What can pastors learn from Nick Saban?
Pastoring is a lot like coaching. I am not sure if you have ever noticed the similarities or heard others talk about them, but I know for sure that pastoring is a lot like coaching. In coaching, you must help people come together around a common mission, you must help people find their role in that mission, and you must continually help them see the bigger picture of that mission.
If pastoring is like coaching, could we not learn from good coaches? I think we can. On Monday night, the Alabama Crimson Tide faced the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship. While it was close for much of the game, Georgia claimed the title of champions–earning them their first title since 1980. What captured my attention was not a particular play called during the game or even the presentation of the trophy. Rather, it was what happened after all the confetti had fallen and the fans left the stadium. I came across the video of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and two of his players after their loss. I believe what I saw and heard during that press conference can teach pastors valuable lessons about leadership in ministry. Here are three valuable lessons I think we can learn from Nick Saban’s interview:
1. Relationships Matter
Relationships are important. Why? They matter because God makes every person in His Image, and he created us to be in community together. Often, pastoral ministry can become about tasks and getting things done. And while yes, pastoral ministry does involve tasks (believe me I know), our focus has to be on people. Relationships matter.
During the press conference for Alabama, Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. had finished their portion, and the reporters dismissed them. If you watch the video, you will see Coach Saban ask to say something. Notice, his players immediately listen and respond. Why? Because they respect and care for their coach, their relationship matters. They had no idea what he would say, but what he said mattered because they knew they mattered to him. Pastors, we must care deeply for our people, even those who are hard to love and care for at times. We must take the time, energy, and effort to help them grow into mature disciples. Nothing we do will matter if we do not build strong relationships with our people. If we fail here, we will miss what God is calling us to do.
2. Stand Behind Your People
Coach Saban took a moment to make sure that his players knew he was standing behind them, even though they had suffered a tough loss. Coach Saban displays what he honestly believes about his players. He did not complain about them, nor did he throw them under the bus by saying they should have played better. So how did Coach Saban stand behind his players? He spoke the truth in front of them and the media.
I have no idea how losing the National Championship feels, but I do know what it feels like to lead and make mistakes and watch others do the same. We must take the opportunity in these moments to speak the truth, the truth that encourages and lifts our people. Even when folks choose sin over Christ or selfishness over others, we must see them for who they are in Christ. At one point in the video, Coach Saban said, “These young men are not defined by one game.” We must not define our people by their “worst loss” but instead see them as God sees them in Christ. As Christians, we are not defined by our worst moments but by the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors, get to know your people so you can stand behind them during difficult times.
3. Publicly Praise Your People
Even though a tough loss was hanging over his head, Coach Saban did not dwell on it. Instead, he took a moment to publicly praise his players. He praised how they competed, how they led, and how they played all year. Saban made sure the media understood that these two young men deserved praise for their effort and leadership. These players did a lot behind the scenes of cameras and reporters, stuff we will never see, but Coach Saban saw, and he made sure the world knew it. How often do we, as pastors, see God working in small everyday ways? Now how often do we say those out loud to others for someone’s benefit?
I have heard this phrase multiple times now: “What gets praised gets done.” Do we publicly praise the small victories over sin? Do we publicly praise those hard gospel conversations? Do we publicly praise how the church body cares for one another? If we want people to grow as disciples, we must praise and celebrate the small victories (even during hardship). When we praise our people, they will be encouraged to grow, and others will be challenged to live the same way.
I pray that as you pastor, you see the importance of the role that God has given you. Continue to build relationships for the sake of disciple-making. Maybe relationships have been tough for a season. If so, ask God to renew your love toward your people. Maybe it has been a hard season of ministry. If so, ask God to open your eyes to those small steps of faithfulness. In the end, ask God to continue using broken people to accomplish his mission.