Grow Your Church. Watch Baseball.

I've learned a ton about leading people--specifically, leading a church--from being a fan of baseball. That's right baseball--and not the little league kind. I'm talking Major League, tobacco chewing, crotch grabbing, Charlie Sheen in an Indians uniform, baseball. Don't believe me? Well, let me take a swing and prove you wrong. 

1. Have a farm system.

Believe it or not, in the church world you can buy talent. Like the Yankees you can lure the latest hip preacher away from another congregation with more cash and a bigger stage and it will work--for a while. But the most effective churches--like the most effective, dynastic teams--don't hire their best hitters. They have a killer farm system and raise them up. To have a great Major League club you have to invest a bulk of your cash into the minors. We're learning this right now at CrossPoint. If we want to grow in the ways God has called us to, over the long haul, we need safer fields for home grown guys to play in, learn the system, and over time be brought up to the big leagues. This is why we've started the CrossPoint Leadership Institute and our Residency Program. Both are ways for talented guys and girls to test their calling, get needed training, fail and succeed in places with less pressure then become our best front-line leaders. If you don't have this you can still get a killer line up--but it will cost you more and last only as long as the professional stays on your team.

2. Let the young, talented guys play.

In baseball, veterans who can still swing still play-for the most part. Yet as their ability decreases, or even as their ability reamins high but new talent emerges, they move down in the lineup to make room for younger guys, brought up from the farm system. For the most part baseball knows how to move the older players along and make room for younger players to shine--adding consistency and effectiveness to the overall life of the team. The same should be true in the church. But it's not. It's truly rare that a younger visionary leader is allowed to bat in the key 3 or 4 spot in the organization. The senior leader remains the key preacher and primary leader for a tad too long, only to see his best prospect hop to another church that's ready to let him lead. I'm not saying that churches should idolize youth and send effective pastors out to pasture. In baseball, young guys are given opportunity to play and older guys are given opportunity to influence them. The seasoned vet is essential, but in a different way. He shifts from being a star in the lineup to coach on the line or a manager in the dugout--he's telling the stud when to steal home and what pitches to hit. He's moves into front-office roles that bring dollars into the system or allow key partnerships to be made. In baseball each club is filled with expert men who know the game (probably think they can still play the game) but have stepped into essential roles of influence over the game.

This is a touchy subject for church leaders. Most senior leaders are hesitant to take their hands off the pulpit or relinquish vision to someone with younger eyes. But it must be done, lest your ministry lose it's best leaders and fail to connect with current culture. Early on in ministry I benefitted from generous senior leadership. At 27 years old I was handed the pulpit of a mega-church while the founding pastor stepped into a front-office role, managing the club. It was a decision that took incredible humility. But it was, we both believe, a decision that allowed the ministry to grow further. It's a decision that I must be willing to make later in my own ministry.

3. It's about fundamentals.

Baseball is a game of doing the little right. It's about snagging ground balls and taking pitches until the game becomes automatic. This is why they keep track of errors and publish them on the scoreboard. What other sport does that? The reason is because in baseball small mistakes lead to big runs being scored by the other team. If you can't do the little things right you shouldn't be on the field. In the church world we must adopt the same attitude. Churches tend to assume the fundamentals and focus on the incidentals. We assume we're preaching Gospel. Assume we're discipling people. Assume we're loving the neighborhoods around us. We take those things for granted and focus on our lack of growth or giving--all the while not realizing that struggles in those important incidentals are tied to the errors on the field, the lack of attention to true fundamentals.

The work of the church is difficult and simple all at once. Kind of like catching a pop-up. Preach Christ crucified. Connect broken people to His gifts of baptism, Lord's Supper and a life-changing Word. Give them opportunities to live in community together. Love the neighbors around you. That's it. And typically if we seek faithfulness in these fundamentals the incidentals follow. But never, ever assume you're snagging the grounder. The moment you do is when it rolls through your legs.

4. Keep your eyes focused on October.

In baseball October is the only month that really matters. Why? October is playoff time. And while every club gets to play the regular season, in October only 8 get to vie for the prize. Nothing else matters. You might not agree. But ask any baseball fan who the winningest team of all time is and they'll tell you. The New York Yankees. And the reason they're the best is not because they've tried the hardest over the years or been the most popular throughout the decades. They're the best because they've won a ton of championships. 27 of them to be exact. The next closest team is the St. Louis Cardinals. They've won 10.

A good leader of God's people reminds them of October and is constantly reminding his people of the "wins" that matter most. He tells them that the season is long, the Sundays are many--and all important--but what matters most are championship wins. What are they? Jesus gave them to us. In Matthew 28 He charged us with baptizing and discipling as many as possible. That's our October. Those are our wins. I don't care what you're doing in the regular season--how many you have in attendance or how awesome your soup kitchen is. That's great. Are you baptizing people into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are you teaching them all that he commanded? If not, you're missing the point.

I could go on, but I'll spare you. And while you might not agree with all I've jotted down, it's working for us. And of course, you might say, "Hey, can't one learn something about leadership from being a student of any sport?" Maybe. But I like baseball. Although Iyou'd be hard-pressed to learn anything from the NBA, except how to change the rules over time to allow for lazy play. Can we say, "traveling happens every fifteen seconds?"

But that's enough from me. I've got some fundamentals to focus on.