Yes, as a matter of fact I believe it can be used as an example of what we seem to miss all too often when hoping, praying, and working to fill the pews… Now, before we go any further, it should be stated in plain English, right up front, “Moneyball” is a baseball movie. What is there plenty of in baseball? Two things come to mind. Cussing, and spitting. I’m not asking anyone to embrace and enjoy either. Keep in mind ball players also manage to hit, run, and field the ball a bit too. This may not be your cup of tea, so I wouldn’t be offended if you stopped reading here. That’s cool.
If you stayed, I’ll also tell you the movie isn’t totally laden with swearing or spitting. But it is certainly present so keep it in context. I really like this movie for several reasons. Let me illustrate some.
The movie, in premise, is all about knowing oneself, and more importantly learning that you may not actually know yourself. Does that make sense? Nope.
The movie is based on a true story and surrounds actual events. It seems to follow the truth very closely, so that makes the entire drama itself even more rich. The 2001 Oakland A’s have about $38M per year to put a team on the field and compete against teams like the Yankees which spend $120M and have an additional $100M in reserve. How can the A’s compete against teams that can buy up talent? How can the church compete against bias media, big government, and progressive liberals who see Christ as a myth? I see that as the basic parallel I’d like to explore with you.
General Manager, Billy Beane, a baseball player turned scout turned manager finds himself with an unlikely ally in Peter Brand. Peter is a fictional character based on Harvard grad Paul DePodesta. In the movie Peter announces himself as a Yale grad with a major in economics. So here you have a life long athlete with grass stains on his knees and a freshly graduated Ivy League econ nerd. Sound like a pairing you’d expect? Nope. Billy sees something in Peter that can be used a weapon though. He sees Peter’s approach to analytics as a way to cut through nonsense and get the most out of every precious dollar his meager budget has. What is my Christian parallel? I see the church, or churches, as getting caught up in the trends and overlooking the basics – our simple and undeniable core mission.
In the beginning of the film Billy is sitting across from the team owner begging for more money. He’s denied. The team owner says, “you’ll do better next year” to which Billy replies. “No we won’t.” Billy is stuck and he realizes slowly during the first few scenes he simply can’t compete. Better yet, he can’t compete if he continues to try to play the game the way the others play. He comes to understand running with the pack in their style at their pace simply won’t do. That leads us into the pivotal scene in the movie for me. Billy grasps for the first time he needs to establish what the reality is, both for himself and certainly for others in his clubhouse. He also confirms he’s at odds with the others in his organization, as they clearly do not recognize what they’re doing. Again, language warning – this is for adults only… This scene contains language and slight vulgarity due to the nature of the film. I’m asking you to look past the fringe, and soak this scene up with this in mind: the church may not be truly aware of what we’re doing and the direction we’re going. I see that as a chief reason why some churches are in decline. We must know ourselves. …And sometimes we think we do, when in fact we do not. If we’re doing what everyone else seems to be doing, that’s ok right? What if the others are wrong or have overlooked some important and vital components?
You can certainly see what I’m referring to. 100 years of going with the trend has led baseball to zip right past true evaluation, thus they are overlooking key portions of their stated mission. You don’t know of what you’re unaware. Billy identifies that the A’s staff are so caught up in doing ‘business as usual’ they don’t recognize there are simple alternatives. But first, they need to understand that it requires them to truly understand what the problem is. My take away? Fog machines, rock bands on stage, screens that take up half the wall of the sanctuary, a bank of cell phone chargers, $2000.00 cappuccino machines, and other gimmicks are what many churches have progressed, or regressed, into without realizing what the problem is: Too few come to church, and those who do aren’t being properly fed the Gospel.
Another quick little line many over look in the clip above is when Billy takes a glance at the stats, knows they guys are being too optimistic about the player’s ability, and simply says, “If he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hit good?” Each time I see that scene I laugh out loud. We can too often ignore the obvious at church. We’ve got this trinket and that gadget. Our widget was supposed to help recruit members. And so on. The church decided to implement gizmo “A” so after the implementation we rest knowing we did something. Did gizmo “A” help bring in new members, and better yet did it help retain them? Did gizmo “A” accomplish our given task of sharing His word? We better give honest reflection on our methods people. Simply saying “this ought to work” means we don’t understand what the word “ought” means.
If we don’t evaluate what we’re doing to invite folks into church we’re never going to achieve our goal of sharing God’s word as we could and should. Lights, sounds, and catchy yum yums are simply short term magnets. Sure, you may lay out an ‘inviting’ place, but that won’t keep worshipers engaged. In fact, I’d say it might even border on a false approach. I’m a firm believer in personal touch. I prefer to give a person a handshake and say to them, “I thoroughly enjoy our church, can I share that with you this Sunday?” I want to provide them the cold hard truth. We offer the Word of God. No fillers, no fluff. Why? Because that’s more than enough, so let us prove it to you. We are in fact, what we say we are. We’re flawed sinners, but we strive to be better tomorrow than we were today. We extrapolate the Gospel book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, through expository preaching. Nothing skipped. The full intent of the Lord is brought forth for your consideration, understanding, and application. If that isn’t their cup of tea, I’ll stop and pray the Lord gives them what they need as I move onto the next person I’d like to invite to church. If I rely on extras and pleasantries to help fill the pews, I’m not facing the facts nor am I engaged in sharing the Gospel. …and I think we may be falling into that trap often and we don’t even realize it.
I can’t help but place this video here for consideration too. It speaks to me so clearly. Billy is in the second of the two scenes where he and the staff are considering what to do about their loss of players and lack of funding to buy players. Billy and Peter continually circle back to the core component they key in on – “he gets on base” is heard over and over. My relate to church is short and simple. Instead of “he gets on base” as a parishioner I say to myself “I brought someone new to church” over, and over, and over. Provided that’s what my congregation has defined as a core need and directive, I should concentrate on that, keep it simple, and remain diligent. So when I hear “gets on base” what I think is “rumps in pews” if you know what I mean. Check it out:
You know the other thing that pops out at me? The end of this clip is actually spliced with a scene where “Grady” the head scout has a confrontation with Billy. And what did you hear from Grady? You can’t do this. It won’t work. This is the way we’ve always done it. …And so on. Sound like something you hear or expect to hear when questioning the direction some churches are going? You just may hear, “don’t rock the boat!”
Another parallel for me is when Grady leads into all the reasons Billy and “Google Boy” will fail. Grady makes the case that he knows what baseball wants and they should be doing things like everyone else, which is the way they’ve always done it. With that cadence and tempo in mind, insert an Osteen groupie in Grady’s place and picture what the conversation would be like if you were Billy and you’d finally awaken to the need to get back to rock solid basics in Gospel? Can you see that vision as clearly as I do? You’re standing across from a guy that says, “you gotta be trendy, you gotta avoid using the word ‘sin’, and mostly you gotta keep up with the Jones’ or you won’t have a church any longer!” That’s what Grady is saying to Billy.
We must define what we want, keep it simple, and identify the underlying problems in our churches if we have them. I won’t need to provide you with a *spoiler alert* since I’m not going to blow the ending of the movie for you. But as a Christian, I have no doubt you’ll appreciate the full weight and irony of the ending. For those of you who have watched the film, you know exactly what I’m driving at. For those who intend to watch it, keep in mind our ‘best life’ isn’t to be experienced here on Earth. Yet, we exist but for the sacrifice of Christ.
If we intend to build and share the church, then we must know ourselves and know ourselves properly. Only that will lead us to make the decisions necessary to invite and retain our congregation.
Acts 20:28 – Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
At the opening of the film a quote from Mickey Mantle is displayed: “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” Maybe your church has zero problems. I’m not suggesting you upset the apple cart simply for the exercise. However, we must evaluate ourselves just as we’re commanded in preparation for communion, as we do so “rightly.” I see the content, layout, and invitation to church no differently. Be salt and seek light my friends. You may not know the practices of the church you’ve attended all your life.