Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but I’m a huge Brad Pitt fan. Maybe it’s because I look so much like him . . . We all have our burdens to bear. I think he is a great actor and his movies are among my favorite. Of course I separate his personal life from his talent. I’m just a huge movie fanboy and his movies often inspire great thought.
Such was the case after watching his latest movie, “Moneyball.” I finally convinced my wife to watch it last night. She sort of owed me because I went and sat in a theater full of women to watch “The Vow.” I digress. I was almost mobbed during that movie because I laughed during the scene when one of the main characters is ejected through a car window. Women were throwing Raisinets at me. I repented. I was pleasantly surprised that my wife liked Moneyball. Again, I’m sure it was because Brad Pitt reminded her of me.
Jonah Hill is also in this movie. A more serious role for Jonah. He plays the part of Peter Brand, a fictional character developed to play the real-life Paul DePodesta. Paul DePodesta is a Yale-educated research geek, who can crunch numbers and come up with canny suggestions about finding true baseball diamonds in the rough.
There is a scene at the end of the movie where Billy Beane is seriously considering leaving Oakland for the new position at Boston. His mind is all but made up. Who could blame him? A bigger salary and the opportunity to lead a team with a storied history and resources to bring in the best of the best professional athletes. As I watched the movie I was thinking, “What’s there to think about?”
Jonah Hill’s character comes to speak to Billy Beane about his decision. It seems Peter Brand knew Billy was leaving. This is the dialog from the scene. Bear with me. This is an important part of the article.
Peter Brand: How was Boston?
Billy Beane: Impressive.
Peter Brand: Did Henry (owner of the Boston Red Sox) make you a good offer at least?
Billy Beane: Doesn’t matter.
Peter Brand: What was it?
Billy Beane: Doesn’t matter!
Peter Brand: What was it?
Billy Beane: It doesn’t matter!
Peter Brand: What was it?
[Billy takes out the paper with the offer written on it and passes to Peter and he reads it]
Peter Brand: Well, at least you will be the highest paid GM in the history of sports.
Billy Beane: So? So what? You know, I made one decision in my life based on money and I swore I would never do it again.
Peter Brand: You’re not doing it for the money.
Billy Beane: No?
Peter Brand: No. You’re doing it for what the money says and it says, well it says, that any player that makes big money, that they’re worth it.
Peter Brand ask Billy Beane to come down to the film room. He wanted to show him something about a player he was observing. As the video plays for Billy Beane, Paul begins to narrate this scene.
Peter Brand: This is the Visalia Oaks minor league team and our two hundred and forty pounds catcher, Jeremy Brown, who as you know is scared to run to second base. This is in the game six weeks ago. This guy is gonna start him off with a fast ball. Jeremy’s gonna take it to deep center.
[the tape shows Jeremy hitting the ball and he starts running toward first base. Peter pauses the tape]
Peter Brand: Here’s what’s really interesting. Because Jeremy is gonna do what he never does, he’s gonna go for it. He’s gonna round first and he’s gonna go for it. Okay?
[he starts the tape again and Billy watches it closely]
Peter Brand: This is all Jeremy’s nightmare’s coming to life. [the video shows Jeremy running around first and falling down. He scrambles to make it back to first base before being thrown out]
Billy Beane: Ah, they’re laughing at him.
Peter Brand: And Jeremy’s about to find out why.
[he pauses the tape again]
Peter Brand: Jeremy is about to realize that the ball went sixty feet over the fence. He hit a home run and didn’t even realize it.
Peter was using the video as a metaphor to tell Billy Beane that what they accomplished in Oakland, with that budget and that team was a home run and Billy missed it. He hit a home run and didn’t even realize it. Billy was looking at the wrong definition of success. In the process he missed what mattered most.
I scramble for my journal to write all of this down. It resonates.
I think this scene is a perfect metaphor for those who serve in ministry. Sometimes we get caught up in the world’s idea of success. I attend conferences and visit youth pastors all over the United States and the conversations usually turn to numbers and facilities, and some new cool program. We tend to measure our success by our budgets and the number of noses showing up on our campuses. Maybe we write a book and get asked to speak. Man, we’re really somebody now! We often compare our ministries in ignorance to other ministries that seem to really have it going on. We sometimes become defeated when we feel like we don’t measure up. Our numbers aren’t as good as that church, our facilities are terrible, my salary is a joke, which leads to thoughts of “If only.” If only, then . . .
If we measure our success based on the worlds standards we will always come up short. We will sometimes feel defeated. Some will dust off their résumé and look for a better position. The average stay for a youth pastor in America is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 years. It takes at least 2 years to even establish a ministry. Others just walk away from ministry in defeat. To many great pastors simply give up under the weight of a performance based mentality. This was never the standard. This is not God’s standard. When did we take our eyes off of God’s standard for success in ministry and focus on the world?
This is God’s standard for ministry. Love God with all you have. Love others as yourself. He goes on to say, “All of the law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus spends three years giving us an example of what this looks like in our lives. There is no standard for numbers. There is no mention of great facilities or salary. The standard for success is to obey God and love others. If we follow this standard, the rest will take care of itself. God will once again be allowed to be the head of our church communities. Imagine a church that simply obeys God and measures their success on the Great Commandment instead of the worlds idea of success. Imagine pastors who only seek to please God and measure their success on how well the ministry they lead fulfills the Great Commandment.
I received a call from a friend in ministry last week. He is frustrated in his current position and wanted me to start looking for a new church where he could serve. We talked about the problems he was facing. All of them had to do with numbers and the lack of funds to improve the ministry beyond its current state. His thought was more money would produce more students and more students would make his pastor happy. Mercy. I asked him to tell me the things in his ministry that were going great. The things he would miss if he left that church. I was trying to see into his heart beyond his obvious frustration. This is not what he wanted to hear from me.
After a couple of awkward minutes, he told me about the amazing youth in his ministry. How they loved to attend small groups and dig into God’s word. They loved to take part in local missions and even formed several local mission teams that serve every week. He told me about students who were coming to know Christ. Students who in the past would never step foot into a church. He went on to tell me about his students assuming leadership roles and even teaching some of the small groups. He concluded with a story of a teenage boy he recently helped when his family was falling apart. He was describing to me a ministry that was obviously embracing the Great Commandment. He was just blinded by his perception of success and failure.
My friend hit a home run and didn’t even know it. He was looking at all the wrong things to determine success and in the process took his eyes off the ball that cleared the fence. He lost it in the lights of the worlds definition of success. I told him that I could not help him. He was where he needed to be. He asked me what he should do now. My only advice to him; keep doing what you are doing. I told him he could leave his church with his world mentality of success and would be the same person in a different zip code. That would only lead to my friend calling me again in about two years with the same dilemma.
I want to embrace God’s standard for successful ministry. I want my personal journey to embrace the commandment to love God with everything I have. I want to love every students, whether it’s 500 or 5, that God brings my way. I want to please God more than I want to please my pastor and our church community. I want to hit that home run and not miss it.
Keep your eye on the ball. It is the only standard that matters.