Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why I Want Bill Belichik and Not Pete Carroll as My Pastor

Before you pound me for my title, read on and find out in what particular respect I would want Bill Belichik and not Pete Carroll as my pastor.  I know both have had cheating scandals along with their great success, but it’s not their morals I’m interested in.  I know they are opposite personalities, but it’s not their personalities I’m interested in. I am only interested in one thing that separates the two by a wide margin, a characteristic that made the difference in the Super Bowl. And I contend we need pastors like Belichik rather than Carroll to be a difference, the right kind of difference, in our world.

Surprising fact:  Seattle under Carroll has never lost a blowout game.  Neither did USC until the last few games of his tenure there when things fell apart.  But in games decided by 6 points or less, Seattle is 11-13. Carroll is a big picture, rah-rah, emotional leader guy who connects well with his people.  On the details, he’s not so good.  Belichik is the opposite.  Cool and aloof, not a people persons or a great communicator, great on the details and a vision for what is needed in the nuts and bolts of preparation for success.

All this was on display in the closing moments of the Super Bowl. Seattle squandered timeouts, seemed disorganized, and not quite ready to grasp the moment.  New England was prepared, they had practiced exactly that play, knew what to do, and out-executed the Seahawks to win the game.

Every church looking for a pastor, every one, I guarantee it, want Pete Carroll as their next pastor. The great communicator, warm personality, inspiring.  Will give you the big vision, and make you feel good.  But enacting a vision, training and preparing the people to actually practice and do the actual living out of the vision, she or he will leave you empty-handed.  Great ideas and so on, but little or nothing on the ground where the rubber hits the road.

But they need Bill Belichik.  The guy who knows how to do it and can train and equip others to do it to. She has the big picture too but knows how to put feet on it.  Knows the pitfalls, knows how to avoid them, understands that in the heat of the moment it is practice and preparation that keeps the people from being caught off-guard and unable to seize opportunities for the kingdom.

Let me be concrete. Churches need pastors who know how to lead their people into the spirit and practice of the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, the Sermon on the Mount. Most of western Christianity has spent it time avoiding or interpreting away serious engagement with Jesus’ famous sermon.  It’s an unreachable ideal, some say.  We see how far short we fall of God’s will in its light, others say. Some interpreters claim the Sermon is meant for a different dispensation or period than that of the church. And on it goes.  These are the Pete Carroll preachers.  They will honor the Sermon in some fashion but never in a way that allows it to inform and shape our daily practice of living for God.

Jesus, however, seemed to think he was giving practical insight in kingdom living. This is how to live the life of God’s reign in the nitty-gritty of today.  So did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived it right into martyrdom, showing us by his lie how to die and by his death how to live. His famous book Discipleship (popularly known as The Cost of Discipleship) bears witness to his passion for the living of the Sermon on the Mount. He believed, rightly, that until the Sermon was taken seriously by the church in all its offensive and challenging detail, the church would never live out God’s kingdom well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. also believed in the centrality of the practice of the Sermon in the daily life of the church.  He learned and taught his people how to live it out, particularly in the face of the brutalizing opposition they faced at every turn in the Civil Rights movement.

Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, who gave his life in service to Christ for the poor of El Salvador, was also a person who lived and taught the Sermon on the Mount. He summarized the strategy he used under the rubric of the “violence of love.”

“We have never preached violence,
except the violence of love,
which left Christ nailed to a cross,
the violence that we must each do to ourselves
to overcome our selfishness
and such cruel inequalities among us.
The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword,
the violence of hatred.
It is the violence of love,
of brotherhood,
the violence that wills to beat weapons
into sickles for work.”

That is the characteristic of Bill Belichik I think all churches need in their pastors. A passion for training and equipping his or her people to live, in daily life, in real relationships, in struggles for the rights and resources of the poor, peace-making in situations of real conflict, learning to embrace those who are really different from us, and the like – a commitment in short to the real life, real time preparation of the their people for living out the Sermon on the Mount (and the rest of the scriptures as well).

Pastors like this are not common, unfortunately.  Many more Pete Carroll types are out there. Hope for the growth of communities “of prayer and works of justice” (Bonhoeffer) lies, in my judgment, with the Belichick types.  We’ve had plenty of the Carroll types through the years. They’ve by and large failed us at this critical point (I realize there are exceptions!). And the seminaries have focused on producing the Carroll types and churches on calling them. Not that they have done no good or contributed nothing good to the life of the church.  Far from it!  But they have not helped at this most critical juncture, the place where today we desperately need help.

Malcolm Butler would not have been prepared and confident to step up and make the game-saving play in the Super Bowl if his coach was Pete Carroll.  But because Bill Belichik had trained, practiced, and prepared him for just this moment, Butler was able to do what was necessary to secure the victory for the Patriots.  Likewise, the church will not be prepared to properly play it role in the mission of God’s kingdom without more Belichik-type women and men (in the way I have described here) leading the way. It’s not finally the out-front, up-front types that most effectively serve the church.  It’s those who get down with the people in the real messes of living and do the unglamorous and unheralded work of living together in ways that demonstrate the mercy and justice of Jesus Christ to the world.  

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