Football and Church Planting
I love college football. I am not sure exactly why, but the sport is simply fun to follow, watch, and get excited about. Maybe it is the rivalries or the tradition, but whatever it is, the game sure is fun.
Every year there seams to be the “hot” coaches. These are coaches that have gone to a smaller school, excelled, and then all the bigger schools with job opening pursue this man. The school that I root for recently hired such a coach. He was able to win football games at a place that was not easy to win at. This year, in just his third year at the new university, he won eleven games, including the conference championship, and was named coach of the year.
What a man and coach, right? Well, this particular coach takes no credit for his success. He had all the tools needed to succeed. He is paid a handsome salary to be able to take care of his family. The coach has a massive recruiting budget to bring in great talent. This budget includes flying around in private jets and helicopters to meet with potential new student athletes. The coach inherited decent facilities, but the University was willing to spend millions of dollars to upgrade the facilities to attract new prospects. Simply put, the university backed this coach and he was able to excel because of it.
The items mentioned above are insignificant compared to the relationships that he had with his other coaches. The other ten or so coaches love each other. They fight for each other. They sacrifice for each other. They are a solid team that is willing to give everything for each other in order to see their team win. It is a group effort! When the coach was named coach of the year, he humbly said that it was a group award and that each coach deserves part of it. Why? The reason that he said this is because everyone contributed to his success.
The reality of being a successful church planter comes down to the support that surrounds the pastor. Does the pastor have the support of organizations? Does the pastor have a strong team around him that is headed in the right direction? Is the team willing to sacrifice their time, talents, and treasures to see people come to Christ and ultimately see disciples made? Is the church capable of supporting the needs of their pastor?
Sadly, the reality is that for most church planters that I talk to (myself included in some cases), this is not the case. Let me tell a little story about what it is really like to be a church planter written from the perspective of this church planter being a football coach.
The church planter as a college football coach
A football coach sacrifices a lot. He usually has gone to college and played football. Some guys head to play professional football, but most become assistants at small colleges or high schools to get experience as the prepare themselves to one day be a head coach. This is a long a grueling process. They sacrifice a lot during this season of preparation. They spend many countless hours learning their playbook, and many more hours coaching their players.
This particular aspiring head coach has a wife and young kids and one of the unfortunate sacrifices that is made, is that this young coach does not get to spend as much time with his wife and kids as he would like. Additionally, this coach is making next to nothing financially. He is struggling to make ends meet and some weeks it is hard paying all the bills, while still supplying the necessities of life for his family.
What keeps this young couple going however is their calling and desire to one day be a head coach. They know that the sacrifice will pay off. They are not naive to believe that their job will suddenly be easy, but with experience, education and advancement, they at least know that some of their financial concerns will be over. Years of blood, sweat, and tears pass by and this young faithful coach and family continues to sacrifice and persevere.
As most of us know, time passes pretty quickly. Seemingly out of no where, this young coach finally gets his shot. He has been named the head coach of a young, up and coming University. He cannot believe it! Everything that he has worked for has come to fruition! All the years of training and sacrifice are paying off.
The school is a small division two football program. Their football stadium is outdated and only has a capacity of about fifteen thousand seats. The locker room is shabby; the players lounge is a mismatch of couches and chairs that appear to be from Goodwill; the training facilities look like facilities from a high school; the uniforms that the team will wear are not new and trendy, but old and tattered. This young coach is not bothered by this reality though. He is young, full of zeal, and excitement and he knows that he can upgrade the facilities, and make everything state of the art in due time.
As this young coach leads with zeal and excitement, he quickly realizes that the initial buzz of excitement is over. The real work is now going to start. For a coach to succeed, he knows that he needs to get top notch players and coaches. As this young coach approaches the University to ask what the budget for hiring new coaches is, he is shocked and stunned by their response. The response of the University is, what budget? We pay you to do it all. After all, all you are doing is coaching one game a week, right? How hard can that be? Why do you need a supporting cast?
Saddened, frustrated, and shocked, the coach has no option but to press forward with hopes of bringing on some volunteer coaches that just want to get experience. After a long night of absorbing the news, the coach decides that he will just go out and recruit to bring in some players. Once again, the coach approaches the University staff to see what his budget is for recruiting. To his surprise yet again, there is no budget for recruiting. The coach has to try and bring in players with no budget.
So, the coach hits the road to try and find talent. He is using his personal vehicle and every time he stops to fill up his gas tank, he pulls out his personal credit card. When the coach gets hungry, again, it is his personal card that he uses to pay for his breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He is spending countless hours on the road away from his family trying to find players to help him succeed on the football field.
As the coach meets with his first potential player, he just knows in his heart that this player will want to play for him. After all, this coach sincerely loves his players and only wants the best for them. As the meeting goes on, the player begins to ask questions. His first question is, “how many people does your stadium hold.” The coach knows that players wants to play in front of large crowds. With no confidence in his voice the coach tells the young man, fifteen thousand or so. The player seems disappointed. He then asked about facilities, and uniforms, and again the young coach does not have much to offer the young player.
After the coach met with this young man, another school came in to meet with him. The young coach decided to eaves drop on the conversation. The other coach was able to tell the young man that he would routinely play in front of one hundred thousand fans; that he would where several new uniforms per season, and that he would have the best facilities in all of college football. In fact, he pulled out his computer to show him that majesty of how great their facilities were.
The coach, obviously saddened, got back into his old car to leave the meeting. On his way back from the meeting, his check engine light comes on and his car breaks down. As this coach sits for the many hours waiting for his car to get fixed on his own dime, he wonders if he can continue. Questions of doubt pop in his mind for the first time. How can this young coach possibly succeed and win football games when he has no help, no supporting cast, and no coaches.
Still, the coach pushes on. He continues to recruit help from players and coaches. Additionally, he begs the University for more financial help. They finally give him some money, but it is miniscule. In a way, the coach has got to the point where he does not even want the money from the University any more.
The coach has always had a hard work ethic. He has persevered over the years and he will continue to persevere. Over the next few months, he has tirelessly worked to find players and coaches. He found just the right amount of coaches and players to limp into their first football game.
As the first game is approaching quickly, the coach is wanting to meet with the other coaches to make sure that the playbook is correct and that they are on the same page. The coach gets frustrated because so many of the meetings are missing coaches. Some times they are too sick to make it, other times they have prior obligations, and sometimes they simply ‘forget’ about the meeting.
The coach knows that these are volunteers coaches, so he can only expect so much from them. He is a bit perplexed, however, because all of these volunteers went to the same University and he figured that they would want the team to succeed just as much as he did. But the reality was, no one wanted to succeed as much as the coach. The coach sacrificed everything, but it seemed others were not willing to sacrifice much of anything.
As the players were prepping for their first game, the coach realized that there were not enough uniforms for the players. With no support from the University, the coach had no choice but to buy uniforms out if his own pocket. This was not a wise decision for the coach because he was barely making ends meet as it was. The coach loved his players though, and only wanted them to have the best.
The first game of the year was suddenly upon the coach! It was a great day! The team actually played well, the coaches coached well, and the University seemed excited about the future. There was a buzz around the program that was tangible.
The second game came before coach could blink an eye. He remembered that one coach told him many years ago that “everyday was Saturday,” meaning that as you prepare for the next game, that the week would just fly by.
Kickoff time for the second game was 1:00pm. Coaches and players were supposed to arrive by 10:30am for a walk through and game planning. As 10:30am hit, the coach was surprised that none of the coaches or players were there. 11:00am came and went, and there was still no sight of the ‘team.’ Around 11:30 some of the players strolled in and a couple coaches did as well. It was pretty obvious that they did not want to be there. The coach asked what was wrong and they just said that they were tired.
As 1:00pm was fast approaching, the coach had a nervous pit in his stomach because the team was not present for the game. He knew there was no going back, so he encouraged the faithful few to be prepared to go alone.
The ball kicked off at 1:00pm. Sadly, the coaches team only had six players on the field and one of the coaches. The coach realized that they had to give the game their best shot. As you can imagine, the game did not start well. At about 1:10, another player showed up, but he forgot his helmet. Around 1:20 a few more players showed up, but they too forgot part of their equipment as well.
The game continued and the coaches new team got whipped on the field. It was an embarrassment. Some of the coaches ‘forgot’ that it was game day and they never showed up. Most of the players on the team were irresponsible and they either did not show up on time, or they did not show up at all! With this mindset prevalent on the team, it would be impossible for the team to succeed!
As the season moved on, not much changed. There was not one game in which the entire coaching staff, or players showed up and because of that, it was a very long and painful season. After the season, because the team was not playing well and the stadium was half empty on game days, the University decided to pull the coaches salary.
The coach loved his coaches, the players and the university, so he decided to continue forward with his team. The coach was faithful. He did everything for the team. He was the play caller; he made the plays; he was the teams administrator; he was the only recruiter; he was the only one to meet with players as needed; when the grass needed cut, he would cut it; he put together the images for the scoreboard; he kept all the stats; he cleaned the bathrooms; he supplied the financial needs for the team. The coach did everything for the team.
The coach was burning out and he did not even realize it. The coach was beginning to lose his zeal and excitement. Instead of him enjoying coaching, the coach was beginning to see it as a chore and obligation. The coaches zeal, sadly, was gone.
The sad reality of church planting
The sad reality of church planting is that nearly 80% of all church plants will close their doors by their second year of existence and nearly 90% will close down by year three. I have yet to meet a church planter who believed that they would have been part of this statistic.
If you are a church planter, heed the advice of many men that went before you. Make sure that you are part of an organization that will truly support your efforts. Make sure that you are have a mother church and make sure that your mother church is willing to walk with you as your church goes through the stages of growth in a churches life. Make sure that you have a lot of money, especially for your own salary. I know there are a lot of stories of being a bi-vocational pastor, especially within the missional movement, but realistically, especially if you have a family, this is not doable.
Do not rush to plant the church. Take time discipling your leaders. Make sure that your vision is understood and make sure that EVERYONE is on the same page. Just like a football coach will not succeed without the support of their University, coaches, and players, you will not either. Do not be naive. You are not the savior of the world. You need help. Humble yourself and realize this reality.