Sam Darnold, QB of USC is being projected as the first pick in this year’s NFL Draft.  Why? “After his pro day performance in the rain, Darnold to the Browns at No. 1 overall became the overwhelming consensus.” (Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports, 3/26/2018)

Do JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Jeff George bring back any memories?  Each one wowed scouts at the combine.  Each one failed miserably on the NFL playing field.

Consider Tom Brady’s success with theirs.

“In 2000, Tom Brady entered the draft having set Michigan passing records and having won the Citrus and Orange Bowls.  But the combine completely failed to spot his potential.  He ran the 281st fastest 40 time, the 107th fastest shuttle run, and logged the 225th highest vertical and 206th longest broad jump.  Today he’s arguably the best NFL player ever. You could also say, though, that the Patriots’ taking him in the sixth round was the greatest bargain in NFL history.”   (March 1, 2017, Sports Illustrated, emphasis added)

Tom Brady can teach three things to any pastor:

  1. Focus on fundamentals.
  2. Coaching is underrated.
  3. Answer the question, “What game are you playing?”

1) Every Pastor Should Focus on Fundamentals.

That means preaching, worship, evangelism, discipleship, nurture and mercy, and mission.

The story is told about Vince Lombardi after his world champion Green Bay Packers had experienced a regular season loss.  He called the team to an early morning practice and said, “Men, this is a football!” Great teams – and great churches – do the basics well.  No matter what the size of your church, you can develop systems to seek excellence in these areas.

Tom Brady did not excel in areas that set “elite athletes” apart from other athletes.  However, he has mastered the fundamentals in ways that exceed his rivals.  Pastors can do this too.  You don’t have to be the greatest visionary leader and preacher, fitting well into skinny jeans. How are you developing excellence in fundamentals?

In an article entitled, “The Hottest Thing at Church Is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader,” Kate Shellnutt cites the conclusion of a Gallup survey: It’s the sermon.  “Sermons that teach about Scripture” are the No. 1 reason Americans go to church, according to a new Gallup poll.

Researchers found that 82 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of all regular worshipers consider sermons’ biblical lessons as a major factor that draws them to services.  (Christianity Today,  4/18/2017)  Every pastor can grow in applying the power of scripture to real life.

2) Every Pastor Can Have the Value of Coaching

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady.  Coach and quarterback are forever joined together.  Would either have achieved what they have without the other?  We’ll never know for sure, but it would seem unlikely.

The role of a coach or mentor has become popular over the last two decades.  Is it regrettable that Christians have “jumped on this bandwagon?”  I think not.  What has become valued is the biblical principle of discipleship.   Jesus called his disciples to “be with him.”  Walking “with someone” as a mentor-coach is a winning paradigm.

Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold, in their seminal book, “Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church,” (Baker Books, 2014) unearth an extremely significant finding about coaching.  They discovered that “turnaround pastors” (those who have led a turnaround from plateau or decline to growth) have a mentor/coach. In his original research, Penfold discovered that 62% of turnaround or revitalization pastors had a coach at the beginning of their ministry. That percentage was the same after years in ministry.

In contrast, 57% of maintenance oriented pastors (whose churches were plateaued or declining) started with a coach but after several years the rate had dropped to 14%! That is a drop of 47%!

Why do a majority of maintenance oriented pastors stop working with a coach? I would suggest  that as pastors struggle to bring renewal to plateaued or declining churches, they isolate. Confirming the presence and effectiveness of coaches begs for additional exploration. Do those struggling isolate, or are other things going on?  But the data is clear: pastors who have an ongoing coach are achieving more in ministry.

3) Every Pastor Should Ask the Question, “What game are you playing?”

An important question to ask in business or ministry is, “What business are we in and how is business?” The Patriot teams are known to be absolutely relentless in research and preparation.  They “know their enemy,” the team thy face next. They have exhaustedly evaluated their last game, and they have a clear plan for their next game.  Offense, defense, and special teams, have all been researched and planned.

What is the parallel for a church?  First, do you know your community?  Who lives in your area? What are their needs?  Who are the under-reached people groups?  What is your strategy to reach them?

Second, if you believe the church is in the “discipleship business,” how is business?  If you are not making more and better disciples, look in the mirror and do the tough work of making changes.  Any church can create a “discipleship pathway” and encourage people to follow it.

Finally, churches (even small ones!) can create a culture of evaluation, research, and preparation. Sermon evaluation forms can be handed out regularly to discerning listeners.  Ministry teams can come together to study the community, pray, and discern strategies.  Key ministry areas can do “continuous quality improvement,” not in the business sense, but because the ministry matters and God is to be glorified!

Tom Brady has much to teach pastors.  Fundamentals, Coaching, Preparation. Are you listening?