top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Friday Night Football, Sunday Morning Church

Main Idea: Management Types in Metaphor


I was in the marching band way back in high school. On Friday nights during football season, there were three main groups gathered together. These groups rarely mixed. Each gathered under different operating principals and identities, with different motivations, and experienced the evening in different ways.

  1. Football players

  2. Marching band

  3. Spectators

The football players were male, athletic, and operated under a coach. There might be a football captain, too. Performance and competition - usually physical, but partly psychological - were important, especially for leadership. For football players and their leaders, the primary motivation was to win the game. Winning required teamwork, practice, and following instructions. 

By and large, the football team was more hierarchical than either the band or the spectators. It was clear who the coach was. A team member would never be the coach, but they might be the captain. Captains didn't change all the time, and there was usually just one at a time. There were rules and politics, and violating these could be very painful. Exceptionally few high schoolers could be part of the team. Everyone else just had to watch. Within the team, the greatest joy was to play well and to win. 

The marching band, on the other hand, took most students who had a moderate aptitude and a willingness to practice. There were usually spare instruments available. There was a band director, and sometimes more than one. A few seniors could lead the band during marching, and each instrument group had a student leader. Leadership as a student was highly flexible and changed often. Being "first chair" was a playful competition. Being overly competitive for this status was seen as "uncool." 

The primary motivation for the marching band was to sound and look outstanding. Competing against other bands existed, but was not a huge motivator. Like the football team, teamwork, practice, and following instructions were important - but the organization and enforcement of these were looser. Rules and politics were flexible, as was leadership. So long as performances were outstanding, creativity could flow. The greatest joy was to make something beautiful together that none of us could do alone. 

Finally, spectators were from all walks of life. If you could pay your ticket and not start a fight, you could be a spectator. There were no leaders, despite some people trying. The main motivations were supporting their team and enjoying the entertainment with others. There were few rules beyond preventing other spectators from enjoying the game. The greatest joy was to be together and have fun. 

Churches can be a bit like Friday nights at the high school football game. We have denominational "personalities" in terms of leadership, organization, hierarchy, and rules. Of course, each church in every denomination has its unique character. It can be useful to describe those characters. I like to use the high school Friday night metaphor to describe organizational and leadership personalities in churches. 

In my time, I've experienced all three kinds of churches. When I was a child, my family attended a very spectator-like church. At least that was my perception of it as a child. It was a sizeable non-denominational church meeting in a warehouse in the mid-70s with aging hippies and young professionals with children. There was a pastor, but I didn't experience his leadership except during services. Everything was very loose, even Sunday School and services. People milled around and talked while things happened. Groups clustered and dispersed. I had a good bit of freedom and was baffled when an adult tried to tell me what to do. 

A few years back, I attended a church that was more like the football team. Only men were leaders, only leaders could lead the service, and supporting leadership was regulated by the leaders. I couldn't keep track of all the rules and politics - and I'm good at that sort of thing. There was very little creativity, except in peripheral groups, and if things got "too" creative, there would be a "little chat" with leadership. One could break into the leadership group only with the right connections and supporters, and one had to be very careful to play the politics game well. 

But my favorite church was the one that was more like the marching band. The lay people within it decided how they wanted to "do church" and called their pastor to support them. They actually told the pastor what they wanted to do, and the pastor was the kind of person who could both lead and allow others to lead. If a lay person wished to preach, that was wonderful, although you couldn't just stand up and start talking. There was enough structure so that things didn't get messy, and enough flexibility to fully express yourself, receive love and acceptance, grow and lead and follow where you wanted to, and somehow come together to "be" in a beautiful way. 

None of this is a judgment call. I prefer the band. But that's just me. I can see value in each of these ways of being church. 

So, as your church faces rapid change and maybe even some reorganization options as we consider re-gathering, these broad categorizations might be helpful. 

First, what is your church's primary motivation as a whole? To "be" the best? To make something beautiful together for others to enjoy? To enjoy with others? 

What is your church's leadership style? Strict? Flexible? Practically non-existent?

If you had the chance, would you like anything to change? What might your church borrow from another category? Looser structure? Tighter leadership restrictions? 

There's so much to consider, and so many fears to be faced when changes happen. We want to make sure our identity remains the same, even within a state of flux. Facing these fears and changes and options now will reduce the anxiety late, and will help us make better decisions. 

I'd love to hear what you would like to see in your church next. Because there will be a "next." I promise. And it will be even better if we ponder these things now. 


Photo by Kartini Maxson on Unsplash

20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page