It's a coaching problem…

1389667_71630522I was recently talking with a colleague about the fear/frustration that church members think we, as the pastors and staff, are the ones who do ministry.

Obviously, since we are the ones getting the paycheck, we should be the ones out making new disciples and teaching and being prophetic and visiting the sick and all of those other things churches do.

In that scenario, it is the congregation’s job to sit back, complain if something isn’t happening (like growth), and financially support the work.


Our job, however, is not to do the work, but to call and equip the laity (the people) to share in the work.


Using a sports analogy, I guess you could say we are a lot more like coaches than players.  We are paid to look at the gifts and talents of our players, to train them, to condition them, to challenge them to grow, but they are the ones who play the game.

We can stand on the sidelines and encourage. We can call timeout and give advice and lay out a new strategy (pastoral care).  Coaches review game films and get the team ready for the opponent (bible study). We can hold practices where the players learn the essential elements of the game.Worship is such a time where we learn to pass the peace, confessing and forgiving, and hear a pep talk about how to play.

What I love about this analogy is that most coaches have a season of recruitment where they go out and build relationships with people and build a team.  So, evangelism and community engagement are an important part of our job.

But then the church has to go out there and play.  Out to their schools and homes and workplaces and golf courses and hospitals and homeless shelters.



As a sports fan in the Hawkeye State, there is a lot of armchair coaching that goes on in my house.

Some days are better than others.

During football season, we’d cry out, “put Sunshine in!”

Watching ISU miss free throws makes you want to pull out your hair.

I’m not even going to discuss the Hawkeye loss last night.  I can’t even….

But at some point, you have to stop looking at the players, and you have to ask what is going on with the coaching.


The same can be asked of the church.

When we see a church declining or in financial trouble or stagnant, we have to ask what is happening with the coaching.


Part of the problem is that as pastors, we forget we are supposed to be coaches.

We get bogged down in meetings and administration and in the pressure to go out there and bring people into the church and don’t always make time for one-on-one coaching sessions.

We sometimes worry about how the music or sermon will be perceived, rather than how it will shape and form the congregation.

It seems to be easier to make the visits to the sick and home bound than to train up the laity to care for one another as an act of Christian love (and to train them to receive care from one another).

And sometimes, we simply assume the “team” is playing fine so we fail to change the line-up. Maybe that’s the hardest one. With good and faithful people serving in a particular ministry area, we are afraid to inject new leadership, or worry more about how someone will feel if they are benched… even if it is better for the mission and work of our church.

And then, in some churches, we find that we are coaches who don’t have a team in the church, but a booster club. We have people who think they are fans rather than the starting line. And the coaching mistake is that we let it happen or continue to happen.



Maybe its time to run some laps and do wind sprints and shoot a thousand free-throws.

Maybe what we need is a good hard season of practice.





  • Julius Trimble

    January 21, 2015 at 8:23 am Reply

    Spot on. Amen!

  • Rod Stevens

    March 25, 2015 at 4:29 pm Reply

    Your comment about being the team and NOT the booster club was great. It’s not pleasant to “bench” someone, especially if you’re the one being benched, but it’s not about us, it’s about God.

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