What Moneyball Teaches About Church Leadership

January 11, 2013 — 2 Comments


To my surprise, the movie, Moneyball, was listed alongside the 23 books assigned to me for the fall months of my DMin program.

Starting Moneyball with my parents.

Starting Moneyball with my parents.

Procrastinating like a champ, I waited until this week to watch the movie, knowing that my class begins this Sunday.

Moneyball tells the story of the Oakland Athletics and their general manager, Billy Beane, as they make history in the 2002 Major League Baseball season. It’s also a great image of the challenge leaders face in the church.

Without giving away the entire story, indulge me a bit here. At the end of the 2001 season, Beane finds himself managing a team that constantly loses its best players because other teams actually have the money to pay for them. Frustrated by unfairness of the game, he decides to play differently.

During a meeting with his scouting team where they are trying to replace their star players, Beane tries to explain that they’ll never win a world series if they keep playing the same way. They need to fundamentally alter their approach to forming a team and recruiting new players and stop settling for a decent season.

Through a stroke of luck, Beane finds a new assistant manager who helps him understand the importance of player statistics. This new perspective influences Beane’s decisions for the types of new players he’s looking for.

In another meeting with his scouts, Beane suggests a group of players who meet his new criteria and the scouts are baffled. Each one is unable to follow Beane’s logic. “You can’t change the way baseball is played,” they say. “It’s always been done like this,” they continue to protest. “You need to trust our vast experience in the industry.”

Although the scouts have to follow through with Beane’s decision, they don’t follow his logic and Art Howe, the team’s coach, isn’t on board either.

The rest of the story follows Beane’s determination to play baseball differently than others, no matter what people say. Coworkers cuss him out. Rumors start forming that he’s in danger of losing his job. And Beane’s coach still won’t play the way he wants him to.

Finally, Beane puts his job on the line and forces the coach’s hand by trading away certain players so that the coach has to play by his rules. And the result changes the history of baseball.

What baseball has to stay to the church.

Just earlier this week I received an email newsletter from the Fuller Youth Institute that described some of the challenges our young people face as they grow up and leave the home. It said that only one in seven high school seniors who grew up in the church feel prepared by their church for what they face after graduation.

This is one of the many troubling statistics that have been released in recent years about how the church could do better in raising people in the faith. David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me describes some of these phenomena in great detail.

As we hear these reports, we frequently do what the scouts of the Oakland A’s did. We lower our expectations. We begin to settle. We believe that situations can’t be changed, that the current reality is just the way it is in the church.

Our church leadership boards often embrace a resistance to change similar to the scouts in Moneyball. We assume that since our experience has always been the same, there’s no better way to do things. We resist change that causes us to rethink how we operate on a fundamental level.

Sometimes significant change requires significant sacrifice.

Sometimes we have to be willing to let go of what we know in order to be open to new directions to which God might be leading us.

Allow me to take this from the abstract to the concrete with some possible examples.

  • We might need to consider letting go of a church program that drains our church of resources that could be spent better elsewhere.
  • We might need to spend more of our money to pay for stay instead of buildings and maintenance.
  • Our Sunday service might need to look different from what we are used to in order to reach new people.
  • We might start seeing types of people who we’ve never seen in church before – people who look, smell, act, and speak differently from us.
  • Our budget might need to be allocated differently than it has been in the past.
  • Maybe our paid staff will need to spend their time in different places, doing different work than they’ve done before.
  • Our nonpaid leaders might need to do work that was previously done by paid staff.

These are purely hypothetical. You know your context, and you know what needs to be done. If you don’t know, pray about it with leaders in your church and ask God to show you what needs to be done.

Moneyball was a powerful portrayal of the adaptive change we often need to do in order to survive in our changing culture. A quote from Brad Pitt in the movie sums it up: “Adapt or die.”

Describe a time when you’ve been force to “adapt or die.” How did you come to realize that you needed to do this?

What prevents us from making these needed changes?



Posts Twitter Facebook

I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • scrhill

    It’s difficult for a church to do this, but I think it is a sign of a healthy church if they can! Great post. I want to see the movie now!

  • Heath Benjamin Rost

    This happened to me recently with my job. I was putting my mental health and my faith to the test by staying in the position–and when my physical well-being was challenged I couldn’t do it anymore. I walked into the director’s office and handed in my resignation that day. Best day of my life.