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Faith on the Field: 4 Insights for Church Leaders from a Football Coach

I am nearing the end of my first year coaching high school football. (Go Gilbert Christian High School Knights!) My son is in his freshman year, got some varsity time, and broke his collarbone. Before getting shame-filled emails about how I could possibly allow my son to play a dangerous sport like football, please know it is the only sport he has loved his entire life, and he recognizes the dangers.

Here are the four reasons I think church leaders should coach football…or not. Your call.

1. Football is super fun and super risky.

Young men come together every Friday night to “lay it all on the line.” They win and lose as a team. They rejoice and cry with one another. They pick up one another and get the “next man up” when one man goes down with an injury. It is a suspenseful sport. Every game includes an element of emotional and physical risk.

Church leaders, in general, have a very low-risk tolerance. We worry about what others will think of us, especially if we “fail.” Some leaders have difficulty developing the build, measure, and learn developmental mindset. I am praying more church leaders embrace the risk of starting new ministries to reach new people with the Gospel.

2. Football is a radical team sport.

No other sport includes so many different sizes and shapes of athletes on the same team. It includes 200-pound linemen (We’re a medium-sized Christian school. Two hundred pounds is beefy!) and 150-pound speedsters. Everyone must do their job. If one guy doesn’t cover his position, the play is busted–a touchdown or large gain is missed on offense, or a touchdown is scored on the defense.

Leading a local church is a radical team sport. We need every member of the body of Christ to “do their job” so that the mission of Jesus can be effectively carried out. This is far more serious than a football game. Eternal life by faith in Christ alone is at stake. The Holy Spirit wants us to use all of our gifts for God’s glory and for the love of our neighbor. (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12)

3. Football has its own language.

“Huddle up. Trips right, strong, high, stick nod, x angle, on two. Ready, ready.” Clap.

Huh. That may sound like Greek to you if you’ve never played football. If you have played football, you’re remembering the glory of eleven men huddling up to go on a mission to shove the football down the throat of the opponent. Ahhh, yeah, baby! (Read an obnoxiously loud and carnal male sound.) Whoops. Praise Jesus, the risen Christ forgives my occasionally aggressive pre-game rhetoric.

How does this apply to church leadership? I’m not entirely sure. Okay, here’s something. Every church should develop its own common language, centered on the Word of God, to uniquely reach the people in their context. Have fun working on your team to develop vision statements, values and tag lines that capture your contextually unique call to make Jesus known! Our church’s tagline for our family of ministries is “You Belong Here.” We want as many people as possible to believe they belong to Christ. Let the Word of God guide you. Don’t be afraid to give each other high fives and let out a loud “Yeah baby!” when your team runs a spectacular play!

4. Football is a game of coaching adjustments.

Good coaching makes a huge difference in high school football. I am proud of our coaching staff led by former NFL tight end John Carlson. (Feel free to Google him. He is going to be a guest on a podcast soon!) I got a front-row seat to watch our coaching scheme keep us in the game and winning. (I take little credit. I was the hype coach.) Occasionally, people in the stands would look at the field and think, “Wow! How are they winning? The other team looks bigger and better!”

Leading in the local church requires leaders (pastors, DCEs, administrators, etc.) to practice a coaching mindset. Coaches exist to develop their players. Coaches make adjustments to help their members (players) execute God’s mission well in their various vocations. Leaders must ask questions like, “What are the evolving felt needs in our community? How can I raise up the body of Christ to help meet those needs?”

I could go on, but I’ll stop now. You’re welcome. I can talk football with the best of ‘em.

Leader, go coach your players to win the game of advancing the Gospel through Word and Sacrament. Don’t worry–in Christ, we win!

“Huddle up. Wing right in the power of the Holy Spirit to reach the lost with the transforming power of the risen Jesus Christ! Ready, ready!” Clap.

Let the ULC know if we can support your church team’s mission to advance the Gospel.


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