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Closing the Leadership Gap

June 25, 2016
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Recently, the Lord allowed me to share an illustration in a speaking opportunity that greatly resonated with an audience at Clemson University. This audience was primarily a non-Christian group of individuals (approximately 120) who were searching for the meaning of life and leadership. These participants consisted of professors and other academics of higher education and learning along with some business professionals thrown into the mix. They were genuine and authentic individuals who were desperately trying to understand the dynamics of leadership and how they could impact the world. I sincerely enjoyed getting to know many of them as individuals. I felt privileged in that moment to be used of the Lord for His honor and glory. I didn’t share any revolutionary insights, nor did I touch on some magnificent new leadership model that would inspire people around the globe. To the contrary, I related my experiences and the journey as a professional baseball player (minor leagues) as an analogy to the “mastery” of leadership. This simple illustration opened up the door for me to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ our Lord with many of the participants! Praise the Lord!

There are millions of baseball fans around the world who love, admire, and adore the game of baseball. Many are season ticket holders who passionately attend as many games as they possibly can. You even hear of some older folks who are getting way up there in age who have not missed a game in literally decades. I guess you could say that they are rabid fans! Hats off to them and their dedication to their respective teams and the game of baseball. These fans sit in the stands and watch, cheer, and learn many of the intricacies of the game. Many of them become so involved that they know the player’s nicknames, idiosyncratic habits while standing at the plate, deficiencies and tendencies of the players while batting and hitting the ball, along with an in depth understanding of the rules of the game. What a blast to be around these knowledgeable baseball fans! I could sit for hours conversing with these individuals. They are so full of knowledge and facts that it is quite fun and pleasurable to be around them. Sometimes they even get a little “crazy” when cheering on their teams or favorite players. Some of you reading this article can relate and probably understand what I mean. What also fascinates me is the diversity of people sitting in the stands with little-to-no commonality with one another on the major issues of life. In the normal course of the day, chances are that they would never bump into one another. They are simply baseball fanatics cheering for the team. These fans consist of various nationalities, levels of education and income, along with major differences in their values, standards, and personal beliefs.  

Yes, by sitting in the stands this diverse group of people have a fairly good grasp of the game. But for many, that is where their understanding of baseball stops. Their knowledge reaches a plateau and then comes to an abrupt halt. Sitting in the stands and observing the game confines the participants to a contextual understanding of the game of baseball that by necessity puts a ceiling on their ability to exhibit a “mastery” of the game. In other words, you can’t master the game of baseball from the stands. Participation in the game of baseball is a prerequisite to a complete and holistic understanding of what it means to play baseball. You must be “in the game” to truly comprehend the beauty of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the fans sitting in the box seats or bleachers are an absolute blast! They’re fun to be around as we have a common passion for a sport. However, trust me when I say that it is a form of understanding, and not the depth, breadth, and comprehension of understanding needed that comes as a natural (God-given) self-expression of the game. For example, I encourage you to try and deal with a 100 mile-per-hour fastball from the stands as a “bleacher creature!” Well, you get the point.

As a professional athlete there are so many ingredients that go into and contribute to the “mastery” of the game of baseball. First, there is the preparation. Elite baseball players spend thousands of hours off the field honing their craft. Whether it is the batting cage, weight room, film room, agility training, or taking ground balls or fly balls from a coach, preparation is vital for the “mastery” of baseball. However, even with all of the preparation you still are not a complete player. Second, it is the game conditions themselves that will bring you to a level of competence, knowledge, understanding, and proficiency that will allow you to master the game. It is learning to adjust to those 100 mile-per-hour fastballs mentioned above, slow curve balls, sliders, or knuckle balls in game conditions that get you to the next level of mastery. It is learning to run down long fly balls or gauging the distance to the fence that only can be realized during high-pressure game conditions. Third, there is the language of baseball in game conditions that is part of that holistic and comprehensive understanding that leads to mastery. There is a conversational domain in the game of baseball that is unique and specific to those at the highest levels. In other words, they speak an entirely different language. It is the language of baseball mastery. That language of communication takes many different forms. Body language, sign language, terms, and phraseology all contribute to a unique conversational domain that distinguishes those sitting in the stands from those who have decided to put themselves “in the game” of baseball. There also comes a point when you are at the top of your game (mastery) when everything starts to slow down. Athletes call it “being in the zone.” For baseball players it is when you walk up to the plate and there is complete silence. That silence comes from an indescribable and intense focus. As a player you hear nothing and see nothing except the pitcher. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion and the baseball looks like a great big fat watermelon coming to the plate. I almost hate to say it…..but hitting the ball seems way too easy in those particular moments. As a result of the preparation, work, dedication, and swings at the bat in game conditions, you have now entered the mastery phase of the game. The “zone” does not happen often for professional athletes, however, when it does it can’t be missed. In baseball terminology, you are on fire!  Fourth, the level of commitment to rise to the level of an elite athlete and to be viewed as a “master” of the game comes at great personal sacrifice and cost. In a sense, baseball becomes a part of who you are as a person. Professional athletes drink, sleep, and eat baseball. They hang out with other baseball players, eat meals together, work out at the gym together, and for the most part are part of similar social circles.

As I began relating this story to many of the Clemson University participants while witnessing to them about their need for a Savior, I tried to delicately and diplomatically relate the analogy back to Christianity.

The church is full of people sitting in the stands with an abundance of knowledge about the Christian faith. These individuals understand the language of Christianity, church customs, how to deliver awesome prayers, and may even spend countless hours studying the Word of God. You would be impressed with their knowledge. It would seem as though these individuals get Christianity. However, they have never been able to master the natural (God-given) self-expression of the Christian faith because they are satisfied with viewing their faith from the stands of life. A very comfortable place to be sure! They may even be born again believers who made a decision to except Christ as their Savior. The problem with this approach and perspective is a real lack of depth in real world or game experience. They are sitting in the stands right next to the “mixed multitude.” Their ability to make adjustments to the 100 mile-an-hour fastballs is lacking. In other words, the growth opportunities as a believer are lacking compared to those who actually put themselves right dab in the middle of the Christian walk. Yes, I am talking about much more than talking a good game. I am talking about our responsibility to pull up our boot straps and genuinely and authentically be committed to the works of the faith of Jesus Christ.

James 1:22 – “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

While the works of our labor will in no way add to our salvation experience, once saved we are expected to exercise our spiritual gifts in a leadership capacity.  We are expected to be “in the game” of our Christian faith.

In summary, we desperately need to focus on “closing the leadership gap” between the stands and game conditions of our Christian faith. For many of us, the divide between these two positions has put us in a place where we are not fully usable for our Lord. The potential to impact the world with the gospel message becomes limited as we learn about Christianity, cheer on those involved in the game, but remain content to sit in the stands. Our ability to demonstrate a Christian leadership worldview will be greatly thwarted and minimized. God has given us the power through the Holy Spirit to step up and lead. Will you step up to the plate and start taking swings at the ball in game conditions? Are you committed to a holistic comprehension of the mastery of your Christian faith? Which script on your tombstone will be most appropriate?

“Here lies a wonderful, knowledgeable, compassionate, loving, Christian man or woman who lived their Christian life to the fullest with great exuberance, while sitting in the stands of their Christian faith.”

OR

“Here lies a wonderful, knowledgeable, compassionate, loving, Christian man or woman who lived their Christian life to the fullest with great exuberance, who closed the gap by getting in the game of their Christian faith and leading.”  

Won’t you step out today and make a decision to be a leader and impact others. Please, get in the game!    

Isaiah 6:8 – “Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”

Acts 1:8 – “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

1 Corinthians 4:1 – “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”


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