I'm cool with that. These are exciting times in the Carolinas, folks. We have a team playing in the Super Bowl. And while the winning certainly facilitates our enthusiasm, it's the intangibles that really have us hooked. This team has personality. This team has drive. This team has fun!
So pardon me a few minutes of fandom, but when I look at the Carolina Panthers in their current incarnation, I see some qualities that all leaders - including those in the church - could learn something from.
LEADERS USE THEIR INNATE SKILLS WHILE LEARNING NEW ONES
Cam Newton came into the league as a bit of a freak of nature - a QB built more like a running back. This was supposedly the "new NFL quarterback" prototype that would move the position away from a traditional "pocket passer." Cam fit this new model to a "t." Problem was, running QBs who don't learn to run judiciously get beat up and see their careers end prematurely (see: RG III, Michael Vick).
So Cam worked with his QB coach to learn to be a better pocket passer. It wasn't always pretty - balls soaring well above wide open receivers were a common occurrence the past few Panther seasons. But this year, things seemed to click. He became a legit pocket passer, while at the same time still able to burn you with a strong run to get a first down - or more. Which is certainly keeping the Denver defense up at nights over the next two weeks.
I've written before for NEXT Church about the need for pastors to be able to stand with one foot in "tradition" and the other in change. This is not easy, but very necessary. If we come in and try to immediately change everything, chances are we're going to get pretty beat up. But to simply lead the church where it's always comfortably been isn't good, either. We have to be skilled at doing both, or at the very least intentionally learn how to be.
EVERYONE ON THE TEAM IS A VALUED MEMBER OF THE TEAM
In case you haven't heard, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is paying for all support staff and interns in the Panthers organization to attend Super Bowl 50 - travel, accommodations, tickets, the whole thing. For the record, he also did this the last time they made the Super Bowl, in 2004.
Call it a PR stunt if you want, and Richardson certainly has deep pockets, but it should be noted that this is not something NFL owners typically do. He chose to do this. Which, as a friend of mine commented, makes us wish we had applied for that stadium sweeper job.
In all seriousness, it sends a very powerful and important message - the team is more than just the 50+ players on the field. It makes me happy to think that Jason (the guy who contacted me about doing the invocation at their first playoff game a few weeks ago) and Allyson (the lovely staffer who served as my family's escort during our on-field time) are heading to Santa Clara with Cam, Luke and the others.
Churches are notorious for making both successes and setbacks about one person or a small group of people - the pastor, the session, etc. A true culture of leadership recognizes that every person involved needs to be held accountable and get credit when things go well.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE WHEN YOU REALLY DON'T HAVE TO
Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly is an amazing player, but seemingly an even better person, as this story lays testimony to. I showed this video at a church staff meeting last week and paused it in that moment right after Luke accepted the car with thanks. I asked the staff, what are some possible scenarios of how this might play out going forward? Responses were as expected: he could simply move on to the next kid, he could toss the car in the trash when he got out of the kid's view, etc. etc. Then I started the video again. And we watched Luke, in a brief moment of pause, seem to make a conscious choice to take things a step further with the kid - going off script, as it were, and kind of let things play out themselves. And that changed the whole scene from simply being a neat gesture on the kid's part to a transformative experience for both. I love thinking about that kid at the school lunch table the next day: Yeah, I got Luke's gloves, but my signed Pinewood Derby car is on display in his locker right now.
In church we have a lot of practices/policies/procedures that give us direction and tell us what we need to do in most any situation. And that's certainly ministry. But a deeper ministry can happen when we go off-script - take the common practice a step further and see where it leads us. More and more I'm convinced these opportunities are around us all the time - that casual conversation in the hallway, a moment in worship, a session meeting. Our job is to remain alert so we see them when they materialize and let the Spirit do its thing through us.
WHEN SOMEONE GOES DOWN, SOMEONE ELSE STEPS UP
Football is a tough sport and guys get injured all the time. Star players, too. Often this affect's a team's success. At the beginning of the year before even the first game, star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season, leaving a cadre of no-names and castoffs to fend for themselves. Those guys, as it turned out, banded together and proved to be a more than adequate receiving corps. There was no single breakout star in the bunch, but together they helped take the team to a 17-1 record.
Churches stay, but ministers and staff come and go. The sign of a strong church is one where a church's well-being and future don't hinge on who comes and goes. A strong sense of team and vision provides the continuity a church needs. And if there's a strong sense of team and vision, good people will always be drawn to the mix.
THIS TEAM HAS FUN, AND IT'S CONTAGIOUS
I feel for Cam. All he wants is to enjoy the ride, and yet people are raking him over the coals. How dare he dance in the end zone, do the dab, give footballs to kids!
Admittedly more than a little biased on this and fully acknowledging that #1 is a bit of a showboat, I still have a hard time understanding the Tennessee Moms and Seattle petition guy. This quarterback isn't accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs or beating his girlfriend. And while his wardrobe choices are slightly suspect, and naming your kid "Chosen" certainly takes some chutzpah, I'm convinced that he really is just enjoying the moment, eagerly sharing it with teammates and an entire city.
In fact, the very act of giving footballs to kids is worth note. Cam started it himself - run for a TD, give the ball to a kid in the stands. If a wide receiver or running back scored, they'd give the ball to Cam so he could do his thing. Then one game, wide receiver Devin Funchess (gotta love the name) caught a TD and handed it to Cam. But Cam declined it, pointed to him and then the end zone crowd. The message was clear through my TV set: No, you give it away! It's a blast! Now, it's rare that Cam does the actual football-sharing himself. Setting a standard and then letting everyone else in on the fun is shared leadership at its best.
The church deals with a lot of heavy things - life and death, sin and salvation, kingdom-building, heavy social hot-button issues, all on a tight budget. That's serious stuff. But sometimes I wonder if we wind up taking ourselves too seriously, and not the God we claim to serve. Ministry should be fun, and we should find enjoyment in each other and the ministry we are called to carry out, always seeking to share that joy with whomever. After all, joy is biblical.
And as an example of said joy, I dare you to tell me this doesn't brighten your day: