What the NFL has taught me about leading my church

A big story in the NFL last week was the benching of Robert Griffin III.  As the story unfolded, what I picked up was the stress between Coach Mike Shanahan and Redskin’s owner, Daniel Snyder.  It sounds to me like Snyder was behind the drafting of RGIII, based on the latter’s success in the NCAA.  Drafting RGIII made sense.  He led Baylor into prominence while the quarterback there.  He graduated from Baylor, a decent academic school, with a 3.67 GPA.  He won Heisman Trophy in 2011.  RGIII showed he had brains and talent; why not draft him second overall?

These recent events reminded me of a page in the Tennessee Titans history.  In 2006, Bud Adams pushed for the Titans to draft Vince Young from the University of Texas.  Young had a stellar college career with a reputation for carrying teams to victory.  He finished second in 2005’s Heisman Trophy voting.  Jeff Fisher drafted Young but it took a direct mandate from Bud Adams for Fisher to play VY.  The strain between Fisher and Young became a local soap opera on sports talk radio.  The relationship ended with Adams allowing Young to be traded and Fisher was fired.

Two players with stellar careers at the college level and similar results in the NFL.  Why couldn’t they make the leap?  Because the leaders of each team did not consider the culture of their team.  The leaders of these teams assumed that what made the college players great could be copied into the NFL.

This is a classic blunder that I make as a pastor.  And I see other pastors making the same mistake.  As the pastor of a small church, about 200 members, I look at what other larger churches are doing and I assume that their vision or their program will work where I’m at.  Just like Dan Snyder and Bud Adams assumed that RGIII and Vince Young would be successful in their franchises, many pastors borrow a plan from someone else and assume that it will work in their church.  That’s not the case.  Each church has it’s own God-given identity that cannot be copied.

To show what I mean, consider Tom Brady.  Brady is a league and Superbowl MVP on multiple occasions but Brady was picked in the 6th round of the NFL draft, #199 overall, in 2000.  His college career at Michigan wasn’t as good as RGIII’s at Baylor of Young’s at Texas.  At first blush, it would seem that Brady was an after-thought or a throw-away pick.  But Brady was the right person for Coach Bill Belichick’s system.  Coach Belichick has a knack for finding the right players for his systems, not necessarily the best players.

And that’s what pastors need to consider. The best visions, programs, or people may not be right for our churches.  What helped the church up the street to grow may not work in our churches.  Bringing in a star talent to the team is not necessarily the answer.  Just because something was successful somewhere else does not mean it will be successful in my church.

This is why I’ve got to be about the hard work of discerning God’s unique plan for my church… for HIS Church in this place.  As Todd Henry says in his Accidental Creative podcast: “Cover bands don’t change the world; find your unique voice if you want to thrive.”


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