Ministry Advice in Strange Places: Bill Belichick Versus Julia Child

The New England Patriots are bound for yet another Super Bowl. As someone who has been a life-long New Englander (and Pats fan), and is old enough to remember the terrible days of the old Patriots, when a visit to the Super Bowl seemed only to result from the fact that no one else in the AFC was foolish enough to want to present themselves for slaughter at the hands of the 1985 Bears, it’s still a little hard to get my head around the now long-standing dominance of the Patriots. Nine Super Bowl appearances since 2000. Five Super Bowl rings.

Anyone who pays attention to football, and certainly anyone who keeps an eye on the Patriots and their winning combination of owner-coach-quarterback, knows full well the mantra of the Patriots: Do Your Job.

In an interview with Head Coach Bill Belichick, he went a little further with the mantra, acknowledging that success comes not simply from “doing your job,” but doing your job well.

I’ve been thinking about this sort of concept for a while, and very much so in the last few days. In a church congregation the concept of doing one’s job well, or perfectly (or even close to perfectly), actually gets in the way of doing ministry and engaging in the life of the Spirit. When someone who’s never served communion before, for instance, shows a willingness to give it a try, they want to know how to do it perfectly. And, when they make a mistake, they have a hard time letting go of that mistake, fixating on it, instead of focusing on participating in a sacred moment of grace.

Ministry is a messy business, and there’s no “right” way of doing much of anything. The important thing is to give things a try, to engage in the work of ministry, and not to worry about getting things done “just right.”

When it comes to ministry, I think Julia Child has a better approach.  [Allow me to throw in here that I once saw Julia Child buying groceries at the Star Market in Porter Square in Cambridge.  Very exciting.]

In the event that one drops the leg of lamb in the kitchen, Julia Child famously advised that the leg be picked up and served: who’s going to know? I also recall an episode of one of her shows where she’s talking about hollandaise sauce (or some other sauce that is difficult to make). What happens if it doesn’t come out just right? Her advice: serve it as best as you can. Your guests probably have no idea what it’s supposed to look like anyway.

In other words, don’t serve with fear and trepidation. Serve with confidence and grace.

Congregations are not professional football teams. Yet, there are ways in which congregations want to pretend that they are something similar. Certain practices (traditions) are to be done in a particular manner.   Traditions are to be obeyed, as if it is in the strict observance of how “things are done” that congregations find God.

The focus ought to be on service, and service as the path to engaging in ministry, and ministry as an opportunity to both experience God’s presence and share it. As many congregations (like the one that I serve) get smaller, it’s even more important for people to get off the sidelines, realizing that someone else may no longer be available to do the important work of our congregational life. Everyone must participate in some way.

So, let us serve with confidence and grace, offering our imperfect selves for service to our God who gathers us together. We don’t need to be perfect. We don’t even need to do our job well. We just need to do. As Julia Child counseled: “Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” That’s good advice, and not just for cooking.


About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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