…on the front burner…
You’d think that a Major League Hall of Famer would, from an insider’s perspective, articulate some unique insight that would allow the rest of us mere mortals to elevate our understanding of baseball and how it is played. Or maybe a World Series winning manager would challenge the status quo on how we understand the actual game strategy itself. Or perhaps a baseball analyst on ESPN would have a “eureka” moment of brilliance after carefully studying hours of game highlights and parlay that into a lucrative broadcast contract for years to come. But who would ever listen to a night watchman at a pork and beans factory in Kansas whose love for baseball and unabashed questioning of its statistical assumptions could actually change our understanding of the game itself?
Whether you love or hate the Boston Red Sox is immaterial to the role Bill James has had on Major League Baseball. In 2002, James got called up to the majors from Stokely Van Camp Pork and Beans in Lawrence, Kansas to the Red Sox in Boston, Massachusetts. The amazing thing is that he started articulating and writing his laymen’s beliefs about baseball back in 1977. James challenged the long-held, Cooperstown-electing belief that a pitcher’s ability is not adequately measured by his win-loss record. According to James, a pitcher’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is far more revealing of his pitching ability. Further, a player’s on-base percentage is far more informative of his contribution to the team than his batting average. In their efforts to turn their franchise around, the Boston Red Sox named James their Senior Advisor for Baseball Operations. It is widely believed that the Red Sox began applying James’ contrarian views on baseball stats to their roster choices. Since then, they have two World Series championships in the past six years. Not bad after a 0-86 year start!
What contrarian thinking do we need?
Excuse the wild pitch, but how do we know when we "hit a home run" in missions? Jesus said in John 15 that when we abide in him, we'll bear much fruit - but what exactly does that fruit look like? Who would deny Jeremiah's faithfulness to God in his personal and ongoing transformation? Yet, his witness had seemingly little effect on those in his context – at least from what we can see this side of heaven. How about Jonah? Talk about great results in a cross-cultural ministry! But who would say that his willful disobedience to God and his disappointment in God for saving his ethnic enemies represents the essence of God's Good News? Then there's Peter and perhaps the idealized American missionary prayer letter from Acts 2: "I preached, God moved, and 3,000 people got saved and baptized that day." I think Paul comes closest to defining missionary fruitfulness in First Corinthians when he describes his cross-cultural ministry strategies (all things to all people) and his personal growth strategies (I do not run aimlessly) in the broader context of partnership and calling (I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow).
Recently, most WorldVenture teams and fields reported their ministry outcomes for 2008 in the form of statistics: how many baptisms, how many churches planted, how many leaders trained, etc. It seems like we're missing some other "fruitfulness" stats, for example, missionaries pursuing their Jeremiah-like ongoing transformation in Christ regardless of their context, Peter-like teams and fields wrestling with ways (strategies) to communicate the Gospel in culturally relevant ways in diverse ethnic contexts to those who don't know God, and Paul-like missionaries discipling believers to obey everything Jesus has commanded of his followers.
I’d like to challenge you to go back and rethink what your team “stats” are saying – particularly in relationship to your other ministry outcome stats. Just as the strikeout-to-walk ratio is a better indicator of the pitcher’s efforts, might not the number of leaders being trained be enhanced if we think through the relationship of the leaders your team/field is training to their involvement in local decisions for Christ, or believers engaged in discipleship, or people helped, or churches planted, or even more leaders being developed? In Paul’s instructions to Timothy, training for training sake won’t get the “job” done but entrusting teachings to faithful people who in turn will entrust to others will advance God's kingdom.
So, here’s to the Bill James-types among us: Challenge our WorldVenture way of thinking about our “stats.” We’re not playing for the World Series but for something far bigger, much grander, and of eternal significance. So send your IMD and me your ideas on how we can "keep score" better. And may God give us the grace to think differently and the courage to embrace ways that help us raise our "game-play" in serving God and His plans to advance His Kingdom!
-- Jeff Denlinger
…good to know...
The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership
. by Steven Sample
In this offbeat approach to leadership, college president Steven B. Sample-the man who turned the University of Southern California into one of the most respected and highly rated universities in the country-challenges many conventional teachings on the subject. Here, Sample outlines an iconoclastic style of leadership that flies in the face of current leadership thought, but a style that unquestionably works, nevertheless. Sample urges leaders and aspiring leaders to focus on some key counterintuitive truths. He offers his own down-to-earth, homespun, and often provocative advice on some complex and thoughtful issues. And he provides many practical, if controversial, tactics for successful leadership, suggesting, among other things, that leaders should sometimes compromise their principles, not read everything that comes across their desks, and always put off decisions.
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