What Ted Lasso teaches us about caring for our congregations
Love it or loathe it, since its launch in 2020, ‘Ted Lasso’ has gained a global following. The award-winning Apple TV+ series follows the story of a college football coach from Kansas City who travels across the pond and manages a fictional English Premiere League soccer team, AFC Richmond.
Ted’s unique leadership style has led to numerous articles and podcasts debating his strengths and weaknesses. (A quick Google search for ‘Ted Lasso Leadership Lessons’ offers close to 1 million results!) But what can church leaders learn about caring for their congregations from this folksy, fictional sports coach?
(Note – this article may contain spoilers!)
- Be Relational
Ted comes into Richmond as an outsider with no experience of coaching soccer. With everyone sceptical about his ability and appointment, Ted knows that the first thing he needs to do is to win the trust of the playing squad, staff, and the fanbase. How does he do this? Ted values each person individually. He builds relationships with each person and gets to know them at more than just a superficial level. Eventually, most of the team are won over and Ted gains their trust, despite his lack of experience.
Caring for congregations must start from a place of relationship. If church leaders are going to care for their congregations well, they must connect with their people, build relationships intentionally, and get to know them as individuals and learn what is going on in their lives.
“If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.” -Ted Lasso
- Be A Hope-Bringer
Ted, in many ways, is the ultimate optimist. Regardless of how bad the situation might appear to everyone else, how big a loss Richmond suffers, or how negative the newspapers are about a performance, Ted can see the good. When everyone else around him is down about something, Ted can bring hope. He sees beyond the present pain and frustration to what is possible in the future.
Ted’s hopefulness enables him to be a non-anxious presence in the locker room. By being a non-anxious presence, Ted releases his players from their fears and empowers them to perform at their best. At Ministry Architects, one of our core values is to be a ‘non-anxious presence’ to the congregations and church leaders we work with who might be mired in anxiousness, conflict, and frustration (you can read more about that here.)
Ted’s approach to leadership provides an example to church leaders as they shepherd their congregations. In a culture that constantly tells us that the church is becoming less relevant, church leaders get to offer a different narrative. When church attendance is on the decline, church leaders get to cast a hopeful vision of the future and our ultimate hope in Jesus. When there’s difficulty with recruiting and retaining volunteers, being a non-anxious presence and not adding to the stress of a short-staffed team brings a gift of care others will greatly appreciate.
“There’s two buttons I never like to hit: that’s panic and snooze.” -Ted Lasso
- Be a Noticer and Nurturer
When Ted arrives at Richmond, Nate is working as the club kit-man. He spends most of his time focused on the behind-the-scenes preparations for the team. This is not the role Nate wants. Nate dreams of becoming a coach and shares his dream with Ted. As soon as Ted hears this, Ted helps to make Nate’s dream a reality and Nate joins the Richmond coaching staff.
Ted also notices a player named Roy. After Roy retires from his professional career as a footballer, he goes to work for a TV company, commentating on games, and sure that he is finished working for a soccer club. Ted, however, is sure that Roy would make a great coach and has something to offer the team. In the face of Roy’s reluctance, Ted does not relent, and continues to encourage Roy. When Roy eventually becomes dissatisfied with TV work, he returns to the sidelines of Richmond, joining Ted and the other coaches.
Noticing others and nurturing leadership potential in others is another way church leaders can care for their congregation. When Jesus talks about disciples making disciples, part of that care and teaching is the ability to notice and nurture in others their God given gifts and talents. Like Ted, church leaders need to create opportunities for members of the congregation to learn, try, and occasionally fail forward, in leadership roles.
“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” -Ted Lasso
- Be Aware of the Need for Self-Care
Ted learns this lesson the hard way. Ted sees himself as someone who is resilient, someone who is always able to see both the good in people and the positives in life, and someone who others seek for counsel. But in Season 2, and the arrival of team psychologist, Dr. Sharon, it quickly becomes clear that Ted is not OK.
Struggling to process his divorce, a transatlantic father-son relationship, and mixed results on the soccer field, the cracks begin to appear. But it takes more than one break before Ted bends and admits he needs help. During an important game, Ted has a panic attack, leaves the field, and finally acknowledges his need to meet with Dr. Sharon.
This is one area church leaders need to be less Ted. Pastorally looking after people and attending to their spiritual and emotional health needs can take its toll. In seasons of busyness, often the first thing that gets removed from one’s daily routine are the moments of rest and self-care that are crucial to supporting a congregation.
In order to care for congregations well, church leaders need to ensure they are getting the rest they need along with the emotional, mental health, and spiritual support they require. Being aware of the need for self-care allows a leader to reach out for help before they break.
“Your body is like day-old rice. If it ain’t warmed up properly, something real bad could happen.” -Ted Lasso
- And finally…Be a Goldfish!
Following some team conflict, Ted asks one of his players, Sam, if he knows what the happiest animal in the world is. Seeing Sam’s bemused face Ted explains to Sam that the happiest animal in the world is a goldfish because it only has a ten second memory. Ted then encourages Sam to be a goldfish.
Above my desk I have a poster with this Ted-ism written on it. It was put up to serve as a reminder to young people to not let what has just happened define what happens next in their day.
But it is also a helpful reminder for church leaders as they care for their congregations.
A bad service? A sub-par event? A disappointing sign up? Struggling to return to pre-COVID 19 numbers?
Be a goldfish. Don’t let memories of the past define the future.
“You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory.” – Ted Lasso
Mike lives in the UK with his wife, two children, and pet cockapoo. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 10 years, having spent the last nine as youth ministry coordinator at the Anglican Church he came to faith in as a teenager in South London. As part of his role, Mike also serves as the assistant chaplain at the local high school and has been part of the chaplaincy team for the local Premier League Football (soccer!) Team.
Mike is passionate about young people finding their place in the church and equipping parents to disciple their teenage children at home. Mike recently completed the Certificate in Youth and Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. In his spare time Mike enjoys watching soccer, baseball (Let’s Go Mets!), and running marathons.