The following post was written by Chris Swain, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry Publishing
Every year around February I get a little sad. Football season officially comes to an end and my family goes into entertainment hibernation for a few months. While we reflect on the wins and losses of the previous year, we don’t find all that much enjoyment in re-watching games on the various sports networks our cable provides.
But right now we are a long ways off from February and football is in full swing. high school, college, and pro teams are battling it out each week. Beautiful fall weather has come and the leaves look amazing in middle Tennessee. While enjoying this season, I thought of a few things that I have learned from football that relate to student ministry.
1. Seasons are a Good Thing
In football there is the off-season for preparation, the pre-season to test out the strategies, the season in which the games are actually played, and the post-season in which intensity rises as it is all on the line. Each of these phases has a corollary in ministry. We have seasons in which we are able to slow down a bit and plan more. We have pre-season times in which we can test our strategies and try out our new ideas for ministry. We have regular season stretches where we put into practice what we have tested. We have up seasons like the post-season in which we know it is all on the line and that we have and a short opportunity to make a big impact (like summer camp). Regardless of the season, it is helpful to look at all of the things that can be accomplished and plan, strategize, and minister accordingly.
2. There are Various Ways to Win
Sure, each game only one team walks away with the win. But if your team has been struggling for a while and you put up a good fight you can chalk that game up as a win toward growth. Teams acquire key players and are able to go to the next level. Ministries might reach a pocket of the community that they have been sharing with and see Jesus do a new work. This can transform a ministry. The good news is that there are many ways to track success in football and ministry.
3. There is A Big Picture and a Little Picture for Strategy
The goal for every football team every year is to win the big game. Whether it is a national championship for college, state championship for high school, or world championship for the pros, the goal is the same. But rarely do coaches prep their teams to go out and win the big game on week one of the season. The little picture here is that you have to win a game. You have to take it one game at a time. One quarter at a time, one drive at a time, and one down at a time. You strategize to win in these smaller ways knowing that they will drive you toward your larger goal. In ministry you may have the goal of growing numerically or reaching a new pocket of your community. You probably have a bigger goal of reaching everyone in your community with the Gospel. Regardless of your ministry’s goals, you can plan and strategize smaller steps that will get you closer to the big goal. One example might be that you reach a new segment of the community toward your bigger goal of reaching the whole community.
4. Sustainability is about Processes not Personalities
The greatest football teams have won big games and experienced great success because they had great coaching and processes in place to win. While they may have had big names on the team or individual stars that helped in the process, the personality never trumps the processes. In student ministry you may have a few key students and that will surely help you toward success, but plan your processes around the right things and you will win in the long haul. Ground your ministry on God’s Word. Let the Gospel drive your practices. Teach your students to love God and love others. These basic principles will accomplish more than having a few key leaders or a “rockstar” student pastor.
5. Celebrate the Wins then Move On
Whether the team wins the national championship or the state championship, they celebrate well. You’ve probably seen the Super Bowl champs take it all in as confetti falls from the sky. They are shouting, crying, high-fiving, and enjoying every minute of a long challenging season. A couple of months later they are back at square one. They move from the celebration back to the preparation phase. In ministry to students we need to celebrate well. Stop, take it all in. Encourage your leaders to stop and celebrate. Throw parties, hold gatherings and fellowships, with celebrating what God has done as the goal. But until Christ comes again, our ministry is not over. We must stop, enjoy the wins, and then move toward the next stage in God’s plan for your ministry. Celebrate well, then continue to press into the Great Commission.
Whether you love football or never watch a game, the reality is that there can be a lot to learn. These principles have helped me in my years of leading students and I hope they are a benefit to you as well.