Friday, February 13, 2015

Coach Pop's Legacy And How It Relates To The Church Today

Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
There has been a lot of fanfare around Greg Popovich's 1,000 wins as coach of the San Antonio Spurs, as there should be. Certainly this has been an incredible achievement.  Only a handful of coaches have accomplished this and only one other, Jerry Sloan, has won over 1,000 games with just one team.  
But Pop's legacy will go beyond his number of wins or the number of NBA championships as a coach and won't be finished when he decides to retire. His most significant achievement will be his impact on the league and that will be felt for many years to come because of the incredible amount of his disciples that will carry on his legacy for years to come. Pop certainly would not take credit for the abundance of former Spurs players, coaches and employees scattered around the NBA, but the number is staggering. 

In the high-profile coaching positions alone you'll find former Spurs like Alvin Gentry, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro, Jacque Vaughn, Mike Brown, P.J. Carlesimo, Monte Williams and Brett Brown.  I haven't even mentioned the coaches of the two teams with this year's best records in the NBA, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, a Spur guard on the 2003 championship team, and Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer who spent 19 years in the Spurs organization.  And it doesn't end with the coaching fraternity. There are NBA general managers, Danny Ferry, Dell Demps and Sam Presti who are disciples of Pop.

What is amazing is that coach Pop seems to relish the opportunities for his disciples to move on to other teams. Losing Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer at the same time, two long-time assistants must have been incredibly difficult.  But I never heard one negative comment from Coach Pop, just proud accolades for both of them.  Pop just celebrates their new head coaching roles and reloads with a new batch of eager young coaches. 

Steve Kerr on Pop's legacy said, "His impact on coaching is dramatic. Pop has pretty much taken over the league.  All of his protégés are out there, spread all across the league, GMs and coaches. It's amazing to see guys are having a lot of success so the impact goes well beyond the game itself."

I couldn't tell you whether Coach Pop has always mentored coaches with the intent to send them out or whether it is just the by-product of the Spurs program that most every team wants to replicate. But you do know that Pop is very willing to let go of his coaches and he puts the welfare of his players, coaches and employees ahead of his own interests. This is very uncommon in the competitive professional sports world.  Yet, the team still stays on or near the top every year.    

What would it be like if pastors across the nation had the same attitude about their members and staff as Coach Pop?  Imagine, the impact around the world, if instead of being afraid of losing staff, volunteers, or members, pastors intentionally trained and discipled young men and women and actually encouraged them to leave their congregation and spread the Gospel, as missionaries or plant churches.  What if the goal was to send instead of trying to hold on to everyone?  

I spent 20 years on staff at a large church in Austin, many of those years ministering to several hundred single adults.  Now returning to Austin, I've had the privilege of reconnecting with some of those who still live in Austin.  Very few are attending my old church anymore. I've gotten invitations to attend churches all over Austin where they are now attending. This is not a slam against my old church.  It is just the way it is in most all churches.  

Few people stay for a lifetime at any one church. The average American family moves every five to six years, so unless they leave earlier for some other reason, 5 years is about as long as you'll have most members! To think you will be able to hold on to your members for much longer is fooling yourself.  This is one of the top stressors for pastors (I've counseled many pastors about their pain and frustration over a family or families that has chosen to leave their church) and many spend a lot of their ministry trying to find ways to 'close the back door' and maintain as many of their members for as long as possible. Members will leave for all sorts of reasons and if you take it personally, it can suck your passion for the church right out of you and possibly kill your ministry totally.

Yet every experienced church planter I know will tell a new church planter that the initial team that helps start your church will not be with you long term. They are coached to view your initial core team as the scaffolding to help build a foundation for your church but don't expect them to be there long term. 

So instead of getting all worked up about a family that leaves your church, why not do what Greg Popovich does with the Spurs, train them and send them out.  Heck, it's actually what the Bible tells the leaders of the church to do, help every member to see their potential as a missionary and equip the Saints for ministry.  You've got most people for five years, so why not implement some sort of 5 year discipleship plan that will help grow your members into mature believers who are equipped to serve as ministers and missionaries wherever they may end up. Then celebrate those who move on to take the Gospel and your church DNA to other churches, countries or ministries. 

It may seem counter-intuitive to growing a church, but it is God's formula! Focus on His Kingdom and you'll grow people, the church and the Kingdom!  We made the switch at Grace Point when several great families left our church for various reasons during a critical season. It was painful.  Yet working through the difficult period, we realized that San Antonio, being a military city, was a temporary home for many of our families. So instead of being discouraged about families who leave, we looked forward to seeing where and how they used what they learned from their time at Grace Point.  We set a God-sized goal to help plant 100 churches in 10 years. We discipled to equip and empower our members to go. After we made the switch from holding onto to sending, we began to grow again, doubling in size over the next ten years, sending people all over the world and planting more than 100 churches.

Pastors, you can relieve a lot of your stress, disappointment and frustration by replacing your old mindset of worrying about "closing the back door" with a big Kingdom mindset of discipling and sending. After all, God is a sending God, sending his very Son to earth so that you and I could be redeemed.  So why should we think differently?

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Power Of Taking One Step Of Faith

Looking back on my ministry experiences, I've found that adventure and untold opportunities to experience God are just one step of obedience away. But often that step of faith can seem like foolishness. When faced with the choice between risking our lives and playing it safe, fear can be described as wisdom and we can miss out on experiencing God.

A great example is the story of Rob and Joany Wills, a typical hard working west Texas couple that took one small step of faith which has led to a spectacular adventure with God.  Rob, a long time high school football coach, and Joany, a high school counselor, were working and serving in their church and life group in San Antonio. But a testimony from Teresa Devlin, a missionary to Honduras suddenly changed the course of their life. God began to stir in them a desire to go with a team from their church to Honduras on a short term mission trip.  But Joany had never been out of the country and so, even though there was a desire, there was also great fear and anxiety.  She was intimidated by the smallest details, afraid to even go and get a passport.

After hearing the missionary's story and praying, Joany, despite her fears, committed to going to Honduras and set about preparing for their first trip overseas.  They were so impacted by the mission trip that they began to consider retiring and going full time on the mission field. I remember having lunch with Rob and Joany and them asking me if I thought they were crazy to consider going full time on mission. Absolutely not I said. I encouraged them to pursue the idea and see where it leads them.

After researching and learning that they could retire, and live off their retirement, they decided to go for it. They had no idea where they would go, but were convinced that God wanted them on the mission field somewhere overseas.

Fast forward a couple of years and you'll now find Rob and Joany living in Ireland serving as missionaries full time.  They had spent a half a year traveling to Central America, visiting missions amd orphanages with the expectation that this was where they would serve as missionaries.  During their travels they were persuaded to go to Waterford, Ireland and spend some time with a small evangelical church. Rob, being a west Texas high school football coach, did some research and found out that the town had an American club football team that had recently been organized. He contacted the coach and told him that he was coming to Waterford and would like to meet him.  Well you would have thought that a celebrity was coming to Waterford.  In the eyes of these amateur football players, meeting a bona fide Texas football coach was like meeting Bill Belichick in person. 

During the Wills' initial visit to Ireland, God opened several doors for ministry and with an invitation to coach the football team they chose to move to Ireland and be missionaries to an area that is very much post-Christian. Rob says that most adults in Ireland consider evangelical Christianity a cult.
Since Rob and Joany are able to live off their retirement, the money they raise goes directly to their ministry. Joany has opened up a thrift store that they named The Grace Shop. They secured a three story building downtown which had been a hostel, using the first floor to house the store. Their living quarters are on the second floor and the third floor is being used to house mission teams.  Most of the clothes they sell at the thrift shop come from donations from friends here in the U.S.  It's been a wonderful avenue for Joany to meet and develop relationships with ladies in the town.  She is holding a Bible study and using relationship evangelism to share the Gospel. Rob has been coaching and sharing God's grace to the men on the football team. He has had a profound impact in the first year he has been there and will be on Ireland's national football team's coaching staff.

If this were the extent of their impact, it would be amazing but God has a way of doing even more than we could imagine. This past fall, Rob and Joany had the opportunity to travel to India with the pastor of the church in Waterford to help train and disciple Indian pastors and potential leaders. Rob returned with an incredible experience of being able to impact men and women who are serving in areas where there had never been a church before.  He told me that it seemed beyond his imagination that God would call this old west Texas coach to Ireland to minister to men in India! Rob went on to share this wonderful story about his trip to India, how God works even in the details to meet our ministry needs. 

"Shortly before we left for India we received a sizable amount of money in our checking account. At first we thought there had been a mistake but we discovered that the donation of $2500 was from my mother.  My dad's death in April had been ruled an accident and one of his insurance policies paid off. My mom divided it up between me and my siblings and we received $2500.

At the end of our pastor's conference in India, we asked the organizing pastors if they had any urgent needs for their ministry. We wanted to give them a blessing for an immediate need. They told us how all the pastors shared one motorcycle in order to reach the remote villages.  I asked how many they needed and they said two more would help them tremendously. What is the cost for a motorcycle here?  They answered 70,000 rupees per bike about $1250.  The two motorcycles would cost exactly the same amount, $2500 that we received unexpectedly from my dad's insurance policy. God knows ahead of time our needs and He is faithful to provide. 

As I listened to Rob and Joany excitedly tell this story and the other amazing things God was doing, I thought back only a few years when Joany was too afraid to even get a passport. The transformation was incredible. But as she overcame her fears and put her trust in Jesus and obeyed His call, Joany and Rob are now experiencing Him in wonders beyond our imagination.  We receive power when we step out and trust God!  It may often seem like insanity, but often times taking one faithful step forward can catapult you into the center God's epic drama.  

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