This summer two of my favorite writers, Bill Simmons (a sports writer) and Malcolm Gladwell (author of Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers), came together on ESPN.com to do an email exchange (see it here) covering a variety of topics. One subject they discussed was an article Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker (see it here) on underdogs and how a basketball strategy known as the “full-court press” gives underdogs a chance to win even if they are not the strongest team on the court. Gladwell asked Simmons if he thought the press would work in the NBA, and Simmons said unequivocally “yes” if an NBA team would ever get creative with their defensive strategies. He went on to say, “The bigger point (is): NBA teams rarely, if ever, think outside the box.” Sounds like the Church today.
Our staff has been having some brutal conversations since attending the Willow Creek Leadership Summit a few weeks ago at Baylor University. One thing that is painfully obvious to us all is that these unprecedented times call for a shift in strategy. For a long time Christianity in America was a dominant force (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much), and over time we became the fat cat. We forgot that what we have always been called to do and be is a loving force that operates life on life. In basketball terms, we started playing sloppy “zone defense” and thinking that someone else will cover for our lack of personal effort. “Someone in here will sign-up to serve for that.” “Someone will reach my neighbor.” “Hopefully the government will help out with AIDS in Africa.” After getting it handed to us over and over, I think it is time we take Gladwell’s advice and switch back to the full-court press.
The question is, “What would a church that full-court presses look like?” because few of us have ever even seen it played in our day and age. I think it would mean that we would have to have a fundamental shift in our most basic exercises that are currently in place.
First, getting back to the full-court press would mean each person is accountable to get “life on life.” Everybody knows that sweeping change does not come in masses, but through personal relationships and personal responsibility. Yet so often we still say, “If the government would just pass a law to reform this” or “If my church would just start a program to help with that problem in my city.” True change can happen, but only if you take responsibility for affecting people you are called to, in basketball terms, “guard.”
Full-court pressing also means that we have to be able to call for help from our other teammates when we get burned. The reason so few people press the whole game is that it doubles the amount of space you are personally accountable for defending. This makes it easier for a person to get by you or for your weaknesses to be exposed. So we have to be able to call for help from teammates we trust if we go to this strategy.
Finally, we have to be in shape if we are going to change our philosophy. This means working harder in “practice” and being mentally and physically tougher. We cannot give it up if “the other team” goes on a scoring run. We’ve got to work harder to know Scripture, stay blameless and have endurance. This means turning off the TV so that you can read Scripture. This means getting off of Facebook so you can hang out with the person who’s status you are reading. This means being less disciplined in Fantasy Football and more disciplined in prayer. This means sitting on your front porch rather than your back porch. And this means fully engaging in your family and not just in your job.
I think times are calling for us to play disciplined “defense” in order to see the sweeping change that everybody, Christian and non-Christian alike, is looking for. Everyone should want less war, less poverty, less disease (emotionally and physically) and more love, joy and peace. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to all of these significant issues we face in our day. I also have no doubt that if these changes are to come about, we must experience a philosophical shift that forces us to stop playing zone and begin a full-court press.