Changing the Game

This was first posted  on September 26, 2011. In honor of baseball’s post-season (and the Orioles and National’s participation in it!!!),  here is a re-run of a thoughtful piece on the tools of youth ministry.

Watched Moneyball over the weekend.  It’s a great baseball movie that’s very accessible to all with good performances by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

A true-life story, it talks about changing the game of tradition laden baseball, especially how talent was evaluated and utilized… not much of the action is on the field  Scouts used to be always on the lookout for a “five-tool player,” one who observably excelled at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding abilities. The movie suggested that scouts looked at other intangibles such as the hotness of the girlfriend as an indication of a player’s confidence. Scout were happy to find a player with two or three tools. It was high praise to find a five-tool player.

moneyball2Well, the movie tells the story of what happened to the near–successful (as in short of making the World Series) under-paying Oakland Athletics after the 2001 American League Division Series. The A’s were up two games on the New York Yankees, a team with three times the payroll, before losing it all. In the post season, they could not keep Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen, free-agents who went to higher paying teams.

A’s General Manager Billy Beane has to rebuild the smaller market/ smaller budget team to again be competitive. As a formerly described five-tool player, he well understood the flaws in that system of evaluation and, therefore, latches on to a new system, sabermetrics, which boils down statistics to evaluate players’ value rather the traditional scouting techniques of observation and intuition.

The “Sabermetric Evaluation” of Youth Ministry

Hmmmm, I thunk and thunk to myself after the movie.  In the past few years, we have had book after book of statistics that call for us in re-evaluation of our efforts in youth ministry… If we moved beyond our own observation and instinct, what would be the sabermetric effect for youth ministry?

First off, what is the traditional view of the five tools necessary for youth ministers? (This is a tricky area and I’d appreciate your comments telling me if I’m on target or not…, but) Here’s my best sweeping generalizations…

  • Love of Young PeopleThis is where they get their energy.  They enjoy the overnight lock-in, they can hang with kids in the coffee shop, hours matter not… They love kids and are happy to be with them.
  • Charm/ Wit/ Charisma –   They have the whole package – the winning smile, the pun-ster humor, an easy-going style (although I do think we have grown pass guitar playing…)
  • Committed to bringing young people to Christ – They have Good News to be shared and they are willing to go door-to-door, kid-to-kid attempting to win souls over to the Lord.
  • (Sergeant-style) One-on-One relationships with young people – <First a caveat: I am not inclined to use military metaphors for ministry such as spiritual warfare.. Nonetheless…> We are seeking a leader who is connected with and motivates “the troops” of our young people.
  • Coach/ Leader on behalf of Young People – <I am not disinclined, however, especially after watching a great movie to use baseball metaphors!> We want someone who trains, guides, and leads the team (maybe of young people, maybe a core of adults, or a mix between) towards winning seasons.

Actually, there seem all quite reasonable and they are all certainly better than the five youth ministry stereotypes of messy offices/cars, competitive in sports, too much time spent playing video games, spending time trying to be being cool, and just generally irresponsible. (but, that is just an aside…)

I think we both hire and evaluate based on this traditional view of the five tools necessary for successful ministry.

What are the Tools We Need for the Future?

But, what if we looked at the stats from the NSYR and other sources and re-configured what five tools are necessary for future youth ministry players?  What if we changed the questions for our interviews and evaluations to reflect a different sensibility?

Again, this is my read on it, and I’d appreciate your views (comments) as well.  Further, I’m aware that this might feel like simple point/ counterpoint wordplay, but I do perceive this as a necessary attitudinal shift. How about…

  • Love of Church –  Ed Stetzer of Lifeway recently blogged about Do Denominations Matter? and Should “Broader Interests” Preclude Pastoring?  and my initial answers are Yes and No. Church is not a means or necessary evil towards our end of serving with young people… Otherwise go work with the Y or the Scouts. Our end is serving Christ in His Church and the means we have chosen for that is our service with the youngchurch.
  • Facilitation – The term facilitation is broadly used to describe any activity which makes tasks for others easy.  The longer and longer than any of us spends time in youth ministry, the more and more we become aware of the continuously growing task lists related to it. We need to collaborate and share the many tasks of ministry and facilitation is becoming a very necessary skill.
  • Committed to bringing Christ – Adolescence continues to evolve and be re-defined. Yet, Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The gospel of Matthew closes with the commission to make disciples of all nations… not just to the kids who we can personally reach. All the nations…, not to the kids that our church might be able to reach.  All the nations…, not just a age based demographic, but their parents and adults who might partner with us in service with young people.Why do we water down “Make Disciples of all the nations…?”
  • (Corporal-Style) relationships on behalf of young people – We can no longer be satisfied with a role so closely associated with foot soldiers.  We must take command of the systems that affect the foot soldiers and as well as their more immediate leaders and ensure their training and abilities to respond to the great commission.  We must assume the authority to prioritize, strategize, and implement vision.
  • General Manager on behalf of the Church – I recently had a youth minister grumble to me that she did not desire to become trapped into the role of “an administrator.”  They viewed it as a passion-less entrapment to their desk away from “real ministry’ with the kids. Well, from Moneyball, we learn that “winning seasons” are made from more than talented players or coaching decisions.  They are made from passionate leaders, like Billy Beane, who take a look at the whole system – from trades to the club house soda machine – and work the system on behalf of the mission.If you are a youth minister and you think the system is the youth group or Confirmation class or core team in need of some good coaching  – then your perspective is too limited. We can no longer be mere Youth Pastors, but we need to be Pastors of the Church with eyes towards the Church’s mission and responsibilities (not ours) with young people. That’s likely to be challenging for some of us as home-run hitters get baseball cards, no-hit pitchers get baseball cards, even coaches get baseball cards… but, ever see a baseball card for a general manager?

Ain’t Going to be Easy

Watching Moneyball, we can see that there will be also sorts of push-back on implementing changes in the game. Billy Beane received laissez-faire support from ownership, confrontation from his scouts, sabotage from his bench manager (responsible for the line-up), and was frustrated by players who were slow to mesh together as team.

It ain’t going to be easy, but to pull a quote from the Billy Beane character in the movie…

If we pull this off, we change the game.
We change the game for good
.

 

D. Scott Miller

D. Scott Miller is the dean of Catholic Youth Ministry bloggers which is a polite way of either saying that he is just plain old or has been blogging for a long time (since 2004.)

Scott recently married the lovely Anne and together they have five adult young people and also grandparent three delightful kids (so, maybe he is just plain old!) Scott presently serves at Saint John the Evangelist in Columbia, MD as the director of youth and young adult ministry.

He has previously served on the parish, regional, diocesan, and national levels as well as having taught within a catholic high school. He is one of the founders of RebuildMyChurch and has returned to posting regularly (keeping regular is important to old guys) at ProjectYM.


D. Scott Miller


D. Scott Miller is the dean of Catholic Youth Ministry bloggers which is a polite way of either saying that he is just plain old or has been blogging for a long time (since 2004.)

Scott recently married the lovely Anne and together they have five adult young people and also grandparent three delightful kids (so, maybe he is just plain old!) Scott presently serves at Saint John the Evangelist in Columbia, MD as the director of youth and young adult ministry.

He has previously served on the parish, regional, diocesan, and national levels as well as having taught within a catholic high school. He is one of the founders of RebuildMyChurch and has returned to posting regularly (keeping regular is important to old guys) at ProjectYM.



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