Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What pastors can learn from Tim Duncan


I'm a huge Spurs fan.  So I was saddened to hear about Tim Duncan's retirement after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs on my birthday no less! I spent the day reflecting on the character of one of the greatest power forwards ever and what we can learn from him.

Tim was obviously a very talented basketball player, a 15 time all star, leading the Spurs to 5 world championships.  But what made Tim great even more than his basketball skill was his character and leadership traits. Few can be what he was talent-wise on the court but we can be like Timmy in the areas that made him so respected. Pastors would be well served to study his leadership skills and learn from them. Here are some of the traits I so admired.

Tim was a team first guy. In a sport that highlights the individual, Tim was the consummate team player, "the ultimate teammate", always sacrificing self for what was best for the team, whether it was taking a reduced salary or a reduced role on the court. He could have made so much more money if only he would have become a free agent and gone to a big market team. Yet he stayed in San Antonio and helped build a dynasty. You would expect the same from pastors but it's not always the case.  

You see many pastors moving from church to church, climbing the latter of success on the backs of church members instead of staying in one place and building a dynamic church. Three years and they are gone to another church. Then there are those who stay and continue to take raises that would shock you even while their church is declining in membership. Thankfully many of the young pastors I coach have taken a modest salaries or in some cases no salary at all so that their church could give more to missions. Maybe times are changing. Wouldn't it be great if all pastors were as selfless and humble?

Tim was a mentor to many. He took the off season to mentor and teach other big men, not just his teammates but those from opposing teams as well. There are stories from other players on opposing teams who recount how Tim would instruct them even during games. Etan Thomas tells about the time Tim told him during a game after Tim blocked his shot, "that was a good move but you have to get more into my body so you can either draw a foul or not get the shot blocked." Then a few plays later Etan explained, I did it again but he didn't block the shot and he looked at me and said, "much better".

One problem I find many pastors struggle with is insecurity. I'm not sure why it is that a pastor is so protective of his senior pastor position. It could be the expectations from members and the pressure he feels to live up to those. I seldom hear about a pastor who mentors another pastor to step into his shoes or to start another church. Shouldn't all pastors be training one or several young pastors?  If a basketball player can give instructions to an opposing player, you'd think a pastor could do the same for a fellow pastor. After all, we are on the same team. 

Tim was a quiet humble leader.  He lead by example more than words. Tim was fun to be around, someone who never took himself too seriously but took his job seriously. He set an example for others to follow.  He didn't have to try to be a leader, it was just who he was. He seemed very comfortable in his own skin and never tried to be anything but Tim. Players looked up to him and were willing to follow not because of position but because of who he was.  

Many pastors lean on their position more than quality leadership to influence others. Some are often too quick to make changes, demanding the congregation follow without laying a foundation for change with leaders of the church. Leading from a relationship of service, humility and authenticity would be so much more effective. 

I'm sure there are other characteristics of Tim that could help all of us in life. I'm thankful I've gotten to watch him play basketball all these years and I'm sure he will continue to be an influence on others in the years to come. 

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