I went and saw the movie “Moneyball” last night with Carrie, and it was long, interesting, and good. I wasn’t blown out of my seat or anything, at least not at first, it was just enjoyable.
- I liked the portrayal of Billy Beane – his courage, his inclination to think out of the box, his fatherhood, and his belief in and obsessive focus on winning a baseball championship with the limited resources available to him
- I liked his unlikely 2nd man, Peter Brand (who reminded me a bit of Mall Cop, both in name and demeanor), and his unique gift set contributing in a powerful way to the whole organization
- I liked the baseball in the movie, but I really liked the subject of the movie that was shamelessly using baseball to express itself…
Fundamental, DNA-level, hard-and-costly-but-potentially-revolutionary, wholesale change.
This movie is not for sports fans (although they will like it), it is for anyone who has ever dreamed of taking on a system that needs to be improved.
There was one scene that awoke something inside my heart that, unbeknownst to me, has needed some cattle-prodding for a while now.
It was at a point where Beane, in implementing a brand new system of how to field a baseball team, finally experienced some success. The Oakland A’s won a record-breaking 20 games in a row. They made history. But Beane, as he surveyed whether this milestone really mattered or not, told his buddy Peter, “Unless we win the last game of the season, everyone in baseball will write us off as a fluke. A romantic experiment that can have some momentary and significant success, but that ultimately is not sustainable and will fail.” (not an exact quote)
He said, “But if we win, then we will have fundamentally changed baseball and made it better. Now that would matter.”
My heart jumped into my throat with excitement, and I was borderline on the verge of tears. I had found myself in the heart of this movie…and I was reminded of how nice it is to feel so…explained.
Beane didn’t merely want a cool record for the record books. He wanted to win. Winning, in baseball, is defined as coming out on top of the MLB Championship game. But even that, at this point, would not be enough… Beane wanted to win the MLB Championship game while utilizing a new, better system.
This explains my heart for the church.
I grew up in a church system that steadfastly believed that regular church attendance, increasing Bible knowledge, and unified agreement on how we should worship on Sundays would produce the “win.” And the definition of a win was clear – it was posted on the bottom of a number-tallying bulletin board in the hallway by the exit door: “Weekly Sunday Attendance Goal: 1000!”
If we had 1000 people attending on Sundays, people who came regularly, were increasing in Bible knowledge, and worshipped in the way we thought was right we would have considered that winning the MLB Championship. Of course, and rightly so, we would not have stopped there – just like a MLB team wouldn’t quit playing just because they won a pennant – but it still would have been significant. It would have mattered to us.
But that doesn’t matter to me. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to do my part as a “General Manager” of a little “ball-club” in Amarillo, TX to show the world that there is a better way, a better system, a truer one, one that is both more effective and closer to the intent and heart of God.
What’s the better system I’d like to see us implement with our team? Relationships. Intimate, brotherly, sisterly, authentic, and Christ-centered relationships with God and others.
While I’m way more comfortable categorizing a “win” with the admittedly ambiguous words “Kingdom growth,” I certainly would not be discouraged if we starting having 1000 people in our pews on Sunday mornings each week. But I do not merely want 1000 people in the pews…I want 1000 people in the pews because of, and because they want to help co-create, our new, better, truer system.
At one point in the movie, young Peter was scared. He felt like Beane was living out the vision of the new system a little too purely, in a way and at a pace that was going to be too hard to explain or defend to the baseball establishment. He knew that if they implemented the vision too zealously, they could lose their jobs. Beane, on the other hand, knew that if they implemented the vision partially, the system-schizophrenic team would lose their games, and then they most certainly would lose their jobs. He knew that even if they by some fluke won, the establishment would point to all the things that remained of the old system (along with a little bit of pure baseball “magic”) as the reason for their success.
Beane, in the face of Peter’s fear and tentativeness, said definitively that he was going to see this through…all the way. Then he provocatively asked Peter, in a “be-careful-what-you-say-next-because-I’ll-expect-you-to act-like-its-true” sort of way, “Do you believe in this system or not?”
“Yes. I do. Totally,” was his slow, methodical, fully-owning it reply.
Enough said. Because of this pair’s resolve, the plot of the movie could go on.
I felt like Beane was talking to me. Do I believe in this new system, this truer way of being God’s church? Do I believe that this matters, or not?
Yes. I do. Totally.
So, I too can go on. Praise God.
It’s an important question. Even the usually-resolved Beane found himself asking, at one point in the movie, while driving alone in his pickup contemplating, “What. Am. I . Doing.”
What I am doing is making disciples of Jesus Christ through loving, spiritual friendships. And I’m asking our church family to organize itself in a new way, within a new system, so that they can do the same.
I’m seeing some amazing milestones, some truly incredible fruit from our church’s intentional transition from the old faithful ways to these new and equally faithful ways. But I don’t want to be satisfied until we win the proverbial “last game of the season”.
I want to be able to look at our church family and see everyone in it actively and obviously living their whole life for God’s glory, obviously and willingly becoming more and more like Christ, and offering themselves as spiritual friends to all the hurting people in this city who need the relief and abundant life that Christ offers.
One more parallel from the movie: At the end, Beane is called by the Boston Red Sox and offered more money than any sports manager had ever been offered if he would just come there to implement his new system. He would have willing bosses, willing co-workers, and willing participants, and more money to implement it than Oakland had.
But he didn’t go. Why? “Because I want to do it here,” Beane said, while sitting in the Oakland locker room.
This captures the heart behind why, when given the chance, I decided against both planting a church or leaving the Church of Christ (and this is not to be mistaken as a condemnation of either). God knows that what we are doing here at Southwest, while rare, is not unique to us. There are church plants that begin with nothing but like-minded people, sparing their home churches the pain of transition, and themselves the discouragements of meeting resistance. And there are other denominations that are years, if not decades, ahead of us on this journey that I could potentially partner with.
But I want to do it here. The Church of Christ people are my people. They have loved me. They have raised me. They have tolerated me. They have survived me. They have enabled me. They have taught me. They have not been perfect, any more than I have. But they…they are mine. And I am theirs.
The Red Sox went on to win the MLB World Series two years later, without Beane, but with his new system. I don’t think this discouraged him. As a matter of fact, their success with the same system in Boston probably fueled his commitment to working towards it in Oakland.
And he still is.
And so am I. I don’t want to go somewhere were it might be easier to make disciples through relationships. I want to do it here.