Lombardi’s Lessons for Sunday School & Small Groups

Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, was famous for starting each season by gathering his team around him (most who were twice his size) and instilling fear in them as he explained his expectations and the basics of the game of football. He would quietly look at his players, remaining silent until just the right moment, then pull a football from behind his back and say what has now become 5 famous words: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

He would then walk them to the practice field and point out the sidelines, yard markers, and end zones. He told his players that the goal was to get the ball across the end zone. He had a remarkable way of simplifying the game and focusing on the basics. In fact, he also said, “There are only two things you must do in football: block and tackle.”

2 Timothy 2:1-10 contains a “this is a football” speech from the Apostle Paul to the church. Paul was “doing Lombardi” before Lombardi ever did. He told the church to stay focused on just 3 simple things. I wonder what would happen if Sunday School and small groups focused on the following 3 things?

1. Focus on multiplying LEADERS and GROUPS (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Multiplication is a theme in Scripture (Genesis 1:22, Genesis 1:28, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:42, Acts 13:1-3). People and animals are to multiply. Plants are created to multiply. The church is to multiply. Paul reminded Timothy to teach others the Gospel so they in turn could teach others the Gospel. That’s the multiplication of leaders, churches, and groups.

How many churches have forgotten to do this basic work? A lack of ongoing leader training and a neglect of starting new groups has paralyzed many churches today. We need to remember to “block and tackle.”

2. Focus on PLEASING JESUS (2 Timothy 2:3-7)

Three people mentioned in the passage: a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. They all have the common denominator of having to be single-minded, disciplined, and hard-working. There is the idea of present work and future reward.

I like to say, “Sunday School works IF you work Sunday School.” It’s hard work…it’s tiring work…it’s often thankless work…but it’s among the most important work a church will undertake. Hard work now is rewarded later as groups grow, people are baptized, and men, women, boys, and girls live transformed lives.

The hard work of Sunday School is pleasing to Jesus as we stay focused, work hard, exercise discipline, and teach His Word and reach out to the unconnected people all around us.

3. Focus on making EVANGELISM a priority (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

Paul told his readers, and us, too, to focus on evangelizing men and women, boys and girls, as we focus on several things: Jesus risen from the dead (we have a living Savior and a living hope), Jesus descended from David (He is the fulfillment of prophecy and this has been part of God’s grand narrative from the beginning), a powerful unchained Gospel, and the spiritual transformation of people that takes place as the Gospel is shared.

So if Vince Lombardi was my Sunday School or small-group director, he might say it like this: “Gentlemen, this is a Sunday School”:

1. FOCUS on multiplying leaders and groups

2. FOCUS on pleasing Jesus

3. FOCUS on making evangelism a priority

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