I coach soccer twice a week with a bunch of awesome kids from my neighborhoods. It's incredibly life-giving, even if my youngsters struggle to put their skills together in the weekend matches. Coaching is not a skill I'm particularly good at, but I've grown over the past few years. My love for the sport has grown too.
Here are a few things that soccer can help people in leadership and ministry think about.
Total Football was an innovative approach to the game that trained players to be ready to play in any position on the field. If a defender found himself up the field, they were ready to play like a winger or striker, slotting in a goal or playing in a cross. Many small churches are forced to run Total Football approaches to their ministry. People wear different hats. If someone is away from worship, you may get tasked at the last minute to help worship unfold. Rather than make this a stopgap, why not make it a feature and build a church culture that encourages everyone to step in and be ready to fill-in to keep the mission moving forward? It's a cool thought, right?
Positive works better than negative. In this current season, the players on my team have struggled in their Saturday matches, and at moments, I've felt like expressing my frustration with them. But they are kids. They know they are struggling and aren't always sure what to do with those emotions. Instead, I continue to make every effort to encourage them. Cheer them on. Tell them they are stars and are capable of incredible things. Because, actually, that's the truth. These kids are awesome. I think many struggling churches have heard a ton of negative – statistics, declining numbers, funerals, financial issues. Can we (pastors and leaders) find ways to encourage our churches and point to the positives, even if they are little things?
We need teams. Like most sports, soccer is a team sport, and it's the most beautiful when players link together, passing and communicating and making something awesome happen. When I have players who are great at scoring and dominating, I always encourage them to take the next step and figure out a way to help their teammates score. It's hard – but when it happens, it makes my day as a coach. I find as a pastor that I am still falling into the trap of going at it alone instead of relying and trusting my team. Sometimes, it hurts them when I make decisions and move forward out of my eagerness to get things done. I have to figure out how to bring them and help others get the successes, because when it happens, it really is the beautiful game.
It's global. I love soccer because it is truly international. Most of the kids in my team are from communities of color, many from immigrant families. It is a privilege and honor to work with these kids and learn from them. Some of their parents show such passion and skill – it's fun to include them in practice and pick up things that I don't know. In church life, especially when we are clouded by dominant cultural narratives in North America, we lose out, time and time again, on other stories, ways of being church, and bits of wisdom that can offer us new insights to the challenges we face. How might churches, whatever your background, take time to listen to what others in your neighborhoods are dealing with? How can we remind ourselves that church is a whole lot bigger than our little building or part of town?