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?

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