, beginning to list former big-time professional or college coaches who shared an active spiritual side. "Ask Bobby Bowden. Ask Tom Landry. Ask Tom Osborne. Those guys had success. We've had success, tremendous success. Lately, though, it hasn't been much to write about."
"I think (the idea that winning requires complete tunnel vision) has been proven untrue and it's still untrue."
Richt was challenged when he read "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, a former CEO of the china maker, Lenox. Stearns now leads World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization.
After considering the suggestions that Stearns offered, Richt concluded that he had a higher calling to fulfill. Last May the coach and his wife Katharyn decided to sell their nearly $2 million second home on Lake Hartwell. They felt that this "sacrifice" was necessary in order to put their beliefs into action.
"[Selling] is to put us in a better position to be more generous," said Richt.
As I said at the beginning, I am a sports fan. I want my teams to win but I do not believe that winning is everything or that it is in conflict with the Christian faith. Ted Turner was right when he said that Christianity is for losers. But it is also for winners. A person's faith does not guarantee success but it is not an obstacle to it.
The publicity around Mark Richt's recent actions reminds me of Jesus' definition of success. "If a person wants to be at the top, that person must learn to serve those who are at the bottom" (Mark 9:35).
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," July 18, 2011. North Georgia Conference, United Methodist Church.]