You want to improve your game, right?

You want to improve your game, right?

Play ball! John Sexton, the president of New York University, thinks baseball is much more than a sport. It must be since students are on waiting lists hoping to take his baseball seminar at NYU. Baseball, according to Sexton, has a “power to teach, inspire, and transport us,” (Baseball As A Road To God, p 126.). It can even help us develop a deeper understanding about life and our relationship with God. I wonder if baseball might help us develop a better understanding of leadership that is needed now in regional council work with multiple congregations and ministries.

Imagine for a moment that your council or presbytery is like a baseball organization. What if you loved baseball more than anything in the whole world? Your mission in life was to experience the fullness of baseball in all its glory and enjoy it forever. But even more, you wanted to be the very best baseball player you could be.

Question: To whom in your baseball organization would you turn to improve your skills? 

There may be many good choices.

How about your fans? Maybe those with the loudest voices can help improve your game. There’s nothing like the passion and energy of fans. Inspiring! But even with the celebratory cheering the best fans offer during good and bad games, they cannot improve a player’s competency or skill. We need great fans, but they won’t help you achieve your goal to be the very best baseball player you could be. Not a good choice.

How about other players? There are clear value advantages in peer learning. It is essential that you exercise good discernment as you choose which peers to intentionally learn from and with. You could improve your game by paying attention to great players, modeling effective behaviors, or joining in guided and healthy mutual support and encouragement. But other players know how to focus best on their own skill improvement. As awesome as their experience and ability may be, they often lack the skill to train and teach others. Other players can only take you as far as they have gone themselves. Let’s keep looking in our organization for someone who really knows the game, and how to help you improve your's.

Perhaps the official scorer could help? Professional  baseball's start in Chicago in 1869 spread baseball's gospel to other cities quickly. The game attracted all types of people to play and welcomed a diversity of gifts into the team organization. Major team positions in a ball club include the batter, runner, pitcher, and umpire. But from  the founding of the first professional baseball association, called the National League of Professional Clubs, in 1876, there was one more position that was essential to the game, the scorer.

The baseball rules to not require the official scorer to catch fly balls, but the scorer must catch all the details during a game in play., and report the stats to various authorities such as the team and league president, and the national office. The scorecard has remained essentially unchanged since the 1870's and while the metrics captured are important for historical, comparative, and competitive reasons, the statistical data that is recorded would not be useful if your objective was to improve your game. Yes, you could know from the official scorer's record what position you played on a certain date and how many runs you earned, compared to last year or other players. More useful data would correlate your performance to how you ran, or why you ran the way you did, or what the outcome was when you stole second while the 6th batter is up at bat, or insight into your exercise and preparation regimen. But this deeper behavioral data would not come from a scorer. Their mission is not to improve your game, but to account for your game, The scorer knows the details of play with precision, but those details aren't going to help you play your best. Keep looking for the right place on your team to be the best baseball player you can be.

Would you go to the umpire? After all, the umpire knows baseball better than anyone. The National Umpire Empire Association sets the rules for their work and they know how to apply the rules of the game on the basis of experience and knowledge. This special role qualifies the umpire to decide issues as they arise. In the Major League Baseball rule book is this advice for umpires:

"When you enter a ballpark your sole duty is to umpire a ball game as the representative of baseball. Do not allow criticism to keep you from studying out bad situations that may lead to protest the games. Carry your rulebook. It is better to consult the rules and hold up the game 10 minutes to decide a knotty problem than to have a game thrown out on protest and replayed." (MLB Official Baseball Rules, p 86.)

(This sounds very familiar to us in the Presbyterian Church. Just substitute the "rulebook" of baseball for our "Book of Order" and re-read the guidance.)

The teams accept the umpire as qualified. Otherwise, the likely result is some level of contention or fight. You couldn’t even start a professional baseball game without an umpire on the field. Umpires are essential to the baseball organization, but I wonder. If you asked an umpire to help you improve your game, how would that work for you?

For all the value the umpire offers, and the knowledge the umpire represents, it is likely that the umpire cannot play baseball; at least not at the level of a minor or major league player. While the umpire can call a strike, the umpire can’t swing the bat. The umpire can tell you how much a bat should weigh, and what material it should be made from. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees’ Louisville Slugger bat was unique, but model P72 had to meet the standards set by the umpire’s association.

Do you think Jeter mastered his swing by consulting with an umpire? Probably not.

The umpire can’t catch a ball, or run a base. The umpire isn’t trained in game strategy, but may quickly tell if a particular play is out of order or breaks the rules. Though the umpire observes thousands of games, and is just as much a lover of the game as the fans and the other players, the umpire’s job is not to cheer, or to encourage the players to do their best. The umpire is there to ensure that the game is played decently and in order. Where else would you turn in a baseball organization to help you to be the very best baseball player you could be?

What you need is a coach, if your goal is to play the very best game possible. In a baseball organization there are a diversity of gifts and each gift is a unique role essential to the magic and ineffability of the game, as John Sexton describes it. Fans cheer. Fellow players encourage. Umpires apply the rules of the game. But it is only the coach that offers the possibility that you will improve your competencies as a baseball player. You would be wise to seek out the best coach for the skills you wanted to improve. Only the coach has the experience to train and teach you to go beyond what you might think is possible. The coach is a baseball practitioner that excels at building your player skills.

In professional baseball there are many types of coaches including the Bench Coach, First Base Coach, Third Base Coach, Hitting Coach, Pitching Coach, Bullpen Coach, Strength & Conditioning Coach, and many assistants and trainers, too. In fact, in a baseball organization, coaches are the most valuable asset to a team after the players themselves. Without effective coaching, even the best players won’t achieve their potential.

Coaches provide competent and complete one-on-one instruction that leads to improved skills, increased confidence, and breakthrough performance.

Presbyterian Baseball- Stated Clerks and Presbytery Leaders, Perfect Together. Let’s use the lens of a baseball organization to understand the distinct functions you require to achieve your mission. Presbyterian Baseball correlates the function of a baseball umpire and scorer to the that of the council’s stated clerk function, while the baseball coach could be correlated to that of the presbytery leader function. This, of course, is not a perfect correlation, but it can be useful.

A stated clerk as the ecclesiastical officer of a council is expected to capture the official records of the council, interpret the constitution in a wide variety of circumstances, and fulfill other technical duties that vary from council to council. Of course, the stated clerk's function can be just as flexible and adaptable as the presbytery leader's to serve the mission of the council. In fact, some colleagues I know serve with the title stated clerk, but also are designated with a coaching function, too. They work right along side another staff person who is titled the presbytery leader.

Baseball can help us imagine and develop our presbytery or council as a functional, not a divisional organization.

Titles are secondary in importance. The priority to embrace is to establish absolute clarity on what are the jobs to be done by each staff so that their role responsibilities, authority, and accountability align with the clear mission of the organization.

In Presbyterian Baseball, the presbytery leader, like stated clerks, can also be flexible and adaptable, fulfilling a range of functions that require specialized training and experience. There are those in the presbytery leader role who do not perform the function of coach. Their function is crafted differently.

When the coaching function is not effectively present in an organization, the competency of the pastoral leadership cannot be optimal.

In some councils, one person serves in both traditional roles and tries to perform both functions well. In dual-role contexts, where one person serves as the stated clerk and the presbytery leader, even more clarity is required to ensure that the essential and distinct functions of clerk and coach are delivered effectively.

The distinction is in the primary function performed, not the person or position title that fulfills that function. The functions of umpire-scorer/stated clerk and coach/presbytery leader require, however, very different skills, competencies, abilities, and calling. Both functions are essential and each function is distinct. The jobs they each get done are different. And most important, since they require different kinds of skills and competencies to perform them effectively, a presbytery or council needs to pay attention not simply to who does what, or what role is assigned in what way, but gain greater clarity on what functions the presbytery requires and in what ratio to achieve the presbytery's mission.

Which function do you call upon the most, umpire-scorer/stated clerk function, or coach/presbytery leader function Here are five questions designed to provoke deeper thinking about how the functional work emerges in your presbytery leadership.

  1. Which function correlates most closely with achieving your mission in the world?
  2. Consider the most effective, satisfying ministry experience. Which function added value that resulted in that experience?
  3. In times of conflict or anxiety, which function is most often sought? What happened?
  4. In the past year, which function most frequently improved your ministry skills and competencies, versus which function did you experience as improving other aspects of your ministry?
  5. As you imagine a new and hopeful future in your work with increased energy and ministry satisfaction, what function do you need to be more intentional in acquiring to achieve your mission?

For example, if your council depends on the function of the umpire-scorer/stated clerk to resolve conflicts, you would likely be focusing on technical, ecclesiastical, or judicial fixes. In conflict, does your organization defer to mediation or litigation? Presbyterians rightly refer to the Confessions and the Form of Government to order themselves. Understanding the applicability of these documents is well-suited to the work of the stated clerk.

However, if your goal was to improve your competencies as a healthy and effective missional leader, or to explore more innovative ways as a pastor to engage in the community, neither the Confessions nor the Form of Government would be of much help to you except in providing foundational principles, boundaries, and a judicial process when needed.

While many leaders with the stated clerk title are also gifted in pastoral and missional leadership, the umpire-scorer/stated clerk’s primary function is to build the capacity of the organization by interpreting the rules, not improving missional skills. Blurring this functional outcome by removing the functional distinctions of clerk work and coach work

One of the coach/presbytery leader’s primary function is to build the capacity of the organization by improving skills and competencies of its leaders to achieve their mission.

Historically the function of a stated clerk as scribe, parliamentarian, and keeper of the records has changed somewhat. The role of the presbytery executive established in the 1970’s has transformed the most. For example, as General Presbyter, I try to pay attention to the wellness and effectiveness of the entire presbytery. The coaching function is part of my work so that pastoral leaders who want to improve skills, increase their confidence, and achieve breakthrough performance have the resources to do so. This deeper coaching work is designed to be adaptive, innovative, and generative.

Our councils require the best and most competent individuals who will deliver the clerk and coach function that the presbytery requires, and there must be an intentional balance is the ratio of clerk and coach functions. When the umpire-scorer clerk function is disproportionately operating in a presbytery, the mission of the presbytery can become disproportionately focused on inside "baseball". 

Consider where your focus and recent organizational experience along continuums. Here are a few to get started. Consider the functions operating in your organization and its influence: procedure<>possible, ecclesiastical<>missional, internal<>external, church-focus<>community-focus, litigation<>mediation, conflict-focus<>collaborative-focus, self-validating<>self-correcting, rules<>agreements, efforts<>outcomes, intention<>impact, control<>invitation, and there are many other ways to describe the way resources, values, and priorities are determined in your organization. The capacity of the organization to grow and change is directly correlated to what functions may be over-functioning and require a re-alignment or re-tuning.

As colleagues in ministry, stated clerks and presbytery leaders have important, complementary, jobs to do which is best expressed in collaboration that serves the entire presbytery.

Our communities deserve the very best and competent pastoral leaders. The coaching function is therefore vitally important if you expect your leaders to improve their skills and competencies. Whoever on your staff "coaches" or manages the coaching function, its probably not a good idea to confuse coaching with the important but distinct functions of administration, accounting, or even clerking.

Your communities deserve the very best and competent pastoral leaders.

Choose wisely You love Jesus Christ more than anything in the whole world. Your mission in life is to experience the fullness of the Spirit in all its glory and enjoy God forever. But even more, you want to experience greater congregational and community impact by improving your skills and competencies as a disciple and neighbor and pastor.

Question: To whom in your organization will you turn to improve your skills? Do that, today.

The heart of the matter for all good coaching is captured in this: 

"You cannot transmit wisdom or insight to someone else – the seed is already there. A good teacher is someone who touches that seed so it can wake up, sprout and grow.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

If you sign up for John Sexton’s class at NYU, you’d likely learn much more about Presbyterian Baseball. Or, you could watch the world series. Your community is cheering for you! So am I.