This is a picture of Tom Brady as he was preparing to be selected in the 2000 NFL draft.
I want you to look closely at this picture.
Brady was picked in the 6th round. He was picked #199 by the New England Patriots out of a total of 256 possible picks drafted that year. It was obvious that nobody, including the Patriots, had high expectations for Brady.
Then, in what turned out to be the biggest ROI in the history of NFL draft choices, Brady went on to lead the Patriots to seven Super Bowl appearances, the most of any player in the history of the game.
Vision or Dumb Luck?
What lesson did the Patriots take away from this draft selection?
One option would have been to pride themselves on their ability to see the potential in a player when no-one else did. That certainly would have made for the kind of larger than life story people would have told and retold in best-selling business books.
But that’s not the lesson they took away from this experience. Instead, Scott Pioli, the Patriot’s Vice President of Personnel at the time, chose to put a picture of Dave Stachelski on his desk.
Ever heard of Dave Stachelski? Probably not.
He was the guy the Patriots picked in the 5th round, right before Tom Brady.
Scott Pioli sat his picture on his desk as a reminder to himself and his entire organization – not that they had picked a winner – but that they had blown it.
They almost missed picking Brady, and Stachelski didn’t even make the team after all the cuts were made.
Their pick of Brady wasn’t the result of vision, but dumb luck.
Most important, the Patriots knew this.
They didn’t fool themselves into thinking the opposite had occurred.
The Lie We Tell Ourselves
Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
This is especially true for Senior Pastors of churches.
One of my favorite living writers is biographer David Maraniss. Upon telling the stories of some of the most important and famous figures in history, he said something that has always struck me.
Maraniss wrote, “Myth becomes myth not in the living but in the retelling.”
In other words, when one looks backward there is a tendency to make things a little simpler, a little cleaner, a bit more coherent and intentional than the way things transpired when they first occurred.
This is a tendency Senior Pastors are all too familiar with.
Most of the time we have no idea what we’re doing.
We succeed in spite of ourselves.
We stumble along in the dark, discharging the duties of our ministry.
We make choices.
Some work out.
The absolute vast majority do not.
But this doesn’t keep us from taking credit for the good decisions we blindly stumbled upon.
We picked that staff member that has performed so well.
We were the ones who came up with that idea.
We were the ones who led our churches in this, and this, and this.
The problem, as Tobias Wolff noticed, is when we retell our stories to ourselves, “It all gets cobbled together later, more or less sincerely, and after the stories have been repeated they put on their badge of memory and block all other routes of exploration.”
Over time we tell ourselves that we’re a whole lot better than we actually are.
We forget all the Dave Stachelski’s we picked.
The lie we tell ourselves is that we’re anything other than the chief of sinners, thoroughly broken, utterly useless outside of the wondrous grace of a God that chooses to use us.