So, I am a little depressed this morning, since my favorite football team, The Boise State Broncos, just lost a decisive game to Texas Christian University this weekend (I say this with all deference to the Hornytoads), and by doing so, disqualified themselves from any chances of being a part of the BCS National Championship Game. The end of the game was epic and poetically painful in it's conclusion, since the loss was a result of a missed field goal kick, a near mirror image of another game to the University of Nevada just a year before. In reading the post game commentary though, I loved what the head coach of the Boise State Broncos, Chris Petersen, said of his team's loss; "This is real-life football. You don't win all of your games all of the time, as much as we've done that a lot here..." Essentially what Petersen was saying is that losing is a part of playing football. Not every weekend is a win. No matter how good your team is, no matter how many games you've won before, eventually, everyone everywhere is going to lose a game or two.
One of the big traps that I see a lot of churches and pastors fall into is the idea that every Sunday, every sermon, every program, every weekend, every stewardship campaign, every outreach effort must lead up to a big win. I have come to call this tendency - "The Winning Game." The Winning Game is the commonly held belief that there must be forward progress, upward growth, higher trajectory, increased numbers in every single church event or experience. The problem is that this church philosophy simply isn't realistic. Most importantly, this approach to religious leadership isn't, in the end, very Godly.
Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with one of the people that I respect in ministry, Dr. John Huffman, former senior pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California. I was, I am embarrassed to admit, waxing lyrical with John all about the successes and the "wins" of Highlands Church. After a moment, John said, "You know, I am really happy that you have had so many successes there. But you know...(and he paused) things won't always go quite as well as they are now there." At first, I sort of was taken aback. What a naysayer, I thought to myself. What a Grinch. But, then he followed up and said, "You can't always have growth, growth, growth. You can't even expect it all the time. If you do expect it, you will eventually just go insane." John Huffman was right. What John was actually saying was very similar to what head coach Chris Petersen said, "This is real life football....you don't win all of your games, all of the time..."
This is real life church....you don't win all of your games, all of the time...
One of the big frustrations that some people had with Jesus' ministry is that he didn't "win" enough. Really, it's true! Even though Jesus fed thousands of people, healed multitudes of followers, and performed unbelievable miracles, there were some who wanted Jesus to win even more. There were a group called the Zealots that wanted, expected, Jesus to win at every juncture. Their hopes were that Jesus would take up where Judas Maccabeas left off. Their dream was that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem, at some juncture, and take back the Jewish temple, overthrow the Roman palace, and establish the kingdom of God here on earth. For the Zealots, "winning" was something that happened in this time and in this place.
Jesus, of course, ultimately won through is death and resurrection to life through the cross. However, thankfully, while He was with us for those brief 33 years on earth, he didn't get into the "winning game." We shouldn't either...
All For Now,