It’s Not Magic: Great Pastors Come from Great Struggles

Magic Lasorda 200c

What makes a great pastor?

The bad news is, it’s not easy. The good news is, you’re probably doing it already.

Great coaches and great pastors some from the same place. And no, you don’t have to be a sports fan to get something from this analogy.

Have you ever wondered where all the superstar coaches are? I don’t mean great coaches. I mean superstar players who became great coaches. Has there ever been a superstar player who became a great coach? If you can think of one, they’re the exception to the rule. I can’t think of any.

What are Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana and Barry Bonds doing today? If we followed conventional wisdom, we’d expect each of them to be coaching a major league team to championships, right? But they’re not. Why is that?

Superstar players don’t make good coaches because they lack the most important ingredient to becoming a great coach. And that ingredient also makes great pastors.

It’s all about the struggle.

Superstar players didn’t struggle in the same way other players struggled. So they don’t know how to help others with their struggles. 


A Star Is Born

I’ve used a split-screen photo of Magic Johnson and Tommy Lasorda in this post because their playing and coaching careers are a great illustration of this truth.

There have been very few basketball players as good as Magic Johnson. After his early retirement in 1992, the LA Lakers were awful. They went through coach after coach until, at the end of the 1993-94 season, Magic became their head coach.

There was great rejoicing in Lakerland. Especially after they won 5 of their next 6 games. Then the wheels fell off. They never won another game under Johnson’s coaching. Magic complained that the players weren’t trying hard enough and the players lashed back that Johnson was out of his depth. Magic called it quits at the end of the season. His record as an NBA coach was 5 wins and 11 losses.


A Coach Is Grown

At the same time, Tommy Lasorda was nearing the end of a long, legendary career coaching the LA Dodgers. Lasorda had a less-than stellar stint as a baseball player, spending most of it in the minor leagues. His 6.48 ERA and 0-4 win-loss record during his three years in the majors impressed no one. That should have been the end of Tommy Lasorda’s baseball career.

But Lasorda is in the Baseball Hall of Fame because he was one of the sport’s all-time great coaches.

The difference? Lasorda was known as a player’s coach. He knew what their struggles were, because he’d been through them. When pitchers faced days, even weeks in a slump, he could sympathize. He had a bag of real-life tools that he used to help them get through and become winners again. He did for others what he didn’t even have the physical talents to do for himself.

Magic Johnson’s great blessing as a player was his great curse as a coach. And it’s all in his name. He was born Earvin, but was called Magic because that’s what he seemed to do on the basketball court. But you can’t teach magic to people. You’re either born with it, or you’re not.

As a player, Earvin Johnson earned his nickname by adding a strong work ethic to his natural, “magical” abilities. But when otherwise good players struggled because they couldn’t perform the same magic, Johnson didn’t know what to do. It frustrated him and his team members. And it led to loss after loss.


A Pastor Is Faithful

The best pastors I know have struggled with their faith and their calling. They’re not “winners”. But they are faithful. They’ve had heartache and disappointment, but they’ve stayed faithful through it all.

They know what it’s like…

  • To follow all the rules for “success”, but not reach it
  • To be told they’re not trying, when they’re working themselves numb
  • To know doubt, but overcome it
  • To be hurt, but forgive
  • To fall down, but always, Always, ALWAYS get up

And because they’ve experienced all that, they can help others through their struggles.


What Our Struggles Teach Us – And Others

I’m grateful for the success stories in the church. My heart swells with joy when I hear about churches and ministries growing to stratospheric heights as they bring God’s grace to thousands of hurting people.

But, as a pastor myself, I know there’s a limited amount that I can learn from those who move from glory to glory. I need someone who’s been through what I’m going through.

I don’t need a pep talk. And I don’t need to be criticized for not measuring up.

I need a mentor. I need a coach. I need a friend. I need a pastor.

And, after I’ve gone through my struggles, if I can use what I learned to reach back and help someone else, either in my church or a fellow pastor, then I’ll know my struggles weren’t in vain.

When my pains can be used for someone else’s healing, I know it’s God’s work, not mine.

It’s not magic. It’s a miracle.


So what do you think? Do you have a mentor/coach/pastor you can learn from? What have you learned from your failures and struggles that can help others in their walk with Jesus?

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8 thoughts on “It’s Not Magic: Great Pastors Come from Great Struggles”

  1. It was just as good hearing it last week at the mini-conference, and it does hit it right on the head!

  2. It was just as good hearing it last week at the mini-conference, and it does hit it right on the head!

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