Living in Kentucky I was surrounded by southern boys (and girls) who love college football. They love it sports-wise in a way that I reserve only for my San Francisco Giants. Still, while in Kentucky, I started to appreciate and really enjoy the sport, and I have followed it the last handful of years.
This bowl season there have been a number of follow-worthy storylines. Among these, the story of Brian Kelly leaving the University of Cincinnati has provided an interesting parallel to being a pastor.
The summary is this: University of Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly took a job with Notre Dame (a historically prestigious school/job) between the end of the regular season and his top-5 ranked (former) team’s crack at an undefeated season in the Sugar Bowl . ESPN broke the story on December 11, about a week after Kelly implied to Cincinnati players and fans that he would be sticking with their program. The ESPN article explained the reactions of Mardy Gilyard and Tony Pike, Cincinnati’s two best players:
“I don’t like it,” Gilyard said before the banquet. “I feel there was a little lying in the thing. I feel like he’d known this the whole time. Everybody knows Notre Dame’s got the money. I kind of had a gut feeling he was going to stay just because he told me he was going to be here.”
Quarterback Tony Pike said Kelly told them last week, before their title-clinching win over Pittsburgh, that he was happy in Cincinnati.
“The Tuesday when we were practicing for Pittsburgh, he said he loves it here and he loves this team and loves coaching here and his family loves it here,” Pike said.
This kind of thing happens all the time in college football (and sports across the field). It’s usually chalked-up to a sighing, “That’s just the way it is. It’s a business” attitude.
But the terrible part is that it also happens in churches.
Often, I think, pastors leave churches that, by God’s grace, have (or would have) been transformed under their leadership. They go into a “University of Cincinnati” type church–not prestigious, no “storied history”–and they see God bring his transforming grace to the congregation and community. Brian Kelly saw the two best seasons in Cincinnati history, but instead of hunkering down and building a legacy there, “He went for the money” as Mardy Gilyard said.
Pastors do this. They use the success God gives them as a rung to step up to a better position. They tell the church they love them, and they want to stay. But five or seven years (or fewer) years later, they leave. On the eve of the Sugar Bowl, the “biggest game in school history”, on the cusp of radically changing the trajectory of the church for the next 25 years, they leave. Instead of spending their lives in one place where, by God’s grace, they might see far beyond what they could ask or think, they go for the money, the prestige, the bigger and more prominent congregation.
After Kelly’s departure, Cincinnati was absolutely embarrassed by the University of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Sure, they might have lost had Kelly stayed. Florida is one of the best teams in the country. But maybe not, and he left before we would ever know. Pastors do this. They leave churches scrambling, without strong, godly leadership. It’s embarrassing. Jesus’ church should be different.
By God’s grace, may I not be such a pastor.
The best coaches stay in one place for a long time. So do the best pastors.
By God’s grace, may I be that kind of pastor.