Hello, my name is Brian and I’m an Atlanta Falcons fan. Wait a minute…this isn’t Football Fans Anonymous!! Sorry!! I bring up my fanhood today to discuss a very crucial part of church ministry in general and revitalization is particular: The Turnaround. Being a Falcons fan I’ve learned what a good turnaround looks like. Atlanta’s head coach, Mike Smith (Smitty as the Falcons faithful refer to him), has led the once hapless team of misfits to becoming a relevant franchise in the National Football League. We still have our hurdles to jump (like winning consistently in the post season), but thank God we aren’t what we used to be!!
Coach Smith has led the turnaround in at least 4 ways that are helpful for us as ministry leaders to take notice of:
1. Place key people in powerful positions – A few key people on in the Atlanta Falcon’s turnaround are quarterback Matt Ryan, Running Back Michael Turner, and Wide Receiver duo Roddy White and Julio Jones. Smith’s first year as coach of the Falcons was on the heels of the Michael Vick debacle and the “rebuilding” year that resulted in what many refer to as “The Lost Year.” Despite all the turmoil around the franchise, Coach Smith (and general manager Thomas Dimitroff) aggressively went after new leaders and assembled a great team of talent that would become the new face(s) of the team. They understood the value of placing key people in powerful positions.
The same is true for your ministry. Regardless of past defeats make your mind up to aggressively go after great key leaders. Remember: proper people placement prevents problems.
2. Remember the small picture – Smith has a mantra that all of his players can repeat easier than they can repeat their address, “One game at a time.” In the week-to-week world of the NFL it’s easy to overlook an opponent because the team is looking too far down the schedule. Smith keeps his team focused on the goal by reminding them that it is one game at a time. He is intentional about the small picture.
Keep your team focused on the task at hand in ministry by celebrating small wins. Don’t be so caught up in where you are going that you don’t see where you have been or where you are at. Slow down. Dig in for the long haul. Enjoy the small things. Keep your leadership focused on “one game at a time.”
3. Honor your players in public – I love watching Coach Smith in interviews. He is always the consummate professional in the face of harsh criticism and jovial success. What draws me to him the most is his attitude toward his players especially following a loss. Smith addresses the fact of the loss, but validates the truth that his players are great and capable of winning big. He never throws a player under the bus. Smitty accepts the responsibility of the defeat and gives all the credit for the win to his players and staff. Now that’s good leadership.
Make it a habit to publicly praise your team. Don’t just encourage them in the hallways, do it from the stage too. And never, never, never, never blame someone for a “loss!”
4. Learn from defeat – This is the hardest of these keys for me to write because I am a fan of the team. Prior to Coach Smith’s tenure with the Falcons the team had never had back-to-back winning seasons. They’ve never won a Super Bowl and the post season record isn’t exactly bragging material. Smith breathed new life into a dead franchise. In 5 years he has become the winningest head coach in the team’s history. He has never had a losing season and has hosted the NFC division championship game in Atlanta. But…against all of that success Smith has never won the “big game.” Atlanta has had some bitter defeats in the Smith Era and none more crushing than this year’s NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. Atlanta had home field advantage and jumped out to a huge lead in the game only to let go of the lead and watch the 49ers march through the Georgia Dome on the way to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
After the biggest loss of his coaching career Coach Smith responded by saying, “When you start the season you have your goals and your expectations and I’ll say our goals and our expectations were much higher than just playing in this game yesterday as a team. You never know when you’re going to have that opportunity to have that situation arise again. The only thing you can do is try and take advantage of it. We didn’t take advantage of it yesterday, so now we have to regroup and talk about moving forward. Moving forward for us and our football team is getting prepared for the 2013 season.”
He acknowledged defeat and focused on looking forward. In ministry, we will have those moments of “defeat.” The key is to learn from them and move on. Don’t dwell on the mistakes or let downs. Accept the fact that sometimes things don’t go as planned and learn to “roll with the punches.” It will make your leadership journey a lot better!
There are several other areas that Coach Smith can teach us about our leadership. These are just a few to ponder and see how they fit into your particular context.