I have developed a ritual every Thursday morning of going to the local Barnes and Noble here in Dothan. I go in and drink their overpriced coffee and read their books. Several weeks ago, I was just browsing around and stumbled across a book and found myself hooked by the opening chapter. It was written by Michael Lewis entitled Moneyball. It has turned out to be one the best books that I have read in the last year.
The book surrounds a philosophy that was developed by Billy Beane who was the general manager of the Oakland A’s. In the decade of the 1990’s, he had the formidable task of having the lowest operating budget among professional baseball teams but still faced with the challenge of winning. He would have 30 million dollars to work with as opposed to some clubs which had operating costs approaching 100 million dollars. Obviously those teams who had deep pockets could afford to purchase ball-players that were going to place them in contention for a championship but Beane did not have this luxury.
Just to give you an idea I rounded off these figures to show you what Beane meant. In the 2002 season his budget was $42 million and he won the division with 103 wins. The second place team was the Angels at $62 million; third was Seattle at $86 million; and last place was Texas at $106 million. Beane’s A’s won 31 more games than Texas with $60 million dollars less. The lesson in this: You have to quit looking at what you don’t have and make a difference with what you do have. It is funny now but Beane said it wasn’t too funny in the developing stages especially on draft day when the A’s looked like they had lost their marbles so to speak.
So with this challenge facing Billy Beane, he found some computer wizards and started looking at the statistics of college players and a small number of high school players. He discovered very a remarkable fact. Sometimes those fellows who looked like ballplayers weren’t worth what they got paid. It wasn’t long before he started drafting these very unlikely players and in doing so put the Oakland A’s in a position to beat some of the teams that supposedly had more talent because they had guys who looked like ballplayers.
He came to understand that talent is a curse rather than an asset for a ballplayer. Over time a player who depends on his talent never develops or reaches his potential. In fact, Beane discovered that players who had little or no talent but had a good work ethic and discipline were able to exceed what the players who supposedly had more talent did. There was a great quote that I scribbled down from the book by Cyril Connolly (Enemies of Promise): Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.
As I read this book about ballplayers, I started firing off some personal questions about whom I was and what I was about and this blog are some of those observations.
What do my habits say about me? There was a chapter about “How to Find a Ballplayer” and it went into the huge thing that baseball scouts often miss. They are overwhelmed by a player’s hitting streaks, size, and personality but rarely look beyond his batting average. Beane discovered that if he would draft guys who just got on base consistently it would be more important in the long run than someone who jacked the ball out of the park occasionally but had far more strikeouts and pop-ups. One part of the book describes a scene where Beane is in a very heated battle with about 10 of the A’s scouts. He wanted to draft a catcher who they all said was too fat. Beane finally yelled at them that he was not finding guys for jeans commercials but for guys who could get on base. They drafted him and he ended up playing a role in a year when they won 90 games. All of the players that Beane drafted had incredible habits. They were consistently on time for practice and did everything their coaches asked of them and it doing so their habits shaped their success.
Our society is consumed with image. Not only was this evident with the A’s scouts but it is played out on a much larger scale in our society. There is a maddening obsession with image not character. Image leads one to believe one thing but if there is no character to match the image, the image will dry up like last year’s corn husks. The scouts were only interested in players who looked like they could play. The real test is whether they can play or not. There has to be a conscious quest for godly and righteous things to rule us. But if you take great care in the condition of your soul, time will put you in places of influence to be able to encourage and care for others.
Power isn’t everything. Lewis wrote that the tendency is to gravitate toward power hitters and a massive amount of money is often wasted. When the Beane boys sought out players who had the stats and could get on base the coaches understood these players could be coached to develop power. But power did not necessarily equate to more runs or championships. The older I get the more impressed I am with those faithful ministers who started as plodders and have spent 10 or 15 years developing their calling. If you are a young minister and you are reading this blog, don’t let those fellows who blow by you, so to speak, confuse or discourage you. Don’t be victimized by what you can see. You slog your way into greatness and persistence and dedication are so crucial in ministry. Furthermore don’t fall for the bait of a denominational position because positions will drastically limit who you are and who you can become.
Discipline is always better than talent. Talent will make treaties with the status quo and little or no growth will ever be experienced. Don’t sell your soul to talent. Keep in mind a principled approach to God and life and over the years you will have invested in the most worthy things of life.
There is more than one season. Don’t ever forget mistakes and errors are part of your life. Just because you strike out a few times or make some throwing errors, pick it up and go on to the next play. Some men let themselves become paralyzed by a past mistake and they never recover from it and go on to the next level.
Everyone who has ever picked up a bat or put on a glove is an expert. You will contend with armchair ballplayers and spectators for the rest of your life. Get your plan and work it out and stick with it. You don’t build something overnight; you do it with your life. Don’t let the subjective tide of public opinion discourage you.
These things caused me to remember an A. W. Tozer quote from sometime back:
There are preachers looked upon by their people as divine oracles, who wag their tongues all day in light, frivolous conversation. Then before entering the pulpit . . . seek a last minute reprieve in a brief prayer. Thereby they put themselves into the position where the Spirit of the prophet will descend upon them. It may be that by working themselves into an emotional heat they may get by, may even congratulate themselves that they had liberty in preaching the Word. What they have been all day and all week is what they are when they open up the Book to expound it to the congregation. . . .
What do your stats say about you?
How much time do you pray . . . not preach about it or read about it?
How much time do you read the Word . . . not preach from it or talk about it?
How much effort are you putting forth in evangelism. . . .Not encouraging others to do it but your own involvement in it?
What do your stats say about you?
How are you spending your life?
How much are you studying to bring forth meaty and weighty messages to the congregation who hears the wisdom of the world all week long but are starving from the famine of the Word in our pulpits at large?
Are my sermons more stories than Scriptures?
Am I a true man of God . . . not the American caricature but the man of God that Paul describes in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus?
What do your stats say about you?
Is my preaching my own . . . or is it something I hastily scribbled down because I wasted time all week long?
Am I more aware of the things of the world or the things of the Kingdom of God?