Moneyball Discipleship

“There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening…
 
“People who run ball clubs think in terms of buying players.
 
“Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players; your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.
 
“…what I see is an imperfect understanding of where runs come from.”
 
– Peter Brand, Moneyball
 
I recently watched the movie Moneyball which is based on the true story of how Billy Beane (general manager of the Oakland Athletics) and Peter Brand (a Yale educated economist) used statistics to revolutionize both how baseball players are hired and how they play the game.
 
The title of the movie reminded me of a game that I played as a kid also called “money-ball.”
 
I went to church every Wednesday, and every week we would rush through the lesson so that we could go outside and play softball.
 
If you asked me what we did on Wednesdays, I would tell you that we played softball.
 
Except, we didn’t actually play softball. We normally didn’t have enough people for teams, so we played a game called money-ball. In money-ball, you would get an imaginary dime for catching a groundball, a quarter for a one-hop ball, and a half-dollar for a fly-ball.
 
Whoever got to an imaginary dollar first, got to bat next.
 
If you drove by the church, you would think we were playing softball. And if you asked us, we would tell you we were playing softball.
 
Except, we were not doing the most important thing in softball; …trying to score runs.
 
The point of softball/baseball is to score runs. Everything else centers around that one goal. Everything else is either done to accomplish, or to prevent, that one goal. Scoring runs is the only way to win the game.
 
If you are not trying to score runs, then you are not really playing softball/baseball; you are just doing something that looks like playing softball/baseball.
 
As churches, we are often doing the equivalent of playing money-ball. We are doing everything but the most important thing; making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him.
 
Making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him is the equivalent of getting runs in softball/baseball. It is the only way to win the game. Everything else is done to accomplish that one goal.
 
Of course, we can say that we are making disciples of Jesus, and to the outside world it might look like we are making disciples of Jesus; but when you look closely at the lives of the disciples we are making, they are not imitating Jesus or obeying all of the commands given by Him (Matthew 28:19-20, 1 John 2:3-6).
 
Let me reword the opening quote:
 
“There is an epidemic failure within churches to understand what is really happening.
 
“Pastors think in terms of making Christians. But your goal shouldn’t be to make Christians, your goal should be to make disciples of Jesus.
 
“What I see is an imperfect understanding of what a disciple of Jesus is and how one is made.”
 
I was 40 years old and a seminary graduate when I realized I didn’t know how to produce disciples of Jesus. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t necessarily teach you how to make disciples of Jesus in seminary. I stumbled into it by providence.
 
Moreover, it was several years after that before I finally really understood what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
 
It’s alright to admit that you don’t know either.
 
Believe me.
 
It will be alright.
 
Once you admit that you really don’t know, then you can begin to learn.
 
However, because we have mostly forgotten how to be and make disciples of Jesus in our modern Evangelical churches, we often invest our time, energy, and resources into making something else; hoping that it will somehow result in disciples of Jesus being made.
 
We attempt to make Christians, hoping they will somehow become disciples of Jesus.
 
We attempt to make good, moral people; hoping they will somehow become disciples of Jesus.
 
We attempt to make crowds, hoping that some of them will somehow become disciples of Jesus.
 
We make awesome worship experiences, hoping that somehow, they will produce disciples of Jesus.
 
We make programs, we build buildings, et cetera…
 
 
So, what is it that your church is focusing its time, energy, and resources into making?
 
Be honest, do you even know how to focus your time, energy, and resources into making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him?
 
Do you have a plan?
 
Do you even know exactly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus who imitates and obeys Him?
 
Jim Putman and his church Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho is one of the best examples of a church focusing their time, energy, and resources into making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him. During the early exponential growth of their church, they were faced with the dilemma of investing their time, energy, and resources in the way that other churches had, or investing solely in making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him.
 
Jim wrote:
 
If all we looked at were the numbers, we’d say the success was killing us. But we knew in our hearts this wasn’t success. We were on our way to losing. We were becoming a show. […] I reminded them that our success had not come because of a show; we had never had the right equipment or a full-time worship person. It had come because God blessed us in our obedience to His Word, just as He promised. From church discipline to shepherding His sheep, to raising up new leaders to pastor others, we had purposed to follow Christ’s example. […] We had been under a lot of pressure to become more professional on Sunday mornings. Some had wanted us to try to find ways to hire people to lead the arts and worship. They wanted us to spend a lot of money on equipment and focus on becoming like many of the large churches in the U.S.
 
We decided to spend money, but not in the way that some would have liked. We thought for sure that our next move would slow down the growth. […] We would not seek to be like other big churches. […] We would become completely small groups driven. We would spend our money on pastors who could disciple and release, rather than hire people who focused on the worship service. We would deemphasize the show and focus on shepherding, discipleship, and relationship. […] In two weeks we grew another five hundred people.[1]
 
Again, where have you invested your time, energy, and resources?
 
Do you even know how to invest them in making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him?
 
A good place to start is with Jim Putman’s books: Church is a Team Sport, Real Life Discipleship, and Discipleshift.
 
They also have a great conference that you can attend to introduce you to their methods called Discipleshift.
 
Another good comprehensive resource is Bill Hull’s Complete Book of Discipleship.
 
Also, check out the resources at Discipleship.org.
 
For His Words His Way Fellowship’s take on what it means to be and make disciples of Jesus, start here and follow the link at the end of each article to the next one: The Four Principles of Discipleship…
 
 
Photo by Rachel Xiao from Pexels
 
 

[1] Jim Putman, Church Is a Team Sport: A Championship Strategy for Doing Ministry Together (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2009), 16-28.