Know Where You Play – Know How You Win

by Chris Goldman


“You have to know where you play and know how you win.”
~ Lynn Anderson, Founder – Hope Network

When Lynn Anderson made that statement to our mentoring group, it sunk deep into my leadership psyche. To be clear, Lynn wasn’t reducing Kingdom leadership to sporting competitions. Rather, he was reminding us of our greatest struggle (a struggle we too often lose sight of):

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

When we are truly on mission for the Kingdom, we are not playing church, competing with fellow believers, or attempting to be the biggest, greatest, or most powerful. Rather, we have set our sights on the greater vision for the Kingdom: Transforming this world through the love of God and the gift of Jesus Christ.

On Mission, On Point

This spring of 2024, I’ve invested significant time interviewing eight different mission teams positioned around the world. These mission teams utilize a wide variety of strategic approaches to accomplish the mission of the church. One began by feeding AIDS orphans in a Kenyan slum. Another provides hospitality for Christian pastors who are being trained in Turkey while on vacation from Iran and Afghanistan. This allows them to be pastorally equipped to lead underground churches in those nations. Yet another is a Business As Mission team using coffee farming as a legal inroad for Christ in a communist country. The creative stories go on and on.

Each of these missionaries is committed to sharing the gospel. They are staying on mission and on point. However, most of these strategies wouldn’t even be considered for their supporting churches in the United States. Why? Why would we fund something somewhere else and not even consider these strategic opportunities right where we live?

Here’s what I think: Creative approaches require a difficult realization many don’t want to face: WHERE WE PLAY AND HOW WE WIN HAS COMPLETELY CHANGED. The acceleration of church decline has our heads spinning and leadership teams squabbling over nostalgic approaches that simply won’t work anymore. Many want to restore what they believe to be the glory years of American churches forgetting much of the competitive ugliness of those “glory years.” What can help us get back on track?

A New Willingness Is Required
    We must first accept that we live in a mission field and our survival will require adapting to a new reality that demands new approaches.
    There are many healthy, strategic approaches to reaching the world around us.  Too often, we only gravitate toward those approaches that are most familiar/comfortable to us. Perhaps God can use every approach, in every place…whenever God‘s people decide to work together. What we encourage and support on the mission field, should be something we are willing to consider right at home. More than that, the flexibility we extend to our missionaries must be extended to our ministry teams right at home.
    We must be willing to fail to discover what is effective.
    We tend to be overly judgmental when our members or staff try something and it’s a flop. Why? We primarily view failures as poor stewardship instead of strategic attempts to learn. When an attempt to reach people fails, leadership teams have an opportunity to learn and take their next step forward. However, the fear of failure goes hand in hand with risk-averse thinking. As one elder told me, “You wouldn’t know a good day if you didn’t have a few bad ones.” Good point, AND we won’t know what is effective unless we’re willing to experience what isn’t effective.
    We must be willing to consider the possibility that our traditional metrics for spiritual health have never been in alignment with God’s economy.
    If we’re Biblically honest, we know that God’s never been too keen on numerical success for spiritual evaluation. Too often we determine what worked simply by the number of people in the seats and dollars in the bank. Missionaries know they are often planting seeds that won’t produce a harvest until after they are dead and gone…but they keep planting seeds. Many of our churches are NEVER AGAIN going to burst with numerical success. The sooner we can accept this reality, the sooner we can begin the work God needs us to do in one of the fastest-growing mission fields in the world – the United States of America.

Where we play, has never changed. We are still struggling with an adversary who is not flesh and blood. How we win, must always change because what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow.


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