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If a Coach:Pastor and Member:Player, Then…

One of the analogies I like to think of in the pastor/laity context is coach/player. I think it brings out the aspect that Christians should not defer to the pastors on the big plays, and that the “game” doesn’t happen inside the church, that’s just the huddle. The world outside the four walls of the church is where faith is really applied and all the discipleship begins to show up in real-life circumstances.

I’m not an athlete and can’t even fool people into thinking that I played sports in high school or anything, but I am an avid fan of basketball. I’m such a big fan, I don’t even care who’s playing, I don’t care who wins, I don’t care that I suck at it. I just love to play. But I watch and play as one who’s never been coached. And I know that coaching matters, knowledge makes a difference, knowing what to look for matters – particularly if, as in my case, I can’t simply beat someone with sheer athleticism.

I found this article very interesting, which discusses “what makes a player coachable?” And I thought that metaphor worked somewhat when applied to the church context, not completely, but it certainly brings up responsibilities of coach and player fairly. Here’s an extended quote first for the athlete/player:

If a player doesn’t learn to listen, then he will have to learn to like a seat on the bench. More opportunities come to those who are willing to be taught.

One of the things that has always amazed me as a basketball player is how much time some players spend wishing the coach would change the way he did things—wishing that the coach would change the offense, wishing that the coach would change the defense, wishing the coach would change who he plays.

Those players need to take all that energy and think about what they can change within themselves. A potential All-American doesn’t worry about the things he can’t control. He just deals with the things he can control. As a player, one thing he can control is where he is going to expend his energy.

And then for the coach:

Some coaches are a lot easier to hate than to love. Despising a coach at times is okay. Keep in mind that an unlikable coach might be the key to future athletic success. It is not pleasant to be yelled at for having made a mistake but it is the coach’s job to push the player.

A player won’t generally have positive feelings toward a coach who at times is critical of him, but his feelings may change over time. A coach has to be a little crazy, even mean at times. He may have to yell and rant and rave in order to get a player to perform at his best.

And finally, a good quote from a historic coach:

Pat Summitt, the very successful coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee, said: “Accountability is essential to personal growth, as well as team growth. How can you improve if you’re never wrong? If you don’t admit a mistake and take responsibility for it, you’re bound to make the same one again.”

What do you think? Pastor as coach? And why/why not?

And on another note, the article as a whole, made me wonder if I am a good player and coach (not literally, figuratively). Am I coachable? Do I push others to be better? Hmmm…


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

6 responses to “If a Coach:Pastor and Member:Player, Then…

  1. I had a crazy coach once. Scared the sh*t out of me but I grew the most under this pastor…

    Now that the tables are turned I find myself sensitive to pushing the player too hard, but at the same time recognizing how effectively it worked on me. I’ve learned to not over-pastor but to allow God to work whether it be as scary surgeon or as soothing healer. Speaking peace prematurely (and claiming it) has backfired on growth too often.

    I also like the idea of pastor = as resident theologian. That also helps me define my place in the community that I belong to as member, but also happen to lead.

  2. James Lee

    Hi David, this is James. We had dinner back when I still lived in Atlanta. I enjoy reading your blog and I hope you and Sunita are doing well.

    There are some disanalogies between the two. I’m not sure whether they are relevant or not.

    First, if the pastor is akin to a coach, and the congregation players, then it seems to follow that the church is a competitive team. But of course this raises the question of who exactly the team (i.e. church) is competing against. Secularism? Other religions?

    Second, an athletic team is an exclusive entity. By that I mean that people don’t make the team. Those that do often get cut. Those that don’t get cut can get benched. This sort of thing doesn’t happen nearly as often in churches.

    Third, and related to the second, coaches dismiss players, not the other way around. Whereas in the church, it is often the congregation that dismisses the pastor.

    Fourth, and this is related to the first point, sports teams exist to play in games. What are games analogous to in Christianity? If there is such an analogue to games, then is there a winner and a loser? If so, how is that determined? More specifically, is there a score? If so, what is it?

    You seem to be sympathetic to the idea that the church might want to model itself a little more in the direction of being a sports team. If so, why, given the points stated above?

    Given my own experiences, it seems that the church is more closely analogous to an Amway-style pyramid scheme, where the pastor is the CEO and the congregation member is both a customer and salesperson.

  3. James, I do remember you and am glad to hear that you’re doing graduate studies in philosophy!

    And your points are very valid and very relevant. I simply brought this analogy up because well, as I confessed earlier, I wish I knew how to play basketball and had people to teach me. But I concede these types of analogies are always lacking. however, while i agree with you, I think there is room for clarification.

    although you and i may see church as noncompetitive entities, i think we have to at least acknowledge that the landscape of churches, particularly in the southeast, is competitive against one another. especially in the korean american circles, where we tend to plant churches with diminishing marginal returns.

    also, athletic teams, in teams of exclusivity are seasonal. meaning, tryouts are next fall and they are open to anyone. and churches, in certain corners, also “cut” people. we don’t call it that, but i assure you that people get asked out of committees, or urged to pray more before joining the welcoming team or whatever.

    as to your third point, and this may be particular to basketball and the nba, but it is becoming very prevalent for disgruntled players to oust the coach, not the other way around. so, just a nuance there.

    in terms of games, and winners and losers, think “endgame”. and then you see where many traditional churches see themselves as winners and their theological opponents as losers. of course, you and i might see this as problematic, but still it’s a popular conception.

    as you may have already noticed, i myself don’t like this analogy, but i think it works on some levels, particularly the more traditional and hierarchical you are. i actually like the church=gym, pastor=trainer analogy, where the notion of the “game” is diffuse, but “health” is the primary motivator. as for the amway-style pyramid scheme, let me push back on you a bit. i find that even more problematic! 🙂 are we reducing christianity to cheaply made products? are we all salespeople? doesn’t that color all our relationships under a false pretense? isn’t the business landscape even more competitive and unrelenting? would Jesus have considered himself the CEO? how do you avoid a works-righteousness in this model? that last one was a cheap shot, as my analogy couldn’t avoid it either…but hey, there is no analogy for grace that isn’t non-sensical.

  4. James Lee

    Hey David,

    I should have been clearer. The Amway analogy was I how I viewed the church in its present state, not as it should be.

    I agree that the view of the church as a business has its share off problems, but it leads us to an interesting question of whether such a way of doing church is inevitable in American society.

    American values are grounded in democracy and the free market. People love to complain about the hollow consumption that presently passes for Christianity, but one rarely, if ever, sees an instance of Christianity that is practiced as a radical form of discipleship over an extended period of time (at least in the U.S.).

    I think that it’s because such discipleship requires an almost complete abdication of personal autonomy. This is problematic in a society where individual rights are ingrained at a fundamental level of one’s ethical framework.

  5. i see where you’re coming from james. and you’re right, there are many churches that operate with the free market mentality, as is evidenced by the boom of megachurches. however, there is hope, in fact it’s coming from people like you who have the philosophical vocabulary to define it as they critique American culture and Christian subculture. of course, it’s not solely in that realm, but the type of Christianity that is emerging at the margins (not on TV, not in the bookstores) is a thoughtful one, which views the market as something to be questioned in the economy of God’s grace. movements like “new monasticism” and “emergent” are really taking critiques like yours very seriously. you should check it out when you get a chance.

  6. James Lee

    Thanks Dave! I’m actually very sympathetic to the emerging church, although I feel like they could up their intellectual rigor. Do you by any chance happen to know of any good churches in the Syracuse area? (I’m looking for the hipster/alt-church kind of vibe)

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