In a recent Rainer on Leadership podcast, Thom Rainer discussed seven keys to growing as a pastor. One of his life-long learner insights was to apply lessons from books, movies, and other spheres of life. This blog post is my attempt to take a personal passion and learn from it.
I am a diehard UNC Tar heel sports fan. Recently, a good friend of mine took my son and me to a UNC basketball game. At the game, I watched Coach Roy Williams teach, challenge, and coach his team. While it is not a perfect analogy, I think there are a great many lessons that we can learn as pastors from coaches in professional and college athletics.
- Pastors, like coaches have the primary role of teaching. Good coaches know the game. Great coaches teach their players to play the game. Pastors are shepherds, ministers and caretakers, but they are also teachers. They must embrace the biblical mandate to teach the Bible for application to their congregations. Good pastors care for their congregations. Great pastors understand teaching the Bible is a primary means of caring for their congregation.
- Pastors, like coaches must deal with criticism. Coaches get yelled at by fans, trashed on social media and questioned by pundits. Being a coach at a university or in the pros requires thick skin and short memories. Pastors also deal with their fair share of criticism and cannot be thin skinned. For coaches, criticisms from bosses, players, and assistants rightly have more influence than the pundits and fans. Likewise, pastors must learn to properly weight criticisms. When a once-a-month church member makes a complaint, that is far different than an every week deacon who serves. Learn to evaluate criticisms appropriately and not live in fear of them.
- Pastors, like coaches can recruit but are not singularly responsible for the makeup of their teams. In college sports, coaches recruit. In the pros, General Managers sign players. Coaches certainly have influence, but they don’t entirely determine their teams. Moreover, the talent levels for teams is vastly different. The talent level Nick Saban can recruit at Alabama is far superior (on the whole) to the talent level at Western Carolina University. While pastors must reach out through evangelism (in our less-than-perfect analogy the equivalent of recruiting), they need to have realistic expectations for their congregations. Geographical location, socioeconomics, and history play a role in defining individual church cultures and congregational makeup. Pastors, like coaches must learn to develop realistic goals for success and avoid comparisons to other churches.
- Pastors, like coaches often receive too much credit and too much blame. It amazes me how transient the life of a coach can be. Impatient fan bases, owners and athletic directors result in short stints and job insecurity. Head coaches are responsible for the programs, but the players have to play well. In similar fashion, pastors who fail to bring change to a church that resists change are all-too-often dismissed. Pastors, for their part must learn to share credit and give glory to God when things are going well. They must also learn to take responsibility and lead in problem solving when things are difficult.
- Pastors, like coaches can call the plays but must trust others to run them. Coaches cannot enter the court or field of play. Players run the plays. Too often pastors function solely like players responsible to lead, minister, teach, and do everything else. Pastors must obey the biblical admonition to equip the church to serve rather than do everything themselves.
- Pastors, like coaches have the responsibility to do things the right way. Scandals permeate college and professional athletics. With all the money involved, that should not be surprising. Some coaches get passes because they win. Others get the boot because they cheated. Pastors must not fall into the trap that success is everything. They must reject the temptation to compromise biblical truth or their integrity to make people happy or experience outward success. Pastors must retain personal integrity.
- Pastors, like coaches have to lead their players to see the vision of being on a team. One of the greatest challenges coaches have is creating team chemistry. Great players don’t always make great teams. Great teams have players who know their roles, know the roles of their teammates and work together for shared success. Pastors could learn from this principle. Churches that revolve around the pet programs of individuals or exist to make people happy are scattered and lack purpose. Churches that function with clear vision and processes to accomplish that vision build a team mindset. Pastors must take this responsibility seriously.
- Pastors, like coaches need to collaborate and delegate. I recently read an article highlighting the collaboration and creativity on the coaching staff of Superbowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. Their internal collaboration (aided in part by the shared Christian faith of many of the coaches and players) resulted in success on the field. Pastors can learn from their model. Pastors need collaborating team members (staff and/or lay leaders) to assist, encourage, share ideas and implement vision. Working together through collaboration and delegation will bolster the involvement and support of those in the church.
Are there other insights that coaching brings to pastors? What other spheres of life can offer insights that assist pastors in leading their churches?