The Olympics are over but the journey to bring forth an Olympic spirit of focused intent has only just begun.
Like most of the world, we had Olympic fever in our house, and my three year old daughter loved watching the women’s Gymnastics (she called them “ballerinas” which speaks to their grace, I think).
But the video moment that I felt most inspired by was on the all-around team event, there was an end-of-the-beam shot watching Gabby Douglas do a flip on the balance beam. It was in slow motion and you see that she is 100% focused on the beam the entire flip. While the rest of her body makes a 360 degree motion, her focus is on the beam for almost 280 degrees of that jump, turning her head at only the last second and with frightening speed to revert her vision back to the beam.
It was fascinating to watch Douglas focus so intently on the unyielding block of wood that would either grant her balance and another attempt at a point, or would sit in silent judgment as she fell off of it.
Douglas’s focus on the beam makes me think about what we focus on in the local church. Focus is a huge part of ministry, especially in a local church setting, in at least three ways:
- What you focus on is what matters to your whole ministry. What you set your sights on as your goal has an impact on every decision you make: personnel, messages from the pulpit, lessons in the classrooms, money given to particular mission, and where your ministry location is.
- What you count in your metrics is what matters to you. For those of us in denominational systems fixated on people in the pews and dollars in the plates, then that’s how our ministries are oriented. By naming what you focus on and what the evaluation criteria is, then you help focus the work towards those goals or numbers.
- Every focus leads to neglect or betterment of others. One church revitalization program uses the image of a rain barrel filling up with water. Whatever hole in the slats of the rain barrel that is lowest to the ground is the one the water will leak out of. You can seal all the other holes in the barrel, but if you don’t fix that lowest hole, it will never fill up. Choosing wisely what to focus on impacts all the other ministries in positive or negative ways.
Diffusion of Focus
But equally consequential is what happens when a lack of focus takes place.
- Mission drift is what happens when a church ministry strays too far from its purpose. When a good thing becomes too broad of an effort and it loses its footing. When a focus on the crowd or the results changes the intent, then a great and healthy ministry can fall off the beam.
- This doesn’t mean an expansion of mission or ministry is always bad. I have a committee in my church that is dedicated to ensuring our local church was open and affirming to LGBTQ persons. They do that–but they also support and have conversations about how we welcome people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and other intersections with welcoming people. They haven’t lost sight of their focus; rather, their living out of that focus extended it to others who need it.
Focus helps avoid the drift, but too narrow a focus misses out on opportunities to grow the vision.
Called to be Superhuman? Or just super-focused?
Churches–small and medium-sized–often believe that they are simply unable to attain the goals they want because of location, lack of resources, and other factors. But I believe most of them simply need to cultivate the ability to focus like an Olympian.
The joke is that it would be nice to see an average swimmer swimming in the last lane so that we could see how absolutely dominant Katie Ledecky is in the pool and how far behind the average swimmer really is. It’s funny because we are tempted to see the Olympians as unattainable, untouchable exemplars of particular human abilities…at least for a time.
We do the same outside of the Olympics as well. When David Bowie and Prince died, they were named as irreplaceable. When Muhammed Ali died, he died as the Greatest and no boxer will ever surpass his infamy. We are tempted to say these were nearly Platonic ideals of people who we could never be.
But I believe Prince, Bowie, Ali, Biles, Douglas, Ledecky, and other exemplars of humanity are not exceptions – they are any of us that chose to focus and commit far beyond what the average human expects themselves to be able to do.
A friend wrote on Facebook about how we are to best engage exemplars of humanity in this way:
“[The Olympians,] Prince, and Bowie are not aliens or exceptions. They are us, fearless…They are simply a version of us if we were brave enough to to believe in ourselves. Brave enough to follow our hearts (and our heads) and be someone unique and individual. We *can* be like them.”
The superpower of these exemplars of humanity comes not from their genetics, the hours of practice each day, the nutrition, the drive and determination…all those stem from an ability to focus on what matters to them.
And that means that any congregation that focuses as well as they can also has to potential to achieve Olympic heights, no matter their size, location, or context.
I hope the ending of the Olympics brings a sense of encouragement to you instead of a sense of “well, that’s impossible.”
- We can certainly choose to live as if there’s never going to be another duo of Simones or another Maroulis, and that all the musical geniuses of history are now dead. Or even worse: that the church of yesterday was the heyday, and we live only in the sloping shadow of its success.
- Or we can choose to live life with the expectation that those people should be the norm, and that churches of successful ministries and missions should be the norm, and that we all have that kind of potential.
It takes focus. It takes relentless, pounding focus to overcome the diffusion of talent, ability, vision, and wasted time that is the norm in church culture. But since Olympians come from anywhere and everywhere on the international stage, so can the next great revival and revitalization or simply a transformed life come…from wherever you are.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading and your shares on social media.