Leadership Transitions: From Player to Coach


I live close to St. Louis and in my house we are Cardinals fans. This has been a relatively recent development over the years and as baseball season has come and gone I have seen quite a few parallels that can be applied to leading a worship ministry.

It seems to me like there are 6 distinct phases that a player could possibly go through in their career:

  • Learning the game- Initially everyone starts out by learning the rules, language, roles and other fundamentals. This is the foundation that must be laid to create a solid working understanding of how and why the game is played. Often this starts because of our love of the various components of the game but not a lot of personal experience from playing it. In worship ministry it means learning things like music theory, taking vocal/instrumental lessons, reading the bible and books on theology and worship, as well as watching someone run a soundboard, put together a video, etc.

  • Playing the game- Once the foundation has been laid for understanding the game it’s time to actually build the fundamentals and learn and grow and make them second nature. Practicing them over and over and becoming proficient. Being part of a team and learning how each player of the team works together to effectively win. This means we continue to revisit the foundations of the game and solidify the basics while making it our own through personal experience. It’s in this phase we start getting used to band rehearsals, putting together worship services, charting music, troubleshooting technology and numerous other weekly activities. This is also where the rubber meets the rubber and we start to see just how much more personal relationships and loving difficult people takes more effort and time than simply music or technology.

  • Specialization- After playing the game it becomes apparent that we all have areas that we are stronger and better suited for. It’s time to spend dedicated time becoming excellent at what we’re really good at and analyzing everything down to the minutia in and effort to streamline effeciency and capability. This is not done in a solo effort since everyone on the team eventually finds their sweet spot and when that happens there is an unequalled power that comes as the pieces all fit together. As we do ministry over the years we begin to see the areas that we are most effective at and it’s important for us to take the time to hone and steward the unique gifts that God has given us individually. This doesn’t mean we can’t play other positions but it means we are aware of where we best fit and are most fulfilled and effective in that area. This might mean you really begin to hone your verbal communication skills, it might mean doing more teaching the team theology, it might mean stepping into the background a little more and spending more time caring for your team and congregation offstage. There are a hundred different ways to specialize in ministry and it comes down to what God has uniquely gifted you to do.

  • Assistant coach- It takes an inside knowledge of the fundamentals as well as tried and tested experience on the field in multiple positions to be able to be a good coach. Unlike the previous phases of playing the game the biggest difference in getting to this place is not being on the field playing which is a really difficult transition to make. You may still be able to play the game but this position is about learning to play the game through the skills, abilities and personalities that makeup the team. This is the time where it becomes increasing important to be able to put away ego and develop the ability to bring out the best in others, diagnose problem areas and issues. Additionally this is a chance to grow in the big picture understanding of how to best utilize the team from game to game, over multiple seasons and how to manage transitions as players come and go. This is also a great time to learn the techniques of the head coach and how to work with other coaches.

  • Head Coach- The difference between this role and the assistant coach is now instead of leading through players, you are leading through leaders (aka assistant coaches). You begin to shift from working in specifics to focusing on the big picture and then helping your assistant coaches implement and execute their positions. This means unifying the hitting, pitching, bullpen, strength and conditioning, training, outfield, infield, and base running coaches into a cohesive unit that knows how their piece fits into winning the game. This also means learning who needs to be traded, drafted or switched in their position. Making the hard calls that are not easy but necessary fall on this coach and ultimately when a team has losing or winning streaks it’s the head coaches job on the line. For worship ministers this means developing processes that can be reproduced by their leaders to consistently make sure that the Sunday morning gatherings, large events and weekly responsibilities are taken care of with excellence. Developing a philosophy of worship and core values are essential to this phase. It also entails having other leaders caring for the people serving on their team. In order to get to this position a head coach must have spent time intentionally building, training and now equipping tech, band, vocal, graphics, and other leaders.

  • Talent scout/farm team- One of the things I hear regularly is that the reason the Cardinals are a good baseball team year after year is that they do a great job of raising up the next generation of players in their farm team system. They are constantly on the lookout for the next great young pitcher, catcher and others. Once they find them they spend money, time and effort to help them reach their potential. They give them a role to play, games to learn in and and opportunity to advance into the big leagues if they practice, learn and develop. The ways for this to play out are limited only by our creativity from things like a children’s worship ministry, people who teach lessons in the local church, classes and seminars, internships and apprentices are just a few. If a Church wants to ensure the longevity of their worship culture as well as doing their God-ordained duty to equip the saints for service it’s important to take the long view and develop a farm team system. Then a good scout can identify talent, help them invest in themselves and as they prove themselves faithful the local church can continue that investment knowing that God is going to multiply it for his glory.

Like every metaphor there are strengths and weaknesses to these images but the concepts are solid. We are called to grow, develop and reproduce as followers of Jesus and for those that God has gifted with the potential to become Head Coaches it’s important not to settle for being a player forever. We must learn to play the game, get good at it, and then help others do the same. Only the game is not over at the end of baseball season. This game is ultimately about knowing Jesus, taking the gifts that he has given each of us, investing them and using them to serve his Church and impact his world and then helping others do the same. We look forward not to the World Series of this world but the Heavenly Crown that we get to lay before the feet of Jesus in worship.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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