RENEWAL AND THE WORLD OF SOCCER
Written by Peter Armstrong
March 16, 2021
Written by Peter Armstrong
March 16, 2021
My family and I are obsessed with “the beautiful game” of soccer. I often find leadership and renewal lessons from the world of sports. Although change amongst billion-dollar sports franchises happens more quickly than in the Church, there is so much to learn from top leaders in any sphere. German Thomas Tuchel is one of the top soccer coaches in the world. On January 26, in the middle of the season, he was named head coach of my favorite team, Chelsea Football Club. They haven’t lost a single game since he took over! How did he change the culture so quickly, and what can this teach us about church renewal? Let’s examine some recent headlines to find out.
Thomas Tuchel is a brilliant communicator. He is one of the brightest minds in the game. But all of us know people who are brilliant who cannot teach or communicate well. It is a separate skill to be able to communicate to our councils and whole congregations the ‘why.’ I learned early on in ministry from a great mentor: over-communicate. So much of what we’re thinking about as leaders slips right past our congregation. Communicating needs to be consistent; similar language must be used because language builds culture. It also needs to be varied; our youth pastor doesn’t assume a 15-year-old reads the bulletin. He sends them group texts and posts on Instagram instead.
Recently, Tuchel spoke to the press about the need for every member of his team to be in a good frame of mind and ready to contribute. It is the same with any team or committee. Often there are hurt feelings, past relationship issues or lack of motivation that keep people from rising to the occasion. I believe that as churches reimagine ministry post-covid, there needs to be a moment of asking for commitment. We need to encourage our people – “Get on the bus – we are leaving the station!” On a recent zoom call, we heard from David Fitch who predicted, “We are so disrupted at this time. We might lose a few people. But the ‘density’ of people wanting to commit and submit to Jesus could really be significantly up!” Pray that those people who are in your “squad” are ready to play their part to advance God’s Kingdom.
Kai Havertz is a young player that Tuchel has taken under his wing in order to improve his soccer skills. While I don’t know that we in ministry should ever see people as “projects,” we are in the business of developing people. We love people, and should be learning how to get the best out of the people God has sent to us. As pastors, we are called to shepherd them. Often that involves both encouragement and challenge. The real skill comes in knowing when to encourage and when to challenge! Ask God to show you. Who can I encourage this week? I’ve sent more cards in the mail to my congregation in the past year than ever before. These hand-written notes go a long way in communicating encouragement in difficult seasons. But it is also the work of the Holy Spirit to show us who, how and what to say to challenge someone who is complacent.
Under Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea soccer team has a valuable commodity: momentum. One of the players recently expressed that through this headline. Oftentimes the Holy Spirit will send us a “wave” that we get to ride, all the way to shore. In the Renewal Lab, we often speak of quick wins in order to generate positive momentum. Now the question becomes, “What are your quick wins post-pandemic?” At my own church, we sold a church van that wasn’t a blessing and used those funds to purchase new art and furniture for our narthex. That way, as folks return to in-person worship they will understand that we are in a new chapter of life as a community.
Coach Tuchel was recently criticized on social media and in the press for not giving his young American “star” enough playing time. Instead of being defensive or closing off the strategies of the team, he owned his mistake to the press, admitted it and diffused the situation. Great leaders are able to admit when they’ve made mistakes and are quick to seek forgiveness. I’ve found that there are lots of twists and turns on the journey of church renewal. There are misunderstandings, hurt and the pain of loss. Pastors are called to be people of grace and humility who model reconciliation. There may be two (or many more!) factions in your church but “[Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
We don’t “perform” for God – thank goodness for grace! – but what we celebrate in our churches is so important. There are so many opportunities for us to celebrate the work of God through the people in our church. “The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3). I was recently on a call with Gospel City Movements that challenged me to do even more to celebrate the baptisms in our church. Again, this changes culture. When we make baptisms a really big deal, we emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit to transform lives. Isn’t that a big part of why we’re doing this?
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