What The Church Can Learn From America’s #1 College Football Team

In Culture by Frank Powell0 Comments

Let’s get this out of the way…I am a Mississippi State (MSU) Bulldog fan. And, yes, I am writing a blog post about what the church can learn from the Bulldog football team. Be real…if your team was irrelevant for over a hundred years, you suddenly saw them rise to #1, and had a blog…yep, I believe you would write about them too.

But here’s the deal…this isn’t a post about MSU football. This is a post about Jesus and his church.

I look at the world with a gospel lense. Here’s what I mean. Wherever I am I try to see Jesus. Football. Relationships. TV. Movies. Random conversations. You get the idea. Sometimes I let my guard down. But I try to look for Jesus everywhere.

And this brings me to MSU football. Since 1895, MSU has fielded a football team. And, quite frankly, most of them have been pretty bad. Mediocre is probably stretching it. My alma mater has been the doormat in its conference (SEC) and even its own division (West) and state (Ole Miss leads the annual rivalry game 61-43-6).

I want you to grasp the context here. An historically bad football team is suddenly #1 in the country. And the question I ask is, “How?” Turnarounds of this magnitude aren’t accidents. They require intentional efforts by many people.

And I have noticed. The church should notice too. We can learn from the 2014 MSU football team.

Here are 9 things the church can learn from America’s #1 football team, the MSU Bulldogs.

1.) You must be “for” one another.

I have listened to the head coach, Dan Mullen, and several players during interviews. And I have noticed a common thread. They all use plural pronouns. Rarely do they talk about themselves. Players acknowledge accomplishments. But they quickly divert the attention back to the team.

One thing is obvious…these guys are for one another. They trust one another. When one person scores, the team congratulates him. No one is upset if another guy has the big game or big score. No one takes to the newspapers or shows to bash the program or other players.

Sometimes organizations and teams model Christ-inspired qualities better than the church. Here is a great example. The church needs to be for one another. Always. There should never be a situation where Christians verbally crucify one another. We should encourage. Build up. The church shouldn’t care who stands in a pulpit and who serves behind the scenes. The ultimate goal is for the glory of God to be shown through his people. Through the church.

2.) Great teams have great leaders.

Dak Prescott is a natural leader. So is the head coach. Players follow them. They love them. These two (and many others) are a big reason MSU is #1. Talent only takes a team so far. Eventually a team will implode under the weight of expectations and individual accomplishments without leaders. MSU might have two of the greatest leaders in their program’s history. Certainly two of the best in my lifetime.

Jesus is the leader of the church. But the church often uses that as a copout not to mold, groom, and pursue great leaders. Great leaders point people to Jesus first. But great leaders know how to unite, inspire, and challenge…at the same time. Churches need great leaders to point people to the greatest leader. Let’s stop using “Jesus is our leader” as a way to avoid finding and grooming current and potential leaders.

3.) You can’t win unless you play offense.

You don’t know this, but MSU had great defenses on more than one occasion. But offense? Bad. Really, really bad. Several years I thought me and 10 of my friends could be more productive than the actual players.

But this year? Our defense is still pretty good…and we have a good offense. The result? Undefeated. Number one in the country. Offense is essential to success in sports.

It is also essential in the church.

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And the church is a lot like pre-2014 MSU football. A lot of defense. Minimal offense. We are like a boxer in a corner with his or her hands up trying not to get knocked out.

God has given us the Holy Spirit. You think he is ok with all the defense? No way. The church needs to get out of the corner of the ring and start fighting back.

4.) You can’t be scared to change the culture.

Mullen arrived at MSU in 2008. And he knew he had to change the culture. And not any culture. A culture layered with decades of losing. So, how do you change a bad culture?…Walk on campus guns blazing.

Early in his time, Mullen called for a meeting of everyone involved in the football program. And once the meeting started, this is what he said, “You are part of the problem. We have to change everything.”

Wow, you better reign it in cowboy. Pretty bold words.

The church needs to operate with the same mindset. Yes, we speak the truth in love. Yes, we always exhibit humility and respect. But sometimes that means saying what needs to be said. The church can’t be scared to change an event, program, etc. if it is not effective. Sometimes cultures need to be changed completely because a “losing” cloud hovers over it.

God’s people can’t be afraid to make hard decisions.

5.) You won’t win unless you take risks.

The offense this year might be the most explosive ever at MSU. Yeah, that’s not saying much. Don’t miss the point.

MSU is notorious for being a conservative offense. “Don’t lose it for our defense.” Really, the mantra was, “Don’t take risks.”

This year, MSU is throwing the football in situations where they should run. They are throwing deep passes. They are running trick plays. I saw Dan Mullen fake a punt earlier this year…and the play failed miserably.

But I was ecstatic. Why? I realized MSU football was not going to allow fear to control them any longer. Can you say refreshing?

The church should lead the way in making crazy, radical decisions. We have God’s power resting in us. And Jesus Christ sits as head over us. The church must make decisions that show the world God is in control of this ship. Not us. If we make all the decisions, the world won’t see the glory of God.

God doesn’t need more fearful, anti-risk Christians who refuse to hand over the wheel to God. The church needs to hand the reigns back to God. He is a much better driver.

6.) Great leaders show authenticity and transparency.

Earlier this year, MSU played its biggest football game in program history against the University of Auburn. And we won. As the final seconds ticked off, TV cameras zoomed in on Dan Mullen. And he was visibly emotional. He dug his head into the chest of another coach. On national television.

All the alpha males are calling him a pansy. But Dan Mullen showed the world great leaders aren’t afraid to be authentic and transparent.

The church is in desperate need of more authentic, transparent leaders. Men and women who will not shy away from past mistakes or failures.

Worship on Sundays is more like a costume party than a worship service to God. People walk in pretending everything is ok.

Greeter: “Hey, how are you this morning?”

Dad with two little babies: “I am doing great. Thanks for asking.”

No, you’re not. You cussed out your children on the way to the building. And your marriage is on the rocks. But let’s just pretend everything is ok.

The preacher watched porn the night before. But don’t share that with anybody. Church leaders don’t struggle.

The goal is not transformation. The goal is to appear like you have it together.

And as long as that is the goal, the church will be a big Halloween party at the neighbor’s house. Except we throw Jesus in a few times.

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7.) You must have a mix of veterans and youngsters.

MSU has a mix of older (juniors/seniors) and younger (freshmen/sophomores) players. The same is true with coaches. In fact, a guy from Jackson, TN is helping call plays and prepare the team from week to week…and he is still in college. Yes, you heard that correctly.

No team is successful without a mix of young and old. The meshing of mindsets, talents, values, and cultures creates a fertile ground for extraordinary things.

The church could learn much from this. Generational wars and generationally lob-sided churches are crippling to church vitality and health. The church must mix years of wisdom and experiences with youthful passion and healthy naivety. As long as generations seek the good of their own age demographic, the church will struggle…and be irrelevant.

8.) Set the bar really high.

From day one, Dan Mullen said he came here to win championships.

And I remember saying to myself, “Poor soul, he has no idea how bad he will fail. No one can win championships at MSU.” But he didn’t fail.

Dan Mullen wasn’t content with the status quo. He set the bar high. And he challenged the football program to reach for the bar.

The bar is set way too low in the church. We expect little to nothing from a God who spoke the earth into motion. We have the power of the Spirit, yet we operate out of fear. We maintain the status quo. We try to keep the boat from capsizing. But Jesus calls us out of the boat.

Fear and status quo thinking are from Satan. And they have no place in the church.

9.) Cynicism will destroy a team.

I think therefore I am.Rene Descartes
Dan Mullen’s greatest accomplishment hasn’t come in the form of wins on the field. It has come in the form of transformation in the minds of MSU fans and players.

I drank the Kool-Aid. As a fan, I expected bad things to happen. Part of me still does. Cynicism hovered over the football program like a late August storm cloud.

Dan Mullen came to MSU and challenged the fans and players to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. And pour out whatever Kool-Aid is left. He made a team believe they could win. And win big. Somehow it worked.

Cynicism spreads like an aggressive disease. It is destructive. It is from Satan. And the church drinks the Kool-Aid. A lot. Negative thoughts and emotions permeate men and women who are supposed to be transformed by the cross.

Nothing about the God we serve is cynical. If God’s people would walk into conversations and relationships expecting God to do something great, the world might see his power and majesty. But we walk into church buildings expecting nothing to happen. We look at people and refuse to believe God has the power to transform them.

If Dan Mullen can take down the cloud of cynicism hanging over MSU football, God can destroy the cloud hanging over the church. But not until we actually believe God is who he says he is.

____________________________

There are other points I could make here. Space will not allow me to do so. The church can learn some things from MSU football (or any other team). If mere humans can transform organizations and teams, we need to believe the God who creates those humans can also transform them. He creates order from chaos. Beauty from disaster. He is the ultimate transformer.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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