Baseball vs Football (aka, Stop Over-Programming!)

The 2011-2012 NFL regular season will officially kick-off on September 8.  On September 8, America’s pastime, baseball, will almost instantly fade into the background.  Why? It’s quite simple. Over-programming.  There’s a valuable lesson for churches in that, too.

Football is a physically taxing sport.  The NFL has a 17-week season, where each team plays 16 weeks, with a bye week.  Contrast that with the MLB that has a 162 game season that spans from April until October.  It’s nearly impossible to follow a baseball season with the same level of intensity as a football season. With football, you have 90% less play-time to track.  Inevitably, when the football season begins, baseball viewership plummets.

Are you exhausting your volunteers by over-programming at your church?  Yes, it can happen! Typically, this happens when you lack the necessary tunnel-vision to keep your church on track.  Stay true to the important things that make your church who you are.  The things that are outside of that narrow tract are distractions that will drain you of energy.

When you step back from over-programming as a congregation, you’ll see volunteers that are more energized, families that are more connected, and most importantly, you’ll see them building new relationships outside of your four walls.

As much as I love baseball, take a lesson from football and keep your momentum strong by keeping your focus tight!

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It Started Out as a Feeling

James 1:13-15 (NIV), “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Leaders are not immune to temptation and sin.  When leaders fall, we always ask ourselves how and why.  I can assure you, Rep. Weiner didn’t wake up one day and intentionally decide to jeopardize his career and the agenda he passionately pursues.

James gives us some insight into the how’s and why’s.  It starts with a feeling or desire that leads to sin, which leads to a fall.  Now, we’ve all heard numerous sermons and leadership talks about banishing evil thoughts before they get out of hand.

I’m of the opinion that the inverse to the principle is also true.  A positive thought can avalanche into something incredible!  As your avoiding harmful thoughts and feelings, allow the thoughts God is placing in you to flourish.

Regina Spektor states in “The Call,” “It started out as a feeling / Which then grew into a hope / Which then turned into a quiet thought / Which then turned into a quiet word / And then that word grew louder and louder / Until it was a battle cry…” (2008, Walt Disney Records)

Learn to discern your thoughts and feelings.  Discard the destructive ones.  Allow the God-given ones to take root.  It’s your choice!

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When the Going Gets Tough…

James 1:12(NIV), “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

When animals are confronted with danger, the fight or flight response kicks in.  The animal will choose whether to fight the danger or flee from the danger.  It’s actually the same basic response we face in conflict.

Does fight or flight kick in during church conflict? Absolutely! There are times in conflict when it seems crystal clear what to do.  Sometimes, however, our flight response can kick in and tempt us to escape trials prematurely.  George Barna states that “The average tenure of a pastor in Protestant churches has declined to just 4 years—even though studies consistently show that pastors experience their most productive and influential ministry in years 5 through 14 of their pastorate.” (See “Pastoral Longevity” here.)

James reminds us of the reward that comes from persevering through trials.  Avoid the urge to pick up and run when the going gets tough.  Allow God to work in your life and ministry through the trial.  You’ll be better in the end.

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What Really Matters?

James 1:9-11 (NIV), “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.  But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.  In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Confession time.  I’m a really conflicted individual.  On the one hand, I’m a huge tech geek.  On the other hand, I’m a huge cheapo.  I watch the Steve Jobs speeches and start salivating, just a little.  When it comes down to it, though, I’m way too cheap to buy the toys and gadgets.

It’s easy to get our minds on all the fluff of life.  James reminds us to focus on what really matters.  Riches will fall and beauty will fade.  Even misfortune will change its course.  Focus your energy and resources on the things that will last.

Are you investing your church’s resources in things that matter?  Take a look at your church’s budget (and your personal budget!) and make sure that it aligns with your mission and core values.  You may be surprised to find some sideways energy distracting you from your church’s purpose.

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Be. Confident.

James 1:6-8 (NIV), “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

Have you ever been afraid to ask for something? Sometimes people or situations can be really intimidating. Some things can seem foolish to even ask for.

I know an individual that was contacting a philanthropist for a grant.  He started making his case for the funds that were needed.  The philanthropist stopped him in his tracks and simply asked, “How much should I give?”  He gave a significant number that was about 10% of his project goal.  The donor quickly wrote out the check and sent him on his way.  He later was disappointed to know the donor would have funded the complete project, if he’d only asked.

You can be confident when you approach God with the needs of your organization.  Let’s take this principle beyond our walk with God.  As leaders, we have to be confident in our mission and our decisions.  James reminds us that the wavering individual is unstable.  In the decision-making process, be open to all perspectives.  Once you’ve reached your decision, it’s healthy to move forward without looking back.

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Stop and Ask for Directions

James 1:5 (NIV), “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Our culture exalts independence and self-sufficiency as virtues.  This is exactly how we end up with the stereotypical case of the lost driver who refuses to ask for directions.  Can’t you just hear the internal dialogue? “Maybe the next turn will take me there.” “How can I save face?”

Getting lost on a road trip is one thing.  Don’t let your sense of independence take you down the wrong road of life.  The detours can be devastating.

James reminds us that God is willing to give us the necessary wisdom to guide us in making those tough decisions.  God isn’t going to try to trick you.  Ask God for wisdom and rely on him to guide you.

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What Quitters Never Understand

James 1:4 (NIV), “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

It’s easy to quit. Perseverance is somewhat of a lost virtue in our culture.  It’s easy change jobs, change schools, or change churches if things do go exactly to your plan.

Sure, quitting is easy. What’s not easy is life after quitting.  Quitters never experience the satisfaction of making it through a trial.  Quitting rarely solves a problem, but delays dealing with underlying issues until they become too big to handle.

James urges us to fight through the circumstance.  By sticking through the circumstance, we end up gaining knowledge that only experience can provide.  When we rough it through the trial, the resistance sands off our rough edges.

What quitters don’t understand is why someone would persist through a difficult situation.  What quitters will never gain is forward motion.  When you feel the urge to quit, try to take a step back from your situation and see how God is working through this trial to make you better.

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