In the 1960s, the premier football team in the NFL was the Green Bay Packers. They won five NFL titles in the 60s. They also won the first two Super Bowls. Their coach was the Super Bowl trophy’s namesake, Vince Lombardi.
Vince Lombardi was an incredible coach and an outstanding leader; one of his greatest successes wasn’t just winning championships but building an enduring team. He won because of the teams he built, and he built the team he did because he focused on what he called the fundamentals of the game.
If you are a fan of sports at all you will have at least heard of the legendary Vince Lombardi. Vince understood something that caused his teams to be great and allow him to achieve greatness on the field that few have matched. He understood that winning doesn’t come by accident. He preached the value of fundamentals.
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” –Vince Lombardi
In sports, and life, winning and losing always come down to the fundamentals. Will the person or team do the small things right? If so, nine times out of ten they come out on the winning side.
When I was in high school I played basketball. I wasn’t the best player on the court, but I was part of a great team. Our coach absolutely hounded us with the practice and value of fundamentals. We did drills over and over again. We begged to scrimmage; we loved to play the game, but our coach wouldn’t let us. “Any given day, any team can lose, but it’s the team that executes the fundamentals flawlessly that will win,” he would holler. Win we did that year; we lost one game by two points and actually ended up placing third in state. Did we win because we were the most talented? I don’t think so. Looking back, I believe it was because we did the right things all the time.
Leadership is all about doing the right things all the time, developing what Lombardi calls a winning habit. What does a winning habit look like in the leadership of children’s ministry? What are the fundamentals of children’s ministry that cause you to win? If you’re going to soar in children’s ministry, what are the things you need to be doing at the ground level? What things do you focus on in the first year? If you’re a grizzly veteran, what are the fundamentals you must revisit every year?
Vince Lombardi said it this way, “Every time a football player goes to play, he’s got to play from the ground up—from the soles of his feet right up to his head.”
Lead with vision
Children’s ministry needs lots of people to get on board to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished. If you’re a one-man show you will not last long. When I started doing kids’ ministry I had no idea where to start and no one to come alongside me and show me what to do. I was in desperate need of volunteers. I remember like it was yesterday, sitting at my desk beginning to fill out a bulletin announcement request form. I felt God speak to me that I wasn’t to do the bulletin announcement, so I put down my pen and began to pray. As I was praying I felt God speak some very specific things that He wanted me to accomplish and do. It was at that moment that I stumbled upon the power of vision.
Here’s what God spoke to me:
- Is it God-breathed?
- Is it compelling?
- Is it larger than me?
If what you envision is something you can accomplish on your own, then it’s really not vision. A God-breathed vision really should leave you breathless, because it’s about what God might do through you, not because of you. Is your vision God-breathed? Does it leave your breathless? Do you wonder how it might ever get accomplished, but something inside of you just knows it’s right? If so, then you’re on the right track.
The second question is how compelling is your vision? If it doesn’t inspire and even scare you, then it’s never going to compel others. I’ve observed how so many of the characters we read about in Scripture delved so far into the vision that God had for them that there was no going back. They were completely sold out to it and it was a driving passion and commitment that compelled others to join them or follow.
Very quickly you’ll discover that the tyranny of the urgent will crush any dream you have if you are not consumed by a compelling vision of what God has for you and your team. I really believe most of our volunteer problems are really vision problems. Left to ourselves we always default to need-based ministry. We fill “holes” in our preschool schedules instead of communicate to people the importance of being part of a child’s first understanding of who God is and what church is all about. When you are leading with vision your needs are taken care of. Provision always follows vision and people will always rise to the challenge of a compelling, God-breathed vision.
The last question about your vision is really a relational one. Nowhere in scripture do I read about raising up lone rangers; however, I do see time and time again people joining together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. If you can do what God’s called you to do without needing other people to join you, I don’t know what you are called to do, but it sure isn’t children’s ministry.
The first and most important relationship you have is with your pastor. You can have no vision outside of what vision your pastor has. Mark 3:25 tells us “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” If you feel that God has called you to do ministry that is contrary to your pastor’s vision, you are going to cause serious problems and God will not be glorified. We also find that through Scripture and especially in 1 Corinthians 12 that God sets specific people with specific gifts, talents and abilities in His body to accomplish a together vision. This church thing isn’t about the eye or the hand or the foot; it’s about the body. It’s about something larger than any one person. We need to lead with vision and that vision has to be built on the foundation of relationships.
Build with relationships
We are relational beings. We were created for relationship. I have seen many people do the one-man show in children’s ministry. It rarely works and never lasts. I have always understood that I am not the smartest or the most talented person in the room. I am, however, the one God called to lead and to help develop a team and build something that will last long after I am gone.
One of the things I so craved when I was first starting out was someone to come alongside me and let me know what I was doing right, what I was doing wrong, and what pitfalls to avoid. I started doing kids’ ministry about the same time as our youth pastor. At the time, he had a couple of key people he could call to bounce stuff off of. I didn’t and was very envious of those relationships.
I learned by watching my friend Mike that having a mentor is critical. Because I had no one to be that for me, I also learned the importance of being a mentor to someone else. Since that time, I have always tried to be to others what I wish someone would have been to me.
Relationships are important, so don’t try to build without them. You need to be pouring your life into others as well as being challenged by those who have been where you are.
Grow with change
It’s a simple fact–growth means change, and you will never grow if you don’t change.
“People change when the pain associated with the status quo becomes greater than the pain associated with the change.” Reggie Joiner
Change is essential. Anything that is growing is constantly changing. We don’t change just for the sake of change, but we change so that we enlarge our capacity for more. What we change is crucial. Our core values must never change, but everything else is fair game.
To get to a place where you can make lots of changes you have to have the two previous fundamentals on your side. This is where lots of leaders (me) get it wrong. We see what needs to be changed and go out and try to change it. What we have to understand is that change is the natural overflow of vision-based relationships. When you have a compelling vision and strong relationships there are no sacred cows.
An organization that is led by vision, builds relationships, and is continually changing will produce fruit that remains. As a leader your passion is sapped when you forget these fundamentals, no matter how long you’ve been in the arena of kids’ ministry. Remember and constantly work on the fundamentals.