Super Bowl Finish Strong

The Super Bowl captures the imagination of our country like no other athletic event.  Football is our national sport.  I am continually amazed at how passionate people are about their favorite football teams as well as other sports teams. (Go, Phillies!).

Last week 296 people participated in our January district training events in Grand Rapids and Muskegon.  Imagine my dismay when I was informed on Tuesday afternoon that our training event that night conflicted with the Michigan-Michigan State basketball game.  Fortunately, we still had a great turnout.

I confess that I was not immediately aware of another slight conflict this coming Sunday.  Our Grand Rapids District Conference will be held from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 7, at Faith UMC in Grand Rapids.  Silly me.  I thought the Super Bowl was always on the last Sunday in January.

Pregame Super Bowl entertainment begins at 4 p.m. on network TV.  However, our Team GR District Conference has a Super Bowl theme as well, and our entertainment begins at 3:00 p.m.  You won’t want to miss our pre-game tailgate with subs and chips, motivational pep talk, special half-time worship (no wardrobe malfunctions, promise!), district business plays, and special cheers.

The start time for the Super Bowl is officially 6:00 p.m., but the game usually begins around 6:30 p.m.  That gives enough time for anyone in the Grand Rapids District to drive home, pull out some snacks, and get comfortable for the game.  What a great day it will be: morning worship, afternoon Team GR district conference, and evening football.

What interests me more than the actual Super Bowl game is observing the various ways in which coaches motivate teams to perform at their highest level.  That’s because one of my roles as a district superintendent is to be a coach.   One of my responsibilities is motivating, inspiring, guiding, equipping, and providing tools for pastors and churches to effectively live out their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

If the Grand Rapids District were participating in the United Methodist Super Bowl tonight, here are 5 principles I would share for excellence in ministry.

1.         Excellence in ministry happens when we set goals.    

Studies have shown that only 3% of adults have formulated specific goals for their life.  Could it be the same for our churches?  I fervently hope not.  What goals do you think the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints set for themselves last year?  I can pretty much guarantee that they both had one primary goal – to make it to and then win the Super Bowl.

We can all get by in life as individuals or churches without setting goals.  But without goals, we settle for much less than we can become if we take the time to dream big, develop specific objectives, and risk failure.  Not having goals is a good way to guarantee disappointment, for without goals, we drift aimlessly, don’t push ourselves, and aren’t willing to claim the best that is in us.

  • What goals have you set for 2010?  Are they aligned with your vision and mission?

2.         Excellence in ministry happens when we develop a game plan.

You can bet that Jim Caldwell, Sean Payton and their assistant coaches have been working tirelessly the last several weeks to formulate a specific game plan for Sunday’s Super Bowl.  They have watched endless game videos, have analyzed the playing style of each individual on the opposing team, and have come up with special strategies for counteracting the strengths and attacking the weaknesses of their opponents.

The success of a game plan often comes down to one key strategy, one main drive which will make or break the success of this goal.  It could be blitz Peyton Manning, double team Indy’s young receivers, or shut down the Saints Pierre Thomas.

Let’s say your church’s primary goal this year is to begin a new community outreach ministry.  The success of this ministry will depend heavily on your main strategy for achieving that goal.  Is it finding a champion, someone who will lead this ministry with passion and vision?  Is it partnering with other churches and non-profit organizations?  Or is it asking key donors to underwrite the expenses of the first year?

  • What is your key strategy for fulfilling for your goals for 2010?

3.         Excellence in ministry happens when we work together as a team.

It’s common knowledge that a team with one star who selfishly hogs the ball will not consistently defeat an opposing team that is made up of ordinary players who are more committed to team play than personal glory.  A great coach is constantly building team spirit by showing affirmation, valuing the contributions of all players, communicating clear expectations, and receiving feedback from the players.

  • How are the various groups in your church working as teams? Are you united around a common purpose and vision? 

4.         Excellence happens in ministry when we demonstrate perseverance and flexibility.

Great teams never give up, even when they are behind.  Did you know that the half-time score of a football game is not a reliable indicator of who will ultimately win the game?  About 50% of the time, the team that is ahead at half-time wins, and 50% of the time, the team that is behind wins.

The great football coach Lou Holtz once said, “How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser.”  Judging a game by the first 30 minutes is not helpful.  That’s why the coach’s locker room talk at half-time is so important.  Have you ever seen a team that is behind come out for the second half with a revised game plan, renewed effort, and a great will to catch up?  It’s not over till it’s over.

  • Are you willing to periodically evaluate your goals and strategies and even make changes mid-stream in order for your ministries to be more effective?  How might God surprise your church in the second half?

Excellence happens in ministry when we finish strong.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is spearheading an effort to raise $250,000 for local charities by encouraging football fans to buy 75,000 T-shirts with the words, “Finish Strong” on the back and “Our City, Our Home” on the front.

Brees has written, “Every member of our team received Dan Green’s book ‘Finish Strong’ at the beginning of the off-season,” Brees said.  The inspirational book is filled with stories of people overcoming adversity with courage.  It then became a mantra for our team throughout the off-season program, preseason and regular season.  We recognized that if we could indeed finish strong in everything we did, we could achieve the lofty goals we had set for ourselves.”  Look for the black T-shirts on Sunday night.

Finish strong.  It’s a cry for people the world over to claim the power they have to respond to the challenges before them with determination and compassion.

  • How can we channel our Holy Spirit energy and deep faith in Jesus Christ to run the race that is before us?

It doesn’t really matter to me which team wins the Super Bowl on Sunday.  What matters is that 2 teams will have offered their very best in the game.  I suspect I’ll be relaxing after the joy of coaching Team Grand Rapids through a wonderful district conference in the afternoon.  It will be a day of celebration because dozens of churches and thousands of United Methodists in our district are committed to excellence in ministry by setting goals, creating key strategies, working together, exercising perseverance and flexibility, and finishing strong.  We do it not for the glory of winning but simply to follow our call to bring glory to God and make a positive difference in our world. 

Blessings, Laurie

P.S. In case you didn’t know, you are all invited to the Team GR District Conference: 3:00 p.m. this Sunday at Faith UMC, Grand Rapids.

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