Are You a Bill Snyder or a Nick Saban Pastor?


Coach Bill Snyder


Coach Nick Saban

Two coaches. Two great coaches. And they are about as different as night and day. One, Coach Snyder, is the epitome of the “old school” type: cautious, reserved, conserving, and, well, just a fine, gentle man with a hidden but real furnace burning within. He is clear that his players remember that they are ambassadors of Kansas State University, of the state, of their families, and of his own values. Football has to be played on his terms: an honest, hard-working, disciplined, Midwestern ethic. Watch the team line up before heading into the locker room at half time. They lock arms and go in as a team: orderly, unified, no big-headed stars on their own (not even Colin Klein, one of the best players in the nation); just like Coach Snyder. Out of many, one. They even play at “Snyder FAMILY Stadium.” He would only let them name the stadium if it included the “family” part, that characteristic modesty that tipped the hat to K State’s version of the 12th man: “the Family.” Yes, Bill Snyder is one of the greatest division I football coaches now or ever. Like millions of football fans, I love his style. Then there is another coach: Nick Saban. He is brash, zealous, bold, and whether true or not, evokes an an image of a fiery, forceful driver of a man who doesn’t suffer fools lightly—or fumbles. You get the idea that he lets the stars shine. He lets the bulls run. His teams, LSU or Alabama, is as big and bad and as high-priced as the Coach. To put it simply: “he wins baby. He wins.” I suspect that he and Coach Snyder both feel that way. At that level of football you just about have to, don’t you? Well, I don’t know either man personally. I understand they are both fine family men and good sportsmen. But the differences are apparent. Yet they are both playing at the top of their games. They both get it done. I was thinking about Coach Snyder and Coach Saban, thinking about their differences—their strengths expressed in such different ways—and thinking about pastors.

If you are a pastor, which coach are you? I don’t mean to be”cute” here, but maybe to have a little fun with pastoral theology at this tine of year. Since I like football and love pastors I thought I would pull back the curtains and give you my small thoughts. Now before I get letters from Tuscaloosa or Manhattan, Kansas, let me say that I am not setting one up as “the good coach” and the other as the “bad coach.” They are just different. They represent two models of ministry; just like pastors, you might say.

Well, let’s have a little fun with it. Here are two types of pastors.

The Bill Snyder Pastor

I will choose one part of the Pastoral Epistles to describe this pastoral approach:

1 Timothy 3:2,3—”Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…self- controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…gentle, not quarrelsome…”

This is the classic Pastor Snyder pastoral method.

Matthew Henry wrote, “A minister must give as little occasion for blame as can be, lest he bring reproach upon his office.”

You love your congregation. You are cautious, gentle. You look at the problems that come before you and you don’t react. You respond. You look at the presenting issues but like Snyder coaching an offensive lineman that jumps too soon and draws flags, he seeks to discover what is bugging the boy that makes him so jumpy. “Son, are you intimidated by that defensive tackle growling at you across the line? Let’s talk about it.” And K State is the least penalized team in America. That is your style too. You listen to the jumpy, young elder who goes “off side” in the session meeting; the young businessman who may be a little too excited—or proud—about the new theological insights he has gained. You wonder if his enthusiasm is a little impatient of others. Then you remember that maybe he is even intimidated by another elder on the session who growls the Westminster Confession when he quotes it. You could have gotten exasperated about the dynamics if it all. But you’re Coach, I mean, “Pastor” Snyder. You see this as a pastoral opportunity rather than a pastoral disruption. You win with this attitude. But you never gloat. You are serious, sober-minded, and always looking for a “teachable moment” whether others saw defeat. Your players live you. Some find you a little fuddy-duddy. But you are Snyder. You wear your white hair against your purple jacket like a badge of honor. This is ministry. This is just who you are.

But there are times to also be a Saban, of sorts, anyway.

The Nick Saban Pastor

Planting a church at Ephesus was not small thing. So Paul would write to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18—”This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare…”

There are tines when you need to have a toughness, a tenacity about your ministry, because this isn’t child’s play. You have signed up for war. Like Coach Saban you need to pace the sidelines over the couple that you are counseling. You want to win. You want them to win. You are indignant over the attacks of the devil on the couple. You rant and rave before the Lord in prayer and plead for victory. They seem to be going in the right direction. The husband is treating her with the tenderness that you have coached him in. You have taught the wife from the Word about what trust and beauty is, and how to use her gifts to make her husband known in the gates. You have drawn out the Xs and Os of the fallen condition of the man and woman and the redemptive power of Christ that restores the whole mess. Then along comes a bad play, a wrong teaching from some book from a mega church preacher with a bad theology, or a daytime psycho therapist and “POW!” the gains are lost by a 15 yard penalty! Like Saban, you want throw the headset down. But your zeal boils and then comes back down. You calm yourself in the fundamentals of faith and prayer and self-discipline. You will play all four quarters. So you stay the course. You maintain your game plan. The couple wins. They rejoice. But you are already scribbling in your Bible margin or making marks in your Moleskin. Another game will be played soon. Like Saban, you are a builder. You are thinking about what you have learned and how you can apply it the next couple, the next battle.

Jesus was gentle. He was a teacher. And He turned over money changing tables in His Father’s House. He called the religious leaders vipers. He called Herod “a fox.”

Sometimes, as we read the Pastoral Epistles, we need to be a Snyder; sometimes a Saban. But we always need to remember that it really is not about us. It is about “the sake of the elect.” It is about the Victory at the Cross that must be brought home to the hearts of the saints, and offered to the wayward kid who seems washed up. We know that those broken people can make the best players. They often make the best preachers too.

Which coach do you need to be now? Take a good look at the Pastoral Epistles. You come away with not only an amazement at the complexity of the field of personal, cultural and corporate challenges that Timothy had to face. He come away with an appreciation; that coaching a football team is tough, but it ain’t got nothing on pastoring!