by Eddie Pipkin

Image by Alana Jordan from Pixabay

The NFL Players Association does a highly detailed survey each year in which they have each member evaluate the working conditions at the various team facilities, as well as travel logistics, accommodations, food quality, support services, communications, childcare, really anything and everything that touches the life of a player in relation to the team for whom he works.  It’s a great strategy.  Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the rankings.  These things matter to players.  And happy players matter to winning teams.  Workplace environments matter, whether it’s game time or ministry time, and while we ministry leaders will never be able to provide the cossetted occupational cocoons of professional athletes, it is worth thinking about how we produce an environment that keeps folks healthy, happy, and at the top of their form.

Miami Dolphins strength coach Dave Puloka summarizes why the amazing facilities, developmental programs (physical and mental), and support staff matter for his team:

“Our idea is to set the conditions to where players can perform at their best,” Puloka said. “We can’t throw and catch or run the ball, but we can set conditions that are conducive for them to play at their highest level.”

Ministry teams are also, in fact, teams, and we can call them that because they are a group of diversely talented and skilled people with a wide range of passions who work together as a unit to achieve meaningful outcomes.  We celebrate their victories and mourn their setbacks.  Why not build an environment for success?

Of course, we don’t have the deep pockets of the National Football League and its billion-dollar franchises – who does?  In this article that alerted me to the fantastical working conditions of these pampered pros, it was clear their training room will have amenities that ours never will:

The hot tub fits 15 players. Each player’s weight workout is individualized and scheduled into their day for best results.

Fresh-cooked and boxed omelets await players arriving at the last minute to take into team meetings each morning.

They fly on a chartered double-decker 747 plane to games where every player has a business-class seat that reclines flat for sleeping or just stretching out.

We’re never going to have that level of luxe (and there would be a great theological argument for why we shouldn’t, based on our mission profile).  On the other hand, we’re not signing up to be brutally tackled by 300-pound behemoths for three hours every week (maybe just once a week in the back of the sanctuary by that nice lady who begs us to please turn up the thermostat).  Likewise, it might be swell to keep some energy snacks on hand in a designated area to keep the ideas flowing, but we’re not going to need a staff of chefs and nutritional specialists to fuel the crew like the Dolphins do:

Dolphins players ate 10,000 pounds of chicken from June to December last season, [Meg] Kelly [Director of Food Services] said.

They also ate 1,400 pounds of salmon, 22,000 eggs, 4,000 avocados, 1,000 pounds of turkey breast at the deli station and 250 cases of romaine lettuce.

That’s a greater tonnage of food than a standard Methodist potluck, maybe even a dinner on the grounds.  Maybe.

The point is the team management’s focus on providing what the players need to maximize their potential, and it’s a mix of general best practices and highly tailored special treatment.

Many local churches would be doing great to have a strong emphasis on either one of those strategies, much less both!

A person (or team of persons) that is actively keeping up with best professional ministry and management practices and taking the lead on training staff and volunteers in those best practices is worth their weight in gold.  An environment in which individualized coaching is provided to staff and volunteers that guides people in their personal and professional development is worth its weight in gold wrapped in platinum wrapped in diamonds.  Training and professional development are often hit-or-miss affairs, and people who are strong advocates for themselves tend to get more attention and resources, but the more systemic the approach to development for the whole team, the more the whole team thrives.

The individualization of the approach for each staff member and key volunteer can render outsized results, and it’s a core biblical approach with its emphasis on the nurture and growth of souls yearning towards the maximum trajectory of their God-created potential.

The Dolphins may not have a holy mission – your belief in that regard probably hinges on your proximity to South Florida – but they sure get the principle:

At the center of the NFLPA grades on the Dolphins is an understood idea every player has a finite career. The idea is to maximize that career through food plans, by drawing up weight workouts for a 22-year-old rookie or 35-year-old veteran with a shoulder problem or through the daily grind of rehabilitating an injury.

“It’s a people business,” [Kyle] Johnston [team trainer] said. “There’s nothing cooler for us than to see a player have some adversity, overcome it and having the kind of success that lets him go sign a big contract. It’s really cool to be a part of that.”

On reading through the article a second time, I was struck by the recurring themes of trust, communication, and collaboration that simmered quietly in every corner of the conversation.  People who feel seen and supported feel empowered.  People who feel valued – because it’s understood that when they are achieving their personal goals, we are all closer to the team goals – those people feel invested in the vision and filled with purpose.

It does not take a big budget and five-star facilities to achieve this environment.

It takes attitude and commitment by the people in charge.

As an example of just a few of things that would have a major impact to the people on the front lines of ministry if team management provided them with thoughtful intent:

  • A comfortable, practical place to work at the ministry campus.
  • A comfortable, practical, inspiring place to collaborate with others.
  • A peaceful place to recharge and reflect on the ministry campus.
  • High-quality equipment for getting their job done effectively and efficiently.
  • A break room with some consistently good yummies and rejuvenating liquids.
  • Readily available educational resources to facilitate their role and help them grow in it.
  • Connections with others (within and without your community) who can help them expand their understanding of their role and fulfill it.
  • Individualized coaching and guidance.

You can get all sorts of people involved in creating these things, and there are many people who will be thrilled to employ their love language for caring for and developing others.

There are two things to note about the NFLPA’s survey and the way it helps hold team’s accountable to the vision of a healthy workplace:

  • They ASKED players what they needed!
  • They dedicated resources, time, and effort to getting players what they needed.

That’s a solid model.

How do you and your church do at providing an environment that helps your staff and volunteers reach their potential?  Do you have comfortable, practical workspaces for both individuals and team collaborations?  Do you provide a few creature comforts to make them feel special?  Do they have the equipment they need?  Do they receive regular, quality training?  Are they individually coached and guided on their career journey?  Is somebody checking up on their spiritual health?  Winning teams have feel-good vibes.  Share your thoughts!