The Chelsea phenomenon

(c) Getty Images

I know that for many of you, Chelsea is a quiet and touristy town between Jackson and Ann Arbor in southern Michigan, the home of a nice United Methodist retirement center. That’s not the Chelsea I’m writing about. Chelsea is also a posh part of London, and home to the current runaway leaders of the Premier League. I’m writing about that team. I don’t often write about sports, but the sport they play (soccer/football) is my favorite to watch on TV when I’m home with the flu. And I have to say, they’re not my favorite team, even though they’re the best in Britain. That honor probably goes to Tottenham, or maybe Liverpool–I’m a terrible fan! Anyway, here’s the story:

Two years ago, Chelsea won the Premier League, the top level of British football. They deserved it, and that was fine. Then last year they did terribly, and came in at 10th–their lowest in years and years. Then this year they got off to a decent start, and abruptly ran into a hard loss. They changed their “system” on the field (how they arrange themselves to play) and began a thirteen-game winning streak. They’re now just about three games ahead of everyone else, which means they’re well on their way to winning again.

What’s the difference? Here’s why I’m writing about sports. Let’s think about the possibilities:

  1. Well, it’s not the players. They have basically the same players they had last year and the year before that. Think about that whenever you think that everything would work better if you could only change the ______________ (fill in the blank). Apparently not true.
  2. That new system at Chelsea has certainly helped them figure out what they’re doing, so that’s great, but it’s not everything. And that would be helpful in case you’re thinking that tweaking the order of worship or the paperwork in the office is going to make everything right at church. It might help, but it’s not going to be enough. The part of the new system that did matter was getting the players in the places on the field where they could do their best with the skills they already had.
  3. They got a new coach. Funny thing is, they won a championship under the previous excellent coach, but something changed, and the players were tired of working so hard for someone who was such a curmudgeon, who didn’t let them play their best because he was obsessed with his own “system.” Sometimes, new is good. And almost always, new, enthusiastic, inspiring, and freedom-giving is really great. I have to remember this as I think about what kind of pastor I intend to be. And in all the places where you’re in leadership, your approach to your players is incredibly important. Talk about how great they are to others, so they can overhear you. Get fully invested in them. Lead with passion and joy!
  4. Finally, there’s another huge reason why Chelsea crashed last year. Sure, they were tired of their coach, but more than that, they were all of a sudden playing lots of extra international games, stressing about high expectations, and generally getting worn out. They were playing against the best teams in Europe mid-week, and then coming home to play two days later. They couldn’t handle it all. Since I’m a pastor, I wonder what parallels we have in the church. I’m not suggesting that we should try doing less. Most churches are not working as hard as we could or even should. But we need to focus. When Chelsea lost their place in European football, they brought their focus back to what they did really well: beating all the teams in Britain. Every week they show up ready, rested, and excited.

So what’s it going to take for our church, and for you, to bring our very best to God’s work here in Albion?

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