When it comes to putting a team together, no one does it more like Jesus than the New England Patriots.
I realize that to use the words “Patriots” and “Jesus” in the same sentence is to many tantamount to calling black white, up down, wrong right. Isn’t the NFL’s evil empire responsible for two of our nation’s three most historic scandals—Spygate and Deflategate? (No doubt some of the haters think Belichick probably also had his hand in on Watergate.) Well, I will reserve judgment on these matters for now. What I will say is that from the vantage point of my couch on Sunday afternoons I’ve concluded that we could all learn from how the Patriots’ leadership philosophy emulates that of Jesus in at least this one very important respect: When assembling your team your efforts should be spent less on recruiting proven rock stars and more on developing the selfless, teachable underdogs that are often overlooked. Not that the Pats never go after top players. But the backbone of their dynasty has been built by consistently choosing the foolish things to shame the wise.
Let’s start by comparing the two wide receiver standouts from last weekend’s conference championship games. In the Falcons victory it was Julio Jones. He caught 9 passes for 180 yards and 2 TD’s. Who is Julio Jones? Well, in the football world, everyone knows who Julio Jones is. He was the number one receiver recruit in the nation coming out of high school. He played 4 years at Alabama where he was the SEC freshman of the year, won the national championship in 2009, was first team All-SEC in 2010 and was the 6th overall pick in his NFL draft year. In the Patriots victory the receiver standout was Chris Hogan. Who is Chris Hogan? Exactly. Chris Hogan was so overlooked that until his senior year in college he played lacrosse because no one would give him a scholarship to play football. He went undrafted in the NFL and spent a few years bouncing between practice squads until he finally landed a starting job and played two average seasons in the relative obscurity of the mediocre Buffalo Bills. But in the offseason this year the Patriots saw something and went after him. And last Sunday he matched Julio Jones’ performance stride for stride, himself going for exactly 9 catches, 180 yards and 2 TD’s. Then there is Malcolm Butler. He similarly went undrafted as NFL teams showed very little interest in him. Except one. 8 months after the Pats picked him up he intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line to cement the Patriots victory in one of the most dramatic defensive stops in Superbowl history. And of course, these are nothing compared to the quintessential example of the foolish shaming the wise—the on-field leader of the tribes of Belichick, number 12 himself, Tom Brady. He was drafted, but unlike the Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan who was the 3rd overall pick in his draft year, Brady was 199th in his, being passed over by every team 5 times before finally going to the Pats in the 6th round. It was understandable given that his scouting report, commenting on the likeability of his quarterback skill set, read something like this: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”
But this coming Sunday, when he gets his 5th Superbowl ring, and when the NFL Commissioner, Pontius Pilate himself, can avoid him no longer and will be forced to hand him his 4th Superbowl MVP trophy, Patriots nation will cry out “Where, Oh 4 game suspension, is your victory? Where, Oh 4 game suspension, is your sting?” as he ascends to the right hand of Lombardi, vindicated as the greatest football player of all time!!!!!
Fine. Forgive the potentially blasphemous hyperbole. I fully confess my idolatrous love for the Patriots and promise to give up football for Lent. But don’t miss the point.
The challenge the Patriots bring to every church leader is this: While you’ve spent the last 2 years trying to hire Chris Tomlin as your worship leader, Caesar Kalinowsky to oversee your missional communities, and Matt Chandler to be the lead pastor for your upcoming church plant, who are the Chris Hogans, Malcolm Butlers, and yes!-- Tom Bradys-- you and everyone else have been overlooking but whom The Spirit has gifted with enormous untapped potential and called you to develop as the missing pieces that will unlock the future growth of your ministry?
Kevin Hanly is Pastor of River Vale Community Church located in northern New Jersey (35 minutes north of Manhattan). He and his wife Laura are blessed with two kids Grace (age 4) and Caleb (age 2). He holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and ThM in Church History from Princeton Seminary. In 1994 he fell one match short of playing Mark in the Wyoming state men’s tennis final where they planned to lead the crowd in gospel-centered devotionals during each changeover.