Thursday, April 30, 2015

Drafting God

Today the NFL hosts its draft.

Fans across the country hold their collective breath in anticipation of their team drafting a player that will turn their team's fortunes around. Sadly, there will still only be one Superbowl winner next year. This means that despite the hope and anticipation all teams experience at the end of the draft, 31 teams will play all next season as an exercise in futility.

Each year the draft provides a moment of introspection for each team. They must look themselves in the mirror and ask: Where are our weaknesses? What failures do we need to admit? What do we need to emphasise to improve? What are our team priorities? How doe we value skill versus character? What players or positions will we continue to seek to develop, and who do we need to release?

The teams undertake this process in the harsh spotlight of fans and the media.

Christians need to periodically go through a similar process of introspection. It makes us feel uncomfortable, but we need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask:
  • Where are the weaknesses in my relationship with God?
  • Who have I failed? Whose forgiveness should I seek?
  • What do I need to emphasise to improve my spiritual growth?
  • What are my life priorities?
  • How important is developing character compared to looking for results?
  • Are there people, habits, or attitudes that I need to release?  Are there others I need to persist at developing?
Thankfully, we don't need to do this in the harsh spotlight of friends and media! But people will see a difference.

So here's a list of spiritual disciplines. Which one do you need to prioritise in your life as a #1 draft pick?

Disciplines of Abstinence (Defense) These practices allow us to relinquish something in order to gain something new. We abstain from “busy-ness” in ministry, family life, and work. We stop talking for a while to hear from God.

  • Solitude
  • Silence
  • Sabbath
  • Secrecy
  • Submission
  • Fasting
  • Frugality
Disciplines of Engagement (Offense) It’s choosing to participate in activities that nurture our souls and strengthen us for the race ahead.
  • Bible Reading
  • Prayer
  • Worship
  • Spiritual Conversations
  • Journaling
  • Service
  • Scripture Meditation
  • Encouraging
Where are your priorities?

Don't try and choose all of these at once. You only get one first round pick. When that pick is performing well for you, then it's time to make your second selection.

Monday, April 27, 2015

One in 2.4 Million

On Tuesday evening the NFL released its schedule for the 2015/16 season. Four men spend four months working on identifying the best schedule for the coming year.

Since the NFL teams play each other on a rotating basis the actual matchups for the season fill themselves in automatically. Each team plays the other teams in its division twice. Each division also automatically matches up with another division in their conference and another division in the opposing conference. This excellent diagram illustrates the process.

With all the matchups determined, the scheduling team must first fill in the TV schedule. They identify the biggest games and decide on which weekends and time slots to place them. For instance, which teams will play on Thanksgiving? Which teams will feature on Monday night football?  And Thursday night football?

They also need to take into consideration outside influences like stadium renovations, and competing major events in NFL cities. This year the NFL ensured that Pittsburgh will play on the road the weekend that the Pope is in town.

For a more detailed description of this process I highly recommend THIS ARTICLE by Peter King. I found if fascinating reading. Here are the highlights:

  • 32 teams
  • 2.4 million possible combinations.
  • 136 computers
  • 50 "must have" criteria
  • 200 schedules manually reviewed
  • #37,793 was the winner
At first glance it seems ridiculous for 4 men to work full-time for 4 months on a schedule. What many people, and churches, fail to appreciate is the importance of managing the calendar.

My church is in the middle of May Madness. At least every other week we have had a special event.
  • Easter
  • New Elder Appointment and a Congregational Meal
  • New Member Recognition
  • Graduate Recognition and a Congregational Meal
  • Mothers Day
Our calendar is so crowded this year that one of our ministries that has run for the past 8 months isn't able to schedule a year end fellowship on a Sunday because of the rash of special events.

I am working with my congregation to establish fixed dates for special events, so that everyone knows what to expect at different times of the year.

We also have a small team that identifies which Sundays in the year we will emphasis as special events and "invite your neighbors" days.

Even with these efforts, I can't say that our church has a calendar strategy such as: No more than one congregational meal per quarter, or We must have an service activity every quarter. We don't have congregational goals for summer, just an awareness that our attendance will be down.

I suspect that most churches could learn a lot from the NFL's attention to their calendar.

Does your church manage it's calendar well?  Does your church have a calendar strategy or a calendar lottery? What do you like or dislike about the scheduling of events?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Playing to Lose

I am not overly familiar with European soccer, but I have come to love the concept of relegation between divisions found throughout European leagues. This keeps everyone fighting for a win. In the English league the bottom two teams at the end of the season in a given division will be relegated to the next lower division. At the same time, the top two teams from that lower division will be promoted to the higher division.

According to Wikipedia....
The English football league system, is a series of interconnected leagues for men's association football clubs in England. The system has a hierarchical format with promotion and relegation between leagues at different levels, allowing even the smallest club the hypothetical possibility of ultimately rising to the very top of the system. There are more than 140 individual leagues, containing more than 480 divisions. The exact number of clubs varies from year to year as clubs join and leave leagues or fold altogether, but an estimated average of 15 clubs per division implies that more than 7,000 teams of nearly 5,300 clubs are members of a league in the English men's football league system.

Currently facing relegation from the English Premier League.
In the lower division the player salaries are lower and usually the profits for the club are much lower as fans and general interest level wane. Only the the top 4 or 5 leagues are able to sustain full teams of professional players.

One fundamental reason this will never take off in the United States is that owners have so much invested in their teams that they're unwilling to risk that investment by being demoted to a lower league. Can you imagine if the NY Knicks were playing in the D-League next year? How many tens of millions of dollars would James Dolan lose?

Of course, if they won the D-League they'd make it back to the NBA the following season, but that one year absence could be crippling. And if they didn't win the D-League New York City might be without an NBA team for a long time. Not a single NBA owner would be happy to have an NBA team leaving the NYC media market and being replaced with current D-League leader the Maine Red Claws who play in Portland, Maine in front of about 5,000 fans.

Not. Going. To. Happen!

HOWEVER, because it's not going to happen, fans of all professional sports in the US will continue to find themselves cheering for their teams to lose in the hope of getting a top draft choice and rebounding next year.

"It's us against the world, Guys!"
I live an hour from Buffalo, NY. The Buffalo Sabres ice hockey team has spent weeks locked in a neck-and-neck struggle with the Arizona Coyotes for the worst record in the NHL. By finishing last the Sabres would be guaranteed one of the first two picks in the NHL draft.

This desire to lose isn't even a secret. Here's an article on the Sabre's official radio partner's website describing what the team needs to do to lock up last place in the league. When the Coyotes came to Buffalo a couple of weeks ago, sections of the crowd cheered when Buffalo lost. What a crazy mixed up system.

I believe that the players continue to play for wins, but perhaps without their usual passion. The players play for their reputation, for their next contract, because that's all they know to do. Meanwhile, the team bureaucracy undermines their efforts by trading stars and including young "development" players in the lineup. Officially, this is how they build for the future. Unofficially, it's how they guarantee losses to gain high draft picks.

Other sports are just the same. Should I cheer for my Indiana Pacers to make the playoffs when I expect them to bomb out in the first round, or hope they lose a few games to improve their draft position. This headline and article from pretty much sums up the dilemma, this time for Boston, 

Wouldn't it be beautiful and exciting and nerve-wracking if these teams were instead fighting to win each night in order to avoid relegation?!?!

Spiritually, I feel the existing system forces the fans and team administrators to adopt the role of Satan. He sees people desiring to live good lives, longing to honour God, striving to serve others, and doing their best. All the time he's attempting to undermine their efforts and cheers each time we lose. He discourages us and seeks to convince us that winning is futile and even impossible: that the odds are stacked against us.

Sometimes Satan promises a brighter future in exchange for a short-term defeat. Isn't this what he offered Jesus when he showed him the world? “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” One defeat, one loss, one compromise, and you'll gain the world. Tomorrow you will have everything you desire. Loss will lead to victory!

In contrast, God cheers us on and motivates our victories with heavenly crowd noise. When we're struggling he's still present, still cheering, still hoping for triumphs and mourning losses. He knows that long-term success is a process. He provides a winning culture and supportive environment in the church. Through this spiritual community He supplies spiritual coaches and mentors to keep us building and moving in the right direction. As the team owner he holds nothing back that will help us reach our goals.

We'll lose at times. God knows that. He recognises that losses build character. Good things can come out of great difficulties. But He never cheers for us to lose. There is no shortcut to our spiritual finish line.