Ministry is a team sport.

Leadership studies for a Christian leader begin with Jesus and other leaders in the Scriptures. However, I’ve also found it helpful over the years to read more  widely about leadership from coaches as well as team leaders from others spheres of business.

Pete Carroll is among the best coaches alive today. He’s won college titles, a Super Bowl ring, and has particularly distinguished himself as a “turnaround” coach. A few summers ago, I read his book on leadership, Win Forever. The book was written before Carroll really took over in Seattle, and it’s been interesting to read his philosophy and compare it to his work in Seattle.

If you aren’t familiar with him, Pete Carroll took over a USC football program mired in mediocrity and a experienced a tepid response to his hire from the fan base. The 2008 season culminated in USC’s seventh straight Pac-10 Championship, seventh straight BCS bowl appearance (he went 6-1 in those BCS bowls) and seventh straight finish in the top 4 in college football. That’s enduring winning. That’s excellence over time…and something I’d love to bring to my ministry.


I don’t want the quality of my ministry to ebb and flow. I want to give God the best I can year after year after year. Win forever is Carroll’s philosophy of winning. Here are some of the principles he puts forth, and you’ll probably be able to see the applications for ministry fairly easily. Here are just a couple quick principles:

  • Carroll has a deep love for John Wooden, perhaps the greatest coach that’s ever lived. Carroll, who credits Wooden’s for being both influential and inspirational in his life, writes on Page 109, “At USC I introduced ‘Three Rules,’ which became the foundational elements of our program: Rule 1. Always Protect the Team; Rule 2. No Whining, No Complaining, No Excuses; Rule 3. Be Early.”

Beyond fleshing those ideas out, he talks about the importance of creating an environment in which the gifts that each player brings can be fully set free. He also points out the importance of practice (allowing you not to tense up or worry because you are ridiculously prepared).

Those of us in ministry underestimate preparation (spiritual and practical) for events, weekends, and opportunities the Lord sets before us. We would do well to prepare. We speak of this often at New Vintage Church, and it serves us well. We don’t go into Sundays tense, because we’re there early, prepared for God to move–and if anything goes wrong, we at least have some margin of time to fix it without a meltdown. Saturday night specials (sermons) are not good for preachers, and last-minute ministry tends to give you half the quality with twice the anxiety. Throwing things together at the last minute isn’t good ministry. Be early.

On staff, we really work to put people in a position to shine for the Kingdom by putting them where they are gifted and where they enjoy serving. We work to remove the things that discourage and hinder full release of a minister’s gifts for Kingdom purposes. We do the same with volunteers. Anyone who leads or serves anywhere will be most effective when they are prepared and released to serve according to the gifts they were given, “Just as the Spirit chose” (1 Cor. 12:11).

Always Protect the Team. This means more than just looking out for one another as Carroll fleshes it out. It means conducting yourself in such a way on and off the field that you never do anything that might reflect poorly on the team or cause a distraction that might take the team off mission. If you swap in “church” or “staff” for “team,” it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? How many times has staff turmoil or misconduct hurt a church or held it’s effectiveness hostage?

There’s an awful lot more in the book worth blogging, but you can read it for yourself. Win Forever is obviously a must-read for Trojan fans. However, it’s also worth reading for those interested in the John Wooden stream of leadership. If you are interested in consistent quality and learning how a successful team is built and functions…the book will be a relatively quick and entertaining read during which you’ll learn some good stuff from a seasoned leader.

Here’s a quote to close that might pose an interesting question for your leadership: “What I learned about Maslow’s insights challenged me to start asking: What if my job as a coach isn’t so much to force or coerce performance as it is to create situations where players develop the confidence to set their talents free and pursue their potential to its full extent? What if my job as a coach is really to prove to these kids how good they already are, how good they could possibly become, and that they are truly capable of high-level performance?”

If you are a Senior Pastor, Elder or leader in ministry of any kind, that statement is worth pondering. Win Forever is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting an interesting and obviously effective take on leadership.