By Rob Hurtgen
I am at the stage in life where my children are participating in one sport or another. Most of their teams require volunteer coaches. Thus, I have been both the assistant coach and the team coach. (By the way, volunteering as a coach is an incredible way to build relationships with those outside of your church.)
I have observed there are some parallels between coaching children’s sports teams and being a pastor-leader. The following are three types of leadership challenges for the church I’ve been noticing by coaching children’s sports teams.
Coaching the kid who carries unrealistic expectations.
Some boys and girls step onto the field of competition carrying unrealistic expectations from their parents. Parents who desperately want their child to be exceptional. Parents who place unrealistic expectations on their children dreaming of the day they will be a high dollar professional athlete.
Pressure like that on a nine-year-old is a nightmare for the child and the coach.
Unrealistic expectations do not create better athletes but halfhearted participants. The boys and girls who carry unrealistic expectations need their coach to encourage and celebrate them when they do something well.
Those boys and girls need someone in their life, even if it just for a short season, who will assure them. Someone who will say, “You can do this,” “keep it up,” and “it is okay not to be perfect.”
In the church, some men and women see themselves as a disappointment. These members struggle to believe that God truly does love them.
They think that they cannot do anything well, so they do not try to do anything at all. They need to be assured.
As Moses assured Joshua to be the next leader of the people that God was calling him to be (Deuteronomy 3:28), we pastors need to assure those who have placed unrealistic expectations on themselves.
Coaching the kid with little confidence.
Similarly, to the child with unrealistic expectations placed on them is the child with little confidence. The child with little confidence does not know how to play and is uncertain if they can.
They need instruction and encouragement. They need a coach who will tell them, “You can do it,” “here is how you do that,” and “you’re doing great. If you do this, you’ll get even better results.”
Some men and women do not possess the confidence that God could really use someone like them. They not only need the training to increase their skill and their confidence but like Joshua, we need to remind them to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6).
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Leader, come alongside them and encourage them not to trust in their abilities but in the Lord who can work in and through them.
Coaching the kid with his own agenda.
One football season there was a boy on the team who only wanted to run the ball. If he wasn’t running the ball, he wasn’t going to play.
His agenda was to do what he wanted to do and nothing else. Thankfully his parents did not agree with his agenda.
You may have some in your church whose main concern is advancing their own ministry plans. They only want to “run the ball.” They are not necessarily opposed to the church’s vision, but their interests are to advance their own concerns.
One of the hardest leadership challenges is working with those who are moving in a similar but not the same direction. They may not oppose you, but they are not with you either.
Joshua faced similar leadership challenges. Achan, along with the rest of the army, received the instruction to not take the “sacred things” (Joshua 6:18-19). But he did not listen. Achan was concerned with fulfilling his plan (Joshua 7:1).
Yes, he wanted his people to win the battle. But he also wanted to fulfill his plan. Achan’s plan costs his people a significant defeat and eventually his and his family’s life (Joshua 7:25-26).
You may have those in your fellowship who don’t align with the direction of the church. These members may be good people. They may love the Lord. They may even have a good goal. But they have a different goal than you and the church share. As Jim Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great.”
In your position as pastor-leader, you must take courage to have hard conversations with those who would prefer to run rogue to the church’s vision than willingly align themselves with the church.
As a leader, you must direct your church to add its unique contribution to the Great Commission. Even if not everyone you are leading agrees.
Being a coach for my children’s teams is rewarding. I hope that my children value having their dad as their coach. I also hope that the relationships built through those teams will lead to gospel conversations.
There are many other many parallels between leading a team of eight-year-olds and being a pastor-leader. But giving assurance, being an encourager, and learning to build alignment are three vital leadership skills among the top.
ROB HURTGEN (@robhurtgen) is husband to Shawn, father of five, pastor of First Baptist Church Chillicothe, Missouri, and doctoral student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also blogs at https://robhurtgen.wordpress.com.