This fall has been a good one so far. Charge conferences have been uplifting and a great time to get to know your churches. Worship with several of you on Sunday mornings has been inspiring. And, like icing on the cake, my Kansas City Royals won the World Series for the first time in thirty years! It doesn’t get much better than that.
In 1985 I was thirteen years old and had just moved with my family to Kansas City. The Royals made it to the World Series where they played the St. Louis Cardinals. I knew every player in the starting lineup. I had memorized their stats, knew their hometowns, and felt as if they were part of my family. I still remember vividly the night of the final game in ’85 when they won with a dramatic finish.
This year was reminiscent of that year so long ago (except my age!). I also knew the names of the players, memorized their stats and hometowns, and felt like I had a close connection to the team. When they won – very late on Sunday night! – it felt as if I was experiencing a great personal victory with them. Aren’t sports fun?
We can imagine the dedication of athletes to do what they do each week and the effort it takes to be the "best in the game." When I memorize stats on baseball players I am learning the numbers that speak to the daily practices and disciplines of the athlete. I am learning where their strengths and weaknesses are. One particular player that was so remarkable this year was Eric Hosmer. Eric grew up in Broward County and has been a star during the playoffs. His batting average when no one is on base is pretty pathetic. But his average when runners are on base is exceptional. Hosmer knows how to drive runs home! That is a strength he possesses.
Not unlike baseball stats, church statistics represent our areas of strength and weakness. They don’t tell the whole story but they often tell where we have room to grow and where we have mastered a particular art. And, like baseball, the stats we pay attention to are the ones that most reflect the reasons we are doing what we are doing (the mission).
We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We have a statistic called "Radical Hospitality" because it reminds us of our mission to make disciples and to call new people into a deep and life-giving relationship with Jesus. There are all kinds of reasons that churches give for not having a "high statistic" in this category. Although I understand the reasons, I cannot give up on that statistic as a way to help us stay focused on our mission. A church might say, "We didn’t receive any new members this year but we are a really friendly church." I understand. But the mission of the gospel is not to be a friendly church (we don’t have a statistic for that). The mission is to bring people into a deeper relationship with the Lord. (Don’t get me wrong, being friendly helps!)
Our success at building the Kingdom of God – our version of the World Series? - will be measured in part by the daily practices and disciplines that lead us to do what we do to fulfill the mission of the Church. I do believe that staying focused on these practices will help us to remain true to that calling. Perhaps this year’s gathering of statistics for charge conference and end of year reports will reignite a sense of urgency around the practices that keep us focused on the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.
p.s. Many of you have asked for the title of the book I have been speaking about at charge conferences. It is The Class Meeting by Kevin M. Watson.