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What Soccer Taught Me About the Business Side of Church

By Raul Rivera

Getting your church in order may feel like learning something new.  After all, you were called to be a minister not a bookkeeper.  That may be true but part of being a minister is being an open letter (books).  Your life (which consists of your church's books) needs to be beyond reproach.  How can you preach a message of godliness if the way you manage your church is out of order and in direct disobedience to the laws of man?  It is my sincere conviction that many churches have hit a ceiling in their growth because they are severely out of compliance with the laws of man and God's mercy will not let them grow until they get it right.  That is why thousands of pastors and ministry leaders have attended our Church Compliance and Ministry Empowerment Conferences.

How my experience with soccer can help you

About one year ago, at the age of 40, I began playing soccer...and I really do mean BEGAN.  Being Latino, one would assume I exited the womb with a soccer ball alongside; but on the contrary, I did not grow up playing that sport.  In fact, I had never even played in a single game of soccer in my entire life.  Before ministry, baseball consumed me, and so at 40 years old, why soccer?  Why spend time learning a new skill that probably won't improve my life? 

The mindset behind those questions is the same one I encounter in too many ministers with whom I speak.  Often I hear, "I'm called to preach . . . keeping the books is not my strength.  How will that help me? God takes care of us."  My response is that today's pastor, if he/she wants success, is not just a preacher, but also a CEO leading an organization.  Learning the business side of church is a must.  Please keep reading; you will see how you can take something that is your weakness and leverage it into a stronghold that gears your church into growth.

A humiliating loss became a challenge towards excellence

It all began when our church decided to put together a team and play in an indoor soccer league.   A member of the worship team made the assumption that because of my athletic prowess and my cultural background; I must be a good soccer player.  My immediate answer was, "I do not know how to play soccer, but I'm willing to learn." But my honesty was perceived as false humility, and he put me on the roster.  Needless to say, we lost our first game 13 to 2!  Humorously enough, given my baseball background as a shortstop, I was called for three handballs, resulting in a yellow card.  I played so badly that no one on my team wanted to pass me the ball.  I did not blame them.  I, too, would not have passed it to myself if I were someone else. 

As a pastor, you will always be your own worst critic.  You will often feel bad when Sunday attendance is low, and worse when tithes and offerings are in the dumps.  It is all part of learning God's heart for your ministry.  However, you must push past the negative feelings and use them as a means to motivate you towards excellence.  Do not forsake the business side of ministry . . . it is probably the most important part of church growth.  Why?  Because, it has everything to do with management, and how you manage always affects people!  The business side of church is not just money; it is stewardship.  And if you steward money well, you will steward people.  (see Luke 16:11)

How I did it

Though we suffered a humiliating loss, I made a decision to learn the game.  I began by watching soccer on TV every chance I had, followed by frequent practicing on my own time at home.  Hungry to learn the moves I was seeing, I purchased some training videos and began to use them as a guide for acquiring skills.   Soon I discovered that you if you go to any park here in the Atlanta area with a soccer ball and some cleats, it is only a matter of time before men from all nationalities and walks of life show up, and within an hour a full-blown pick-up game is at hand. 

Making the decision to get your church finances in order is where most of the battle lies.  The process of acquiring knowledge and creating necessary systems will come if you simply stay the course.  At StartCHURCH we make every effort to create tools and resources that empower you.  All you need to do is persevere through the learning curve by not giving up.  Continue reading and see what happened to me as I continued to increase my soccer skills.

Moving up

These pick-up games became my training ground.  The same scene played itself out week after week:  we gathered, kicked the ball around in preliminary fashion, and then picked teams.   Of course, for a number of months I was consistently THE last picked player.  But then after a few months of playing I began to move up.  Some of the "usuals" began to notice my improvement and commented from time to time.  Those comments increased my confidence and encouraged me to practice more and more.  I fell in love with the game!

In the same way, when you make your first efforts to get your church finances in order, you might not be very good at it.  In fact, you will probably feel intimidated, lost and completely incapable.  In viewing other churches and their management techniques, you may be convinced that everyone does it better than you.  Do not give up.  Focus on the goal.  It will take time.  Eventually, you will understand some things and implement them.  That success will increase your confidence, which will cause you to move up.  Little by little, you will improve every area of your church's finances, and IRS compliance.

Heart break

My confidence on the rise, I decided to show up to a two-day tryout for a team on which I greatly wanted to play, but as soon as the tryouts began I knew I was in trouble.  The skills most of the players possessed were well beyond anything I was used to.  This was no pick-up game! These players really wanted to play in this league and they were playing hard.  I looked awful.  From making bad passes to losing control of the ball, the feelings of inadequacy I had experienced at that "first game" many months ago all came rushing back to the surface.  The only thing in my favor was my hustle and good cardio-vascular shape.  It was no surprise to anyone that I got cut that first day.  Feeling dejected, I drove back home that day with thoughts of quitting!

You will make some mistakes!  You may even spend a lot of energy doing something wrong, only to find out later you were way off.  Do not let that discourage you.  Thoughts of quitting will come often.  Do not let those thoughts rule your decisions.  I have learned that when you discover a mistake, it is usually through an "aha!" moment, followed by a very accurate correction based on knowledge.

Hope renewed

The day after getting cut, I got a call from the coach.  He was apologetic about having to let me go but also said he noticed my hustle and therefore, asked me if I would be willing to become a part of the practice team.   He explained how it would expose me more to the game and possibly prepare me for a future tryout.  I accepted his offer and began practicing with the team every Tuesday.

It is tempting to quit when you have tried to get your church in order and it seems like no matter what, you are not succeeding at it.  You may have even been to one of our Church Compliance and Ministry Empowerment Conferences, only to feel more lost because you learned all about the things you thought you were doing wrong.  God always provides a way; stay diligent! When you least expect it, the Lord may send that perfect person to you who thrives on church management and who helps make possible what you have in your heart to accomplish. 

Practice makes perfect

For 8 solid months I practiced every Tuesday without fail, played several pickup games per week and watched soccer on T.V. as much as reasonably possible.  Wanting to glean all I could, I made sure that I watched players on my team and their moves just so that I could learn from them.  It paid off!  With each practice, my skills were improving, and my ability to play with the team-both receiving and making passes-became easier. But my progress came at a price!  I suffered several injuries, all of which I played through (except # 7 below, which landed me in the emergency room).  Following is a list of injuries I have suffered in an attempt to learn how to play soccer.

1.     Severely bruised ribs

2.     Mildly bruised ribs

3.     Mild neck injury

4.     2 sprained ankles

5.     Bruised right shoulder...twice

6.     Blood blisters on both Achilles tendons

7.     A severed artery in my forehead, a mild concussion, 8 stitches and an inch-long gash on my forehead, resulting from a head butting accident. 

You may be questioning either my intelligence or my sanity for going through all of that pain for a game.  But look at what I have gained.  I have acquired a new skill late in life (at 41 years of age, "late in life" is a relative term) and I am happy for it.  What is more, God has shown me that my experience can be of service to His Kingdom.  Many of the churches I serve go through a challenging learning curve. While making every effort to get it right, they often times get it wrong, producing mistake after mistake.  But like me with soccer, they will win if they simply do not quit trying.  I, along with my staff, continually steer folks in the right direction, whether it be by email or telephone or at a conference.  Eventually, they settle into a pattern of success.

Success invites success

During that 8-month period of Tuesday practices, I was invited to join an indoor team that needed a player on Friday nights.  Glad to accept the offer, I began to play and within just three months' time was among the starting lineup; that team has now taken first place in the league.  All the while, I have consistently attended the Tuesday night practices with the team from which I had originally been cut.

With deep satisfaction, I can now say that my perseverance has finally paid off!  Several weeks ago I was invited to play for the team that cut me last year.  Not only that, I made the starting lineup and just two weeks ago was given the full 90 minutes of playing time during a Sunday afternoon game.  But last week...well, that was a different story!  That is when I got head butted.  I am currently sitting in my home office with stitches on my head, recovering.  However, believe it or not, I plan on playing next week. 

Whether you are the pastor or administrator or somewhere in between, I encourage you, keep moving forward and do not allow setbacks to keep you "out of the game."  Get motivated by allowing one of our conferences to be the catalyst that propels you and the team God has given to you into better stewardship.  You will receive a major boost to your skills and knowledge.  It can only help! 

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