Kevin’s Conversations: Building A Winner
With all of my sports writing here I have thus far managed to avoid writing about my pro basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers. The team has been very bad the last three years and has been an embarrassment of sorts to the NBA and even pro sports in general. So there has not been much enthusiasm with which to write.
With that said, as bad and embarrassing as the 76ers have been, there has also been a part of intrigue in they way they have been going about things. You see, prior to these past three really bad years, the Sixers had been stuck in mediocrity for many years. There is a sense in the NBA, due to its structure and the nature of the game, that it is easier to be gain success and get to the top of the league by starting at the bottom rather than from the middle.
And so the Sixers frustrated by their long inability to advance past the middle, decided to intentionally get bad and drop to the bottom of the league, with the hopes that it will help them one day to get to the top. Many other teams have similarly tried the strategy over the years, but the Sixers decided to take it to an extreme. Far more than anyone else ever has and it generated much debate, mockery, and controversy.
The Sixers dumped their veteran players, took chances on young players with significant injuries, and through trades and other means collected as many young players and future draft picks as possible. Their strategy was all about collecting “assets” and/or “lottery tickets”. The more they collected, the greater the chance that one or more of them would pay-off in future gains.
As already stated, other teams have employed similar strategies, but not to the extreme as the Sixers. Yes, they had collected a lot of assets, but the stripping away of pretty much the entirety of the established team had left them historically bad. The young players had no veteran players to mentor them and show them the ropes. A losing and immature culture was growing more and more throughout the team. So even though some of these young players were progressing physically and health-wise and skill-wise, there was much concern that the environment created was having a caustic effect on the overall development of the players and the team as a whole.
Earlier this year, between some combination of both Sixers ownership and NBA leadership becoming increasingly squeamish and concerned and intolerant of what the team was doing, Sixers ownership installed new executive leadership on the basketball side of things and the extremes of the rebuild were put to an end. We will now see if the team can achieve success under a new, more moderate approach. Ironically, just this past week, the Sixers new number one draft pick Ben Simmons – who was drafted in good health by the new regime and projected as a potential superstar-to-be – broke his foot and likely will miss a big chunk of the upcoming season, if not the entirety of it, while also raising questions about his long-term health. The new plans have already been scuttled, at least temporarily, and the scenario would have fit in quite well with the past three years of the previous regime.
In the church, we have many disagreements about what the church should and could do to be successful. Now even that term itself, “successful”, brings about disagreement as to what it means and if it should even be a stated goal in any sense. At the very least of a basis, I think we can pretty much agree that a church is “successful” if it is worshipping God and caring for and feeding its people – primarily in a spiritual sense but sometimes also physical. If we get much beyond that, considerable disagreement and consternation can arise around the word “success” in church.
For purposes of my writing here, I’m thinking more along the lines of methodological differences rather than theological, while realizing there is some overlap between the two. There are obviously a plethora of issues we could raise for both, so we’ll stick with just one plethora as opposed to two. How do we go about being a successful church? Or ministry? Or pastor? Or lay leader or even layperson? If you will, replace the word “successful” with good or proper or God-honoring.
Undoubtedly asking how do we go about being a successful or good or God-honoring church would have far more to go into it than just one blog article when all aspects are considered. So I’m not looking to layout a full church constitution. But I wanted to reflect on our attitude or approach when thinking on such things.
For example, let’s take seeker-sensitive methodology and anything that might get remotely intertwined with it as this type of approach to church tends to receive much criticism here, among other places, too. The seeker-sensitive movement seemingly places much onus on the “success” of attracting people to church or Christianity. We have seen many strategies put into action to draw people to church. From the serving of coffee and donuts, to the marketing of programs, to rock band worship teams complete with fog machines and strobe lights, to the tailoring of sermons that seek not to offend.
Now at its core, the goal of those who are seeker-sensitive is to get people to come to church and come to faith in Christ. That, in and of itself, is a noble goal. Of course, other more worldly and prideful goals can and sometimes do get all mixed up in it, but if we can, let’s try to set those aside for the moment. Nonetheless, even with only righteous goals or intentions in mind we can still disagree on the methodology to realize them.
How do we handle our criticism and disagreement? Is anything seeker-sensitive automatically written off as wrong and of the devil? So if any church ever makes coffee available on a Sunday morning, they are in the wrong? If any church ever has a guitar involved in worship, they are in the wrong? If their chairs are too comfortable? If any or all of these “seeker-sensitive” elements become more important or a bigger focus than worshipping God or caring for or feeding the people of the church, then the plan and methodology is most definitely troubling. But sometimes it’s hard to draw the line exactly where and when we cross over from being okay to being problematic. So it becomes much easier to just condemn it all in one big stroke of the broad brush. The same issues and mind sets can be applied to any type of methodology and our approach to them.
Getting church right is important. Much more important than how a basketball team goes about trying to get itself right in order to be successful. But just as it is difficult to decisively determine the best methodology to build a successful basketball team, it is not always easy to definitively nail down the best or most proper or most God-honoring methodology to build and conduct church. We can usually identify and dismiss the extreme and unhealthy elements without too much difficulty. Especially when human egos and motivations appear to be taking precedence. But once we start pulling in from the extreme, there is still a wide diversity of thoughts and opinions as to what is best. And when those thoughts and opinions are derived from motives that are seeking to honor God, we ought to at least show them due respect. They still may be worthy of criticism, but let’s also check the attitude and motives of our criticism.
None of us have it, nor ever will have it all figured out to perfection. Once we do think we got it all right, God may allow that broken foot to come along and ruin our plans. May God keep us humble as seek to honor Him in the construct and conduct of church.