A friend sent a link to a story from a book called Making Paper Airplanes. There’s a short video of a 6th grade class who studied aerodynamics and was then challenged to make paper airplanes and see which went the farthest. The winner was a kid who employed out-of-the-box thinking. I won’t spoil it for you–it’s a 6-minute video you can see here. It reminded me of two things I saw on TV growing up. Both represented out-of-the-box thinking, one planned by the shows’ producers and one unplanned.
The first was a show-ending challenge on Beat the Clock. A couple, wielding one stick each had to stack up three milk cartons (rectangular solids). One carton was standing up to start. Week after week, no one could stand the other two upright, pick them up and put them on top of each other in the time allotted. Finally, a couple started by knocking over the standing carton. Then they simply lined up the three cartons on the table, then stood them all upright at once. It was the “school solution,” but it was the only thing that worked. For the contestants, it required out-of-the-box thinking.
The other was on another game show, and a lady could receive up to 500 silver dollars in increments of 100 if she could lift the bucket they were in and put it on a higher shelf. The bucket was designed with a vertical handle, and the starting position was higher than a normal table. I’m sure the producers, choosing a woman, figured the most that she could lift was 200 silver dollars. The lady was a single mother and needed the money. She let all 500 silver dollars go into the bucket. When she tried to lift the bucket in the prescribed way she couldn’t. But she needed the money! So she finally realized that by putting her elbow into the bucket before grasping the vertical handle, she could lift the bucket out. The emcee mumbled, “Well done. That’s not what we had in mind!”
So winning by creative, out-of-the-box thinking is the theme.
Where do we need to apply this? Where does the church need to apply this? It seems counter-intuitive to get bigger by thinking smaller, but that’s what needs to happen. For most pastors, it’s way out-of-the-box. Instead they work on streamlining their services, making them the best they can be. Now I’m not against well-done Sunday services. I know some churches who do Sunday very well. But a good Sunday service, even the best Sunday service, won’t get the job done. Jesus had some pretty spectacular services. He fed over 5,000 people at one of them! But we’re here, following Jesus today, because he invested in 12 men only and told them to reproduce what they had experienced. A non-spectacular, and by today’s practices, an out-of-the-box ministry.
Yesterday I quoted a pastor friend of mine who described us as “ants in the colony.” It’s not my job to change the world, but it is my job to play the role God has chosen for me.
Another picture that’s coming into focus with respect to playing our role and pacing comes from The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I haven’t quite finished it yet, and even though we know the ending, there is still excitement and suspense. Mainly, however, it’s the story of the hard work that goes into putting together an 8-man rowing crew. Each man not only has to pull his own weight (literally!), he has to do it in concert with the coxswain and the other seven rowers.
“Be strong; do the work” from 1 Chronicles 28.10, 20, and Haggai 2.4 certainly applies. It’s my job to be strong (see Ephesians 6.10 and 2 Timothy 2.1) and do the work. For example, invest in others from 2 Timothy 2.2. But Boys in the Boat reminds us of pacing as well. We are to “run with endurance” (Hebrews 12.1). In every race, the crew had to be fast and pace themselves, conserving energy so they could pass the other boats at the end, finishing strong.
I think I’m called to do the same: maintain a life rhythm of work and rest, doing my share, pulling together with others.
PS For another set of lessons from Boys in the Boat, please see this excellent article from Leadership Journal.
June and I both turn 70 in 2016, and we are entering what will most likely be our last decade of ministry. (Although Navigator Jim Downing is still going strong at age 102!) Anyway, I sometimes look back on our early days around The Navigators in the late 1960s, and we thought that by now spiritual multiplication would have “worked” and we’d be “done” by now! What will motivate us to keep going for the next 10 years and beyond? And how will we pace ourselves?
For example, we want to create a life rhythm that rules out overbooking and builds in periods of rest. One pastor told me a while back, “Fatigue is the price you pay for trying to change the world.” That sounded good at the time, but upon reflection, our working ourselves to death is not what God requires to change the world.
With respect to our early belief that the mission should have been accomplished by now, I read recently in Joshua that while a lot of land had been claimed (Joshua 21.43 – 45), there were still more enemies to defeat (Joshua 23.4 – 13). There will always be work. There will always be needs. Another pastor told me in response to these observations from Joshua, “We don’t change the world. Jesus does that. We are just ants in the colony.” I like that.
It’s OK to create a life rhythm with built-in rest periods. We want to finish strong, not burn out before the finish line! So we will pace ourselves while still focusing on the work that God has given all of us to do. I’ll be writing about that over the next days.