(This is post 4 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church.)
Decisions can often be made in a vacuum in business, professional sports clubs, and churches. They lack information from a variety of sources that allows them to make appropriate decisions.
The authors of Soccernomics highlight the French soccer club Olympique Lyon, a club that in 1987 was unknown and unloved even by local residents, but now consistently finds itself competing in the Champions League as one of the sixteen best teams in Europe. The rise of this soccer club is largely attributed to their management over their coaching and Soccernomics highlights their use of the wisdom of crowds in decision-making when choosing their players, which is large part of the success of a soccer club.
“Lyon’s method for choosing players is so obvious and smart that it’s surprising that all clubs don’t use it. The theory of the “wisdom of crowds” says that if you aggregate many different opinions from a diverse group of people, you are more likely to arrive at the best opinion than if you just listen to one specialist…If you ask a diverse set of gamblers to bet on, say the outcome of a presidential election, the average of their bets is likely to be right. (Gambling markets have proved excellent predictors of all sorts of outcomes.) The wisdom of crowds fails when the components of the crowd are not diverse enough. This is often the case in American sports. But in European soccer, opinions tend to come from many different countries, and that helps ensure diversity…
At most clubs the manager is treated as a sort of divinely inspired monarch who gets to decide everything until he is sacked. Then the next manager clears out his predecessor’s signings at a discount.” Soccernomics p. 68-69
Lyon’s stability of leadership and method of incorporating a number of voices when selecting a player provides a consistent strategy that leads to success regardless of the manager.
The wisdom of crowds involves incorporating team leadership and cultivating a collective vision. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the challenging process for guiding people toward a common mission.
Could the American church benefit from using the wisdom of crowds?
The church tends to lack this mentality and can often operate like an English soccer club, where one or two individuals are the divinely inspired voice to make each and every decision. The result for the church is often copying the latest trends, adopting someone else’s methods, and doing little in the way of applying biblical principles to the local community of God.
The Bible speaks to a different way that actually precedes the theory of the wisdom of crowds and speaks to the value of seeking counsel and plurality of leadership. Proverbs 15:22 says “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” Proverbs 20:18 “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.”
In the New Testament, the church in Acts, the instructions of the authors of the Epistles, and the method of Jesus was a plurality of leadership. It was 12 apostles that Jesus sent out, it was different gifts that Paul pointed to in Ephesus as the equippers of the saints of the church, and elders were always to be appointed to lead in the church. The wisdom of crowds appears to be God’s idea and design.
While the American church agrees with this, it has adopted the CEO model of the business world pointing to the idea of ‘first among equals’ in leadership which tends to place final authority in the hands of one. 9Marks, an organization focused on building healthy churches, has some good thoughts on this here.
While there is inevitably a first among equals that has to make the final decision, does that authority come from the teachings of scripture or from the position? While there can be a specialist on a church staff in community, preaching, mercy & justice, counseling, and even vision, that does not negate the wisdom from other members of that staff and church. The specialist actually improves their ability to lead by listening to other voices, diminishing their pride in their own ideas to let the wisdom of crowds shape a better path going forward.
Sounds like a great idea, but how would this practically function in a church, a small group, or other ministry?
Develop a Collective Vision: Come with a Plan & Open Hands
I can speak to how I’m seeking to incorporate this into my leadership and in leading a small group. I’m a internal processor who likes to think through every aspect of a plan, develop a strategy and assume it’s bulletproof, but as I’ve come to find out (shockingly) my ideas are not always comprehensive, complete or perfect.
So as we enter into a new season of Community Groups, I’ve chosen to solicit feedback and create environments to utilize the wisdom of crowds. I still have a plan, a rather thorough one, but I come with open hands to listen to how the plan may shape out in a particular area or to see what holes I may be blind to. This is kind of a first draft of a vision if you will. Effort is put into it, but I’m not holding it so tight that it cannot evolve to the ideas and wisdom of other invested members and leaders.
On our church staff, I’ve become known as someone that develops lengthy documents on ideas because I want the document to be the beginning of a brainstorming process. From there it’s been a hard, but good process to let my ideas be shaped, critiqued, and molded by the wisdom of others.
For our community groups, I’ve set up a community group roundtable dinners with different sets of leaders to allow them to ask questions, solicit feedback on what they hear when the vision is set before them, what areas are unclear and how they see this vision being accomplished in their local community. These are often refreshing times for me to listen to what is going on in each community, hear their questions and challenges to incorporate these ideas in shaping the final direction of the vision.
In our community groups, I encourage our leaders to think through how to incorporate our core values of Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, & Prayerful Mission practically in their local neighborhood. After they think through this, I encourage them to discuss these ideas with their community, invite their feedback and form a collective vision and understanding going forward. This collective vision process creates ownership and momentum towards the entire community being on board to implement their vision and not the dictated vision from above.
Do we believe God has gifted every believer or is that just rhetoric?
For the American church, and likely the global church, we have to confront whether we truly believe what the scriptures say about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Testament clearly states that every person who has placed their faith in Christ and seeks to live their life following His ways is empowered by God the Holy Spirit with gifts that are used to build up the body of Christ. Every church leader cognitively believes this, but not every church leader practically believes this.
The professionalization of the ministry and mission of God tends to lead to a separation between church staff and church attenders. The staff has been given by God to spend their energy listening to God and forming a plan, but incorporating and empowering the members of the local church to shape, finalize and join the mission of God to love, care for, and speak into their neighborhood with the gospel.
The wisdom of crowds is not merely a sociological idea, it’s the design and gift of God as He gives the church a community to establish their collective vision for extending the good news of Christ to their city. When the church moves beyond rhetoric and begins listening to the empowered believers in their church, it will benefit greatly. It does not negate the value of church staff, but rather enhances their leadership.