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“It’s a 27-Out Game”
by Tom Goodman
June 23, 2005

I’m not the first guy to use sports analogies for leadership lessons, and I learned one this week from the great Steve Smith, the head coach who’s done so much for the Baylor baseball program.

Congrats to the Texas Longhorns on an exciting finish to an evenly-matched game against the Baylor Bears in last night’s College World Series game.  Texas was unable to find a way to beat Baylor during any of the regular season or tournament games, but they rose to the challenge in postseason and now the Longhorns return to their familiar spot in the national championship games this weekend.  As BU alums, it’s too bad Diane and I won’t be watching Baylor in those games, but we’ll pull for our fellow Big 12 conference team along with all the Texas fans in our church.

As close as yesterday’s game was, it’s Tuesday’s game that Baylor fans keep talking about.  There’s a leadership lesson for Hillcrest in that game.

Tuesday’s game against Tulane was one Baylor had to win to stay alive.  That’s why it was so disheartening to see Tulane score six in the first thirty minutes of play.  In fact, for the first six innings, the little scorebox in the upper left corner of the television screen stayed at 7-0.  Then, in the last three innings, Baylor started advancing runners around the bases.  Tulane’s frustrated coach went through four pitchers, but none of them could shut down the resurgence.  In the ninth, with the score at 7-5, Baylor crossed home plate three times, keeping them alive for another day of the College World Series.

During the first six innings with the scoreboard at 7-0, Baylor coach Steve Smith looked unfazed.  He later told the media, “It's a 27-out game.  You can't hold the ball.  You can't take a knee,” referring to the way football teams will control the clock in order to protect a lead.  Baylor kept putting the ball in play, kept working runners around the diamond, kept up their defense so that Tulane really couldn’t do anything with their bats after the second inning.  In the end, Baylor came out on top.

Okay, this isn’t the sports page—and you know it isn’t the Statesman’s sports page because you’ve just read more words about Baylor in this article than any coverage the Statesman has given to Baylor all season.

But I digress.  As I said, this isn’t a sports page—it’s a leadership e-newsletter.  And there’s a leadership lesson in Steve Smith’s approach against Tulane.  Progress in a church, like winning a baseball game, isn’t determined by the early status.  Keep your eyes off the scoreboard and keep working the fundamentals.  Where the scoreboard says you’re at is no predictor of where you’ll finish.  Focusing on the score can create desperation or despair, either of which leads to failure.  Instead, focus on the flawless execution of the particular thing you have to do right in front of you.  You string enough of those executions together, and you come out on top, no matter what the early score is.

How does that apply to Hillcrest?  Well, we have a mixed record on the “scoreboard” after my second “inning” as your coach.  While we’ll end the service year in August with a great number of new members and a record number of baptisms, our average attendance is down about thirty from the year I arrived.  While eighty-five percent of a well-attended meeting approved our Sunday night schedule change, some folks are still struggling with it.  On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve talked with a few who are frustrated that our changes aren’t happening fast enough.

When churches and ball clubs get behind in the “score,” aggressive desperation or passive despair can get the best of them.  We need have Steve Smith’s attitude:  “Hey, this is only the second inning.  Don’t make decisions by the scoreboard.  Work your fundamentals and just do a good job on the particular thing right in front of you.  We’ve got a whole lot of game in front of us.”

It’s amazing what you can learn from a dusty diamond.  Keep up the good work!


Note:  There will be no LeaderLines next Thursday while I am on vacation. LeaderLines will return on July 7.

VBS Outreach Kits and Outreach Party.  There are two great ways to spread the word about our exciting Sunday night Vacation Bible School.  First, pick up an Outreach Kit and follow the simple directions to reach out in love to your friends, relatives and neighbors.  Second, join us this Sunday evening, June 26, for an Outreach Party at Hillcrest.  We’ll meet in the gym at 6:30 p.m. for instructions, and then you will be released to blanket the immediate neighborhood with flyers.  After an hour of prayer walking and flyer distribution, we’ll all meet back at the church to celebrate.  This will be our evening service program for June 26.

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