Lessons from McFarland, USA

McFarland-USA-Movie-PosterI think most of us would say that we want to make an impact in our community. Whenever we hear the stories of those who have, we are inspired and wish that we could do the same. The story of McFarland, USA is one of those stories. The struggling coach moves with his family to what seems to be the last place he can get a job and makes a discovery. He discovers that some of the students are amazing runners. So he decides to start a cross country program and the rest is history.

When I watched this movie, I left feeling inspired and after reflecting on it realized that Coach White lives a missional life in the community of McFarland. He makes certain decisions, whether he realizes it or not, that increase his ability to impact his community. As a followers of Christ we can do some of the same things that he did and make an impact. Here are 4 lessons that we can take away from McFarland, USA. This isn’t a magical formula by any means, but there are definitely valuable lessons to be learned.

1. Look for people’s strengths

Coach White is ultimately able to make an impact because he looked for their strengths. He sees them as having potential and helps them to unlock that potential. He also doesn’t try to make them into something that they’re not. He doesn’t try to make them into a championship baseball team, instead he takes runners and develops them into a cross country team. He’s never coached cross country, but he is willing to do so because that is their strength. So often the best resources that a community has are it’s people, but we miss that because we have in mind what we want and and not the gifts and abilities that the community already has. If you want to have an impact, help people flourish with their strengths and gifts instead of trying to make them into something they are not.

2. You won’t succeed right away

They lose their first meet and we are probably going to fail a few times out of the gate too. The key is to learn from mistakes and keep working. If we’re afraid of failure, we won’t try anything because, as the Mythbusters taught us, “Failure is always an option.” It’s okay to fail. Failing provides valuable lessons. Paul ended up in prison, was stoned, and shipwrecked. It’s okay to fail. Don’t let failure keep you from trying.

3. Embrace Local Culture

After forgetting his daughter’s 15th birthday, he learns about the importance of a Quinceañera. With the help of friends and neighbors he is able to embrace their tradition and throw his daughter a huge party in the way that the community throws a party. He learns from them and lets them help him. He doesn’t show up and say this is how I party, but instead asks how they party. This puts him in a position of humility and further connects him to his community. He also spends a day in the field picking cabbage with his students so that he can understand what they are going through.

4. Stay in the community

(Spoiler Alert) Finally, at the end Coach White chooses to stay in McFarland. When offered a “better” job, with more pay, in a nicer community he turns it down to stay with the people who have become like an extended family to him. Making an impact isn’t about winning and then moving on to do it somewhere else. It’s about developing relationships and staying for the long term. If Coach White helped McFarland win one Cross Country championship and then moved on, we wouldn’t have a movie about him. Instead he stayed and helped them win 9 championships. Real impact comes from long term commitment not a one time success.

There are other things that we can learn from the the movie, but these are the things that really stuck out to me. Go watch McFarland, USA and see what you can learn. I hope that these lessons help you as you think about making an impact where you live.

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