Following the team

I read this comment by Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and wondered how it applies to the role and ministry of pastor.

“I made a conscious decision as a coach a few years ago to always do my best to take the personnel that I have and put them into the right system,” he says, “and not be someone that is very stringent about the type of system that he runs.”

It seems like a lot of rhetoric about being a pastor these days — not all, but a lot — centers around the notion of finding the right “system” and applying it to the congregation. I know there is a lot of talk in the other direction. Lots of people talk about following the congregation and working with the ways God is already leading.

But I hear the other voice. It is certainly implied in the way we cast about for a system or solution to what ails us. We search for people to fit our system — or try to squeeze people through our system, often with the same results as when you force meat through a grinder — rather than adapting our system to fit the people we have.

I think this is part of John Wesley’s under-appreciated genius. Living on this side of his ministry, we often see it as a completed whole and try to figure out how to adopt the Wesleyan system in our setting. But, by his own account, the system emerged and developed in response to the needs of the people, the circumstances of the movement, and the resources he had at the time.

That all sounds at least in the same arena as the point Carlisle was making.

The basketball story also reflected in interesting ways on the way a community can shape the character of people within it. (Is Stanley Hauerwas smiling somewhere?)

It’s not so much that Ellis has improved as a player since last year, as it is his surroundings have improved. In basketball — more than almost any other sport — players are a product of their environment. This is something not lost on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

“Coaching matters and culture matters,” Cuban says. “If you have lots of turnover coaching, that’s a problem. You get conflicting messages every year. And then culture is where they don’t know how to win or they aren’t guided in how to act.”

That last quote strikes me as an interesting commentary on Methodist practices of moving clergy around.

I don’t want to take too much from an article about NBA basketball, but I did find this particular story stirring up some fruitful reflections on the nature of pastoral ministry and the way we often think about it.

Clarity begets discipline

This post from Talbot Davis about the way clarity about mission changed his pastoral leadership is a hopeful word to me this morning.

[E]arlier in the history of Good Shepherd we would follow the latest trend, embrace the most recent fad, and follow a season of blessing with a season of anarchy.  Our “wins,” when we had them, were disconnected from whatever came before or after them.

There’s some good news in all this.  Once Will Mancini and his team at Auxano helped us unearth the mission of inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ in 2011, I suddenly had a leadership focus that didn’t mimic anyone else but came from within our community.

So these days we are resistant to trends, fads, and anarchy.  We much better able to connect one ministry “win” with the next one.  Everything we do, from evaluating facilities to hiring staff, now gets filtered through the grid of inviting all people.

It reminds me of another pastor long ago who determined to make sure everything he did was aimed at spreading scriptural holiness across the land. He was another guy who liked discipline and got a few things done.

Discipline is not my strong suit. Perhaps there is a lesson in these examples that I need to hear.

Check day confession

It is that time of year when United Methodist pastors report on the fruitfulness of their ministry in the last year.

And I must confess: I have failed to fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church this year.

The two little churches I serve have not grown. The grave took more people from us than we brought to Jesus Christ.

Lord, help me be a better servant of your kingdom in the year ahead.

If your were pastor for MercyMe

A member of the band MercyMe posted this on Facebook in response to a storm of criticism after a previous posting praising the halftime performance at the big football game on Sunday.

This raised mixed reactions in me. I wonder what you hear? More importantly, if a member of your church or small group said such things to you, how would you engage with that person?