I know he is not a pastor in the American evangelical sense or any tradition that I know of. I’m not even arguing that he is a disciple of Christ (though I hope he is). To my knowledge he is not ordained, did not attend seminary, and has never been to a district assembly, but when I watch him with his team he seems so pastoral to me. Hear me out for a minute.
What I am struck by is his style as a leader. And let’s face it, if we are discussing pastoral leadership in this day and age we are almost always evaluating a pastor’s style instead of her/his substance, stability, or significance as a faith leader. In the same sense, Tim Duncan is only being appreciated broadly now that he has won another NBA championship, but before long he will be forgotten as the flashier, more famous, and fulgent stars take back their pedestals so we may further deify their narcissistic ways. If he wins 5 more rings he will never be considered the top player because he is in pursuit of the wrong things in the eyes of those evaluating celebrity status.
What I like about Tim Duncan and would love to see more of from the pastoral office is that:
He is not obsessed with being a winner, but committed to excellence as a player and teammate.
He is not motivated by making more money, but moved by being a part of something special.
He is not lured by the flash of the big lights of celebrity, but rewarded by the legacy of being a cornerstone of professional sports’ best organization.
He is more fundamental than flash.
He is interested in his team instead of being infatuated with his individual accolades.
He is more trustworthy to his coach/teammates than TV worthy for public consumption and obsession.
He is focused on keeping the covenant of his team rather than chasing the concept of being considered cool.
All of these traits are difficult to come by. They are neither naturally supported by our inward tendencies nor applauded by culture. He is an exception to the rule for basketball players and bona fide stars of every sport. The actions of Tim Duncan are foreign to most leaders in sports, business, government, and the church as he sacrifices himself for the success of his team and city. It should be easy for everyone to appreciate the way he leads, plays, and lives both on and off the court, but most of us don’t want to be him. The way he leads is a sign of high character and clear conviction about who he is and where he wants to go, but many of us don’t care to pay the price that he pays to be who he is as champion athlete.
Pastoral leaders should/could be very similar in their practice of ministry. Pastors are not to be the center of attention – lest we be mistaken for the messiah. Pastors are not to be “in it to win it” – lest we invest in only profitable places and programs. Pastors are not to be driven to achieve high personal rewards or recognitions – lest we forget the contributions of others who have brought us to the place of leadership. Pastors are not to buy into their own press – lest we become moved by public opinion over Christlike calling.
Pastoral work is difficult, demanding, and sometimes /often overwhelming. But it is the work that God has given us (all of us!), and it cannot be shaped and reshaped by culture. Being a pastor is much harder than being a professional basketball player (easy for me to say, right?) The call to pastor people should be embraced and practiced with the highest degree of commitment, compassion, and care possible. Pastoring people does not require a pulpit, a robe, a band, or even a certificate. It requires a calling and a response, a vision and a plan, a conviction and a commitment, courage and compassion, strength and sacrfice. Pastoring people will cost us everything, but will include us in the thing that is most important to God – the one true Church. This Church bears His image in a broken, selfish, hedonistic culture and is His way of bringing new life to a dead world as the body of Christ.
John the Baptist said “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3)