It's January and time for another Super Bowl. Football coaches and pastors are a lot alike. We try to get things done with only a few while most people just watch. As a matter of fact, most have watched so much that they have worn out their end zone. Even the group on the field spends a lot of time in committee meetings (huddles).
Football coaches seem to get as much criticism as pastors do. One coach said he left because of sickness and fatigue. "The fans were sick and tired of me." Fans always seem to think they know what's best, don't they?
One coach said if you want to give him advice, do it on Sunday afternoon between one and four o'clock when he has twenty-five seconds between plays. Don't give him advice on Monday. He knows what to do on Monday.
Fans are like footballs — you can't tell which way they are going to bounce. The fan sits thirty rows up in the stands and wonders why a seventeen-year-old quarterback can't hit a sixteen-year-old end with a football from thirty yards away, and then he goes out to the parking lot and can't find his car.
There isn't much security in coaching. Someone said that a lifetime contract means that if your team is moving the ball, you're in the third quarter and ahead, you cannot be fired. Otherwise, you may get a telegram that reads, "The last train leaves Sunday at noon - be under it."
It can be discouraging. One coach was having a very bad year. It got so bad it affected his home life. He recalls, "My dog is my only friend. I told my wife, 'A man needs at least two friends.' She bought me another dog."
When things are going well everyone loves the coach. However, most find it is a quick trip from the penthouse to the doghouse. At one banquet, the president of a junior college was congratulating the coach. He went on and on about how wonderful he was and the beaming coach asked, "Would you like me as much if we didn't win?" The president looked at him and said, "I'd like you just as much but I'd miss seeing you around."
Actually, I would like church to be more like football games. It would be exciting to get a congregational wave going during the down times. Of course, I wouldn't want them to replay a fumbled baptism or to boo a bad illustration. The two-minute warning might be good, unless it was met with a standing ovation. I would like to spike the hymnal after a particularly good point. I guess doing a liturgical dance after the spiked hymnal would be a little inappropriate.
The analogy of a coach and a pastor eventually breaks down. For one thing, they get bigger collections and we play every week. I personally think church is easier to explain. Football is eleven guys trying to push an object a hundred yards. How do you explain that? I guess it's like the Post Office.
One guy was an avid fan of a nearby university football team. During a recent season, his team got off to a poor start. They were so bad the games were only televised on PBS. Almost every Saturday afternoon he sat ranting at the TV screen. One day after long shouts of disgust, silence fell. His puzzled wife went to check on him. She found him quietly watching a World War II movie. He said, "I just switched over to something I knew we'd win."
When you are discouraged, think of pastoring a church as more like wrestling than football. It's a fixed fight. Switch channels and turn over to the book of Revelation and see that we win. When the final whistle blows, we get the trophy. You will not only get a ring, you'll get a crown to match. So relax, run your plays, and handle the criticism because you are a winning coach.
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Church, Albuquerque, N.M.