Welcome to our once-a-year post that uses a sports metaphor. Some folks may be aware that major league baseball, following decades of declining interest and increasingly looonngg games, instituted several rule changes this season. One of these changes created a clock for pitchers and batters. After years of pitchers fidgeting on the mound without throwing a pitch and batters readjusting their batting gloves a dozen times, now the pitcher must throw in 15 seconds and the batter must be ready. Two weeks into the season, this has resulted in games that, on average, are 30 minutes shorter. Almost everyone has hailed this as a significant improvement.
Well, almost everyone.
Among the first to raise alarm were … beer vendors. Ballparks cut off beer sales after the 7th inning of games. But, with faster games, that means less time to sell beer. (Beer sales are far and away the largest revenue generator for ball clubs after ticket sales.) So, starting with the Milwaukee ballpark (where else?), and with other teams quickly following, beer sales have now been extended through the 8th inning.
A good reminder here is that even one really good change (in this case, faster, more entertaining games) almost always will lead to consequences that few can see coming, often on a completely different vector of concern, and which must be addressed.
Some lessons to consider, perhaps as you sip an 8th inning beer sometime this summer:
- Your church board needs to stay alert. That may not seem like a revolutionary statement, but so many boards are built on the pattern of “data in, approval out.” What if your role was not just to “make decisions,” but to work together to see the whole connected landscape of your church’s ministry?
- Just because there will always be unintended consequences, that is not an invitation to be even more cautious and turn over every single rock (and pebble) of potential problems before you act. If you want to drive away people seeking to be formed in faith, slow everything to a crawl.
- Boards, leaders, churches always do better when we are humble. We don’t anticipate everything. We miss stuff all the time. Forgiveness, grace, even humor are terrific navigation tools.
- Humble and nimble is an even better combination. You plan and plan and plan and then do one thing … only to have another thing go awry. So, let’s fix it. We knew something like this would happen. Most messes can get cleaned up among people of trust and goodwill.
- Leaders of churches can never think “ok, we’ve made it.” We worked and prayed and discerned and designed and thought and talked and decided and implanted. Great! That is not a one-and-done experience. It’s not a once-a-cycle thing. It is not just a monthly meeting thing. It is a board’s lifestyle – it is how you are in community with one another, discerning God’s movement.
Consider the disciples after Easter—the ultimate one-and-done experience! They had no idea in that moment that Pentecost was just weeks away, when God’s spirit would come and literally blow everything onto a different course. That unexpected wind is much more God’s way than any agenda or plan a board could produce. Pentecost set those first followers – and the church ever since – on a path of following the constant ebb and flow of the presence and purpose of God.
When have you been alternatively dismayed or delighted by the unexpected consequences of a decision your church board has made?
What is your board’s best story about an 8th inning beer-sale rule change?
How would you gauge the ‘alertness’ of your board, and how can you nurture that alertness?
How do you describe ‘nimble’ in your context?