By Eddie Pipkin
The Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI on Sunday night, and they did it exactly the same way that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did it a year earlier: by spending the money and making the trades to invest in a team built to win NOW. They assembled the perfect combination of veterans, skill players, and underdeveloped talent, then equipped them and coached them on how to win it all. On the one hand, you might argue that ministry leaders don’t have a few hundred million dollars lying around to go for broke like an NFL team – on the other hand, you might find that, philosophically speaking, ministry leaders have more in common with NFL team owners and coaches than first meets the eye.
First of all, if you watched even a little of the Super Bowl, you saw that $5 billion sports palace in which they were playing the game, SoFi Stadium. I’m not going to argue that you need to drop a few billion on a cutting-edge worship space – in fact, I have regularly argued that big spending on facilities is exactly the opposite direction that local churches need to be going (and instead should be investing in resources that get them out into the community) – but that mega-stadium is a shout-out to understanding local context. SoFi Stadium is sooo L.A. It’s Hollywood glamour and California cool. You can focus on making your own ministry space equally awesome for its own local context, and this works from suburban church campuses to storefront start-ups, small town historic makeovers. Claim the space, know who the people in your community are and what they need, and mold the space to the personality of the place and the people who gather there.
As for the winning team, the Rams’ front office was strategic and energetic in pursuing their vision for winning. They understood the strengths of the personnel with which they started, and they identified the missing pieces that would get them over the top. Then they committed to bridging those gaps.
- They rescued a journeyman quarterback from a long run of ‘almost.’ Matthew Stafford had been playing in Detroit for the past decade, making that team good but not great. The Detroit team had made it to the playoffs on several occasions, only to lose out early. He was a solid, high-performing quarterback, but he was surrounded by a team that did not maximize his skills. It was a place where his strengths were not fully leveraged. The Rams, though, saw his unfulfilled potential, looked past his undeserved reputation as a player who couldn’t close the deal, and acted on their belief in him. They brought him in, sold him on their winning vision, surrounded him with the supporting pieces that could take him from good to great, and encouraged him with the support and expert coaching that helped him believe in himself in the team.
Plenty of ministry parallels there. The leadership identified someone who was doing fine work but never quite reaching their full potential, and they recruited that person to try a new thing in a more supportive environment that more closely complemented their skill set.
- They cultivated exceptional skills players. In football, this means recruiting and developing players with essential critical skills, like Super Bowl MVP receiver, Cooper Kupp. They did everything they could to help these players be exceptional in their assigned tasks, expressed their faith in their abilities by regularly “giving them the ball,” and rewarded them for their outstanding performance. Some of these players they drafted right out of college and then invested in their development. Some of them they traded for to fill holes in the roster.
From a ministry perspective, it is powerful to have talented “skills players” in place. Whether it’s talented musicians, gifted online communicators, insightful administrators, or charismatic youth leaders, it’s important to recruit and cultivate people with specific skills sets that fill gaps in our own expertise.
- Fearless coaching. Sean McVay was the youngest coach in NFL history when the Rams ownership hired him at age 30. He is fiercely, obsessively committed to the game, and his intensity and commitment clearly bring out the best in his players. He is detail-oriented with a decisive plan that he clearly communicates that maximizes the capabilities of the team he has assembled while taking seriously the weekly threat represented by the opposing team. He has surrounded himself with an excellent staff and given them the tools to do their jobs well and the authority to make the decisions needed to get that job done. As the head coach during game time, he was willing to take risks (thereby expressing his confidence in the players and the plan).
From a ministry perspective, it would be a different world if we thought of ourselves less as supervisors and more as coaches. (Even better if we thought of ourselves more as coaches who coach coaches.) The other elements of success documented in McVay’s bio include a clear strategic vision, crystal clear communication, consistency in approach, and understanding the potential pitfalls and challenges of any decision. These elements not only produce a nonambiguous direction for the mission at hand, but they produce resiliency as a natural byproduct.
Coaching is all about bringing out the best in others by helping them bring out the best in themselves.
I thought that premise was crystalized by a comment made by new Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel at a meet-the-coach press conference a couple of weeks ago. McDaniel has a tough assignment ahead, and he was being asked about wrangling the priorities of 53 NFL players and a couple of dozen assistant coaches. He responded that in his first coaching job, when the Houston Texans took a chance on him as a wet-behind-the-ears 23-year-old receivers coach, he had to quickly figure out how to command respect and produce results from professional athletes, so he developed a ‘simple formula’:
“You establish early that you can help them with their dream,’’ he said. “If you establish with them early on you have value to their goal, you can coach them.”
I was blown away by the collaborative nature of this style of leadership. We can make the organization successful by making the people in it successful. We can bring our dreams to life by helping them bring their dreams to life. That seems like a beautiful description of what ministry leadership should be. Since we talk so much about God’s plans for our organizations and God’s plans for individuals who are part of those organizations, it seems like a seamless integration that those two things would complement one another. When we help people see how they can achieve their own goals hand-in-hand with achieving our organizational goals, we are fulfilling our potential as winning leaders.
Of course, that kind of ‘coaching’ leadership is the exception not the rule. Maybe that’s the reason that so many local congregations are struggling. And maybe collaborative, coaching-style leadership is a model we should be attentive to as we are admiring local congregations that are thriving.
How about you? How do you go about assembling and developing winning teams? What are you most excited about as you think of the ways that you are helping individuals on your leadership team as they are achieving their own goals and dreams even as they are working with passion and excellence to help you fulfill yours?