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.