Friday, March 13, 2009


About one month ago the Pittsburg Steelers won one of the best played Super Bowls in its forty-three year history. Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the winning Steelers, is an outstanding leader. And, at thirty-six, he is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. Coach Tomlin, with his approach to the game and the players he leads, has much to teach us as we lead our churches and organizations. The following observations are garnered from the article: Tomlin stresses renewal rather than repeat (USA Today 2.3.09).

Focus on renewal not repeating. One of the first post-game questions a winning Super Bowl Coach typically will hear concerns repeating the feat. Tomlin refuses to go there. “…we are not attempting to repeat…nothing stays the same in this game.” Repeating is simply doing the same thing, again. In the changing climate of the NFL if a team focuses on just `doing it again’ they will not evaluate or adjust. A franchise targeting a repeat will place their emphasis on holding what they have, while other teams change. Churches tend to slip into this. They spend too much time repeating what they have done and what once worked. What we need to do is focus on renewing ourselves. Renewal brings life, refreshment and revitalization. We must resist holding onto what we have gained and move toward what we can do.

Function in the new reality. In the past NFL teams were able to build continuity. But free agency and salary caps have changed all of this. In reviewing Steelers’ history Tomlin observes, “…look at the championship teams of the `70s, it’s the same pictures and the same positions….That’s not the reality of today’s NFL.” The Steelers Coach may prefer those days, but this is not his reality. A key role of leadership is to define reality. The reality of church ministry has changed. People are not naturally drawn to church. North America is diverse religiously, secular in perspective and multi-cultural. Church leaders who refuse to function in this new reality will miss the tremendous opportunities available to them.

Allow for taking corporate breathes. Leaders like to push. They want to get things moving. We tend to forget that people need recovery time. “Players need recuperative time,” Tomlin says. NFL Coaches understand the fruitlessness of getting back at it right after the Super Bowl game. When I was in local church ministry I misunderstood the importance of pacing. I always wanted our church body to go to the next thing. When we daughtered a church I was ready to move on to the next daughtering opportunity. It wasn’t until my District Superintendent, Steve Babby, said “Phil, your people are tired. Let them rest.” It was then I learned the significance of allowing time for the body to take a ‘corporate breathe.’ Physically we know how good it feels to fully inhale. Corporately we need to allow for the same. Leaders that understand this, and incorporate it will be better leveraged to have long lasting effectiveness.

Be optimistic. “I’m an unrealistic dreamer sometimes,” Tomlin observes about himself. We need to be the same. There is enough pessimism, enough negative input, enough doom-saying; we need to swim upstream with optimism and encouragement. When we dream big and dare to believe we model opportunistic faith. This is in needed to restore hope, strength and perseverance into our people.

Tap into your journey. “Mike appreciates his heritage. “I’ve been around some great people—coaches, players, owners—and I’m a product of that.” We, too, are products of our experiences, mentors, and environments. We should take stock of such and leverage them in our present. The journey we have traveled has brought us to this point for a reason. Appreciate it! Apply it!

Invest in people. Leadership is foremost about people. “I probably get more enjoyment out of watching people grow than I do preparing and winning football games.” It is interesting to note that the more people grow, the more games are won. However, we need to help people grow regardless of the outcome of games. Who are we really investing? And to what end?

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