Should We Change Our Game Plan? (Part 1)
As someone who has spent a major part of my life both playing and watching basketball, I found George (Chuck) Hunter's metaphor at the beginning of his newest book, Should We Change Our Game Plan? striking a chord with me. Hunter tells the hypothetical story of Bob Billingslee Jr., who has been the varsity basketball coach at a university for decades. Billingslee is the greatest living master of the game of basketball…as it was played in 1955. He plays his team without a designated point guard, shooting guard, or power forward. His players shoot two-handed from their chests from the field and underhanded from the foul line. The coach does not believe in strength training, as it makes the players too bulky. It has only been in the past few years that his players were allowed to wear more contemporary uniforms instead of the short, tight shorts of the 1950s. For a while, Billingslee was mildly successful; but for years now, his team has finished at the bottom of their conference and he has trouble recruiting any players willing to play his style of basketball. But Billingslee and his remaining supporters continue in denial: "If we just try harder, we will win again."
Of course, in today’s competitive, money-driven, collegiate sports world, Coach Billingslee would have been eased into retirement years ago and replaced with a younger, more progressive coach. If you don’t win, you don’t keep your job. Alumni will call for a change, and fans will vote by decreased ticket sales. Yet, for many of our churches, the exact opposite is true. We want things the way they were in the 1950s, and we truly believe that if we just try harder to reclaim the past, we will experience renewal. In fact, if we try to be more progressive and think about those who have yet to meet Jesus or darken our doors, we might face a significant decline in giving by the church members who "pay to endow the perpetuation of the church they once experienced faith in, or grew up in … and doubt that Christianity can be faithfully expressed in other ways." 1
So how do we navigate the waters of an increasingly secular, unchurched society, while respecting the traditions and faith stories of those who have gone before us? In one congregation I served, several of the church leaders were emotionally tied to physical items in the church. Their relatives had given them as gifts decades earlier, and even though they no longer served their originally intended purpose, these items evoked anger and tears when anyone mentioned replacing or removing them. Would their grandmother really want the sign that she donated to share church events and messages with the community to continue taking up space on the front lawn if it was no longer usable or had served its purpose? Deep down, the issue was not the sign, or pew, or musical instrument. The issue was fear that the loved one would be forgotten (and maybe eventually the church member would be as well).
Those of us who serve established congregations have a difficult task before us. How do we celebrate where we have been, while embracing and reaching out to those outside our walls? The answer obviously is not to hold fast to short shorts, underhand shots, building our budgets around our preferences and wants, or operating with a "playing not to lose" or survival game plan. God is already ahead of us in our communities, working in the lives and situations beyond our walls. God has a dream for our communities and what roles our churches could play to fulfill that dream. The question is, "Whose game plan will we follow?"
This is the first of a six part series. Stay tuned as we next explore, "How the game changed."