What the NFL Can Teach You About Preaching
“While there is a slight difference in the pay scale, I do believe that there are similarities in the lives of preachers and football players.”
With the start of the NFL, preseason many football fans are preparing to arrange their schedules to be in front of a television every Sunday afternoon to watch their favorite team. Whether you are a “righteous” Redskins fan or a “devilish” Dallas Cowboys fan, football is a sport that millions of people have grown to love. (By the way, can you tell which team, I love? Hail to the Redskins!)
I love football, and I love preaching. And I do find some similarities between the two. The big day for both the pro football player and the preacher is Sunday. Crowds gather at stadiums and church auditoriums every Sunday to see them do their thing. While there is a slight difference in the pay scale, I do believe that there are similarities in the lives of preachers and football players. In fact, I believe that the NFL can teach preachers a few things about preaching. More accurately, I believe the NFL can teach preachers a few things about preparation for preaching.
I have a few friends who have played in the NFL (many of you know that I co-write a monthly Primetime Blog with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders), and the one thing that always struck me about the preparation process of NFL teams and players is that it is so regimented. They have structure and order. They have a weekly routine. They don’t just show up on Sundays and expect to play their best. Yet, many preachers do just that. They show up on Sunday morning with little to no preparation and expect “the Holy Spirit” to make up the difference. That is simply poor stewardship of the gift and responsibility of preaching. If you are having difficulty getting into a routine of preparing your weekly sermons, we can learn a few things from the structure of the NFL work week.
On Mondays, most NFL teams have a light work day. They are in recovery mode from the game on Sunday. Players are working with the trainers getting treatment for an assortment of injuries and are preparing their bodies for the rigors of another week. This is also the day where the coaching staff does film review of the previous game to identify issues that need improving. The team also reviews film of the team they will be playing the following Sunday to begin the preparation process.
Like NFL players, preachers have had a really big day on Sunday and should make Monday a light day for recovery and review. Most preachers never take the opportunity to review their previous sermon to see highlights and identify weaknesses that can be improved upon in a later message. This is especially helpful when preaching a series. Evaluation and review help the preacher see what he/she did well and where improvements can be made. Also, Monday should be used to begin thinking about next Sunday’s sermon. There’s no need for any heavy study on Monday, but you should at least begin thinking about your topic and making cursory examinations of the scripture.
For most NFL teams, Tuesday is an off day. Players do not have to show up at the training facility (unless they are injured and need special treatment). They are encouraged to stay away from the game and stay off their feet. The goal is for them to get as much rest as possible so their bodies can be fresh for the rigors of the remainder of the week.
Likewise, it is important for preachers to have an “off day.” Even if it’s not on Tuesday, you should take one day out of the week when you don’t think about sermon prep—or ministry for that matter. Take in a movie, go golfing, spend time with your spouse. Do something that is resting and refreshing. In other words, take a Sabbath. God did it, what makes you think that you don’t need to? God never called you to be a workaholic. Take time to rest!
Wednesday And Thursday
I lumped these two days together because for many NFL teams, Wednesday and Thursday are the busiest days of the week. This is when they put in the game plan for the upcoming Sunday. These are the days when players are in pads and helmets. These are the heavy hitting and heavy lifting days. The bulk of the work for the week is done on these days.
Similarly, preachers would benefit from doing the bulk of their sermon prep on Wednesday and Thursday, as opposed to waiting until Saturday night to get a word for Sunday morning. Dr. Floyd Flake of the Greater Allen Cathedral in New York says that he makes sure that his sermon is complete by Thursday of each week. This is a great model to follow, because it eliminates (or at least lessens) the stress associated with Saturday night for most preachers. If the majority of the work were done by Thursday, many preachers would have much more enjoyable weekends!
Friday And Saturday
These are usually two of the lightest days of the NFL work week. Usually, players don’t wear helmets and pads. They’re normally in shorts and doing “walk throughs” of the game plan for Sunday. In essence, they are just reviewing the work they have already done and making sure that everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Preachers should be using Friday and Saturday to do the same. While many of us reserve Friday and Saturday for the heavy lifting and heavy hitting days, in actuality it would be better for us to be doing “walk throughs.” This should be the time when you are reviewing your manuscript or outline and just making final edits or preparations for Sunday. This is when you can add that final illustration or rework that introduction. In other words, this is a time for cosmetics…not construction.
Sunday is the BIG day. All the preparation means nothing if you don’t perform. Get in the game, remember the game plan, and fulfill your assignment, and at the end of the day you’ll have more victories than losses. Which is more than I can say about my Redskins!
Editor’s Note: I have to thank my friend, Joshua Symonette (@jsym), for his help with this post. Josh played for the Washington Redskins and has served as a Youth Pastor. His knowledge of both football and preaching has been an invaluable resource for me. If you’re on Twitter, be sure to thank him for me!
Dr. Tejado W. Hanchell (TWH_PhD) is a 21st century “leadership liaison” whose passion is to help connect people and organizations to their purpose. He is a coach, consultant, and counselor and is a leading strategist on leadership and succession planning for churches, non-profit organizations and corporations. Dr. Hanchell has over 15 years of leadership experience and brings a wealth of wisdom to help enhance lives and increase productivity. He currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Mount Calvary Holy Church of Winston-Salem, NC (“The Church Committed to do MORE”) – the “Mother Church” of the Mount Calvary Holy Church of America, Inc., where he also serves as General Secretary and International Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministry under the leadership of Archbishop Alfred A. Owens, Jr.