The Right Reverend Scott Anson Benhase
Tenth Bishop of Georgia
Jesus said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Moneyball is one of the movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year. It’s the story of how Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s Baseball team, dramatically changed the way he evaluated and then chose baseball players for his team. You see, the Oakland A’s are a small market team. That means he had a much smaller budget to field an excellent team than say the NY Yankees, who had more than four times his revenue. He couldn’t compete for star players with his small budget. So, rather than trying to field a team as big budget teams did, which he couldn’t afford, he decided to play the game differently. As he said, he decided to adapt to the game’s realities.
The result was he fielded winning teams who were highly competitive in the league. But the truth is the Oakland A’s never have won the World Series since he changed the way he led the team with a smaller payroll. In fact, the Red Sox borrowed his approach for evaluating player talent, and because they had the money, two years later, they won the World Series.
Still, Billy Beane has shown leaders the importance of adapting to new realities and being willing to change the way things are done. He went against the conventional wisdom that measured a baseball player’s worth to his team; a wisdom that for over 100 years said it had to be a certain way. That, of course, is similar to the seven last words of the church: “We’ve never done it that way before.”
In this last year, your Diocesan Council and the Diocesan Staff have been willing to engage in creative adaptation. We’ve found many ways to save money, to do more with less, and still accomplish more for the mission of the Church in Georgia. I’m pleased to say that, for second consecutive year, the Diocesan budget has ended in the black. And even though our revenue has been essentially flat for two years, we have greatly increased the services and support we offer the clergy and congregations of our Diocese. In other words, we’ve adapted. We’re doing an excellent job of putting Billy Beane’s principles to work by getting every ounce of mission out of the scarce resources we have. As you’ll hear in the reports today, this comes from a lot of hard work.
All analogies in the end fall short, but let me stretch this one out some more. The Diocese of Georgia is currently like the Oakland A’s. We have a good, competitive team on the field. But what if our competitive team on the field, in this analogy that would be the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese, what if we had that same team but with the resources of the New York Yankees? Oh my, what we could do to follow Jesus’ command to “produce fruit, fruit that will last.”
It’s my belief that we’ve reached the limits of what we can do with the resources we currently have.
- We’ve slowed the steady decline in average attendance in our parishes. In fact, last year we actually saw a one percent increase. Now one percent isn’t much, but it is an increase and not a decrease.
- We have begun significant leadership training for clergy and laity through the Church Development Institute, CDI, which you’ll be hearing more about in a video later today. CDI trains leaders for the church in the real world. But we have just scratched the surface of the training we all need to lead the church in the changing, post-Christian world in which we live.
- We have stemmed the tide of red ink at Honey Creek. Through the creative leadership of Dade Brantley, Mary Willoughby, Charlie Hough, and the rest of the Honey Creek Commission the turn around is happening. In fact, since Dade began as Executive Director in the middle of last year, we have increased our program focus and at the same time operated in the black for the first time in anyone’s memory.
But this can only take us so far. Believe me, I love the team we have. They’re the most hard-working and creative disciples any church could have. I wouldn’t trade them for anyone on any other team, say, for example, in the Diocese of Atlanta (the NY Yankees of GA). Yet, there’s only so much we can do with less.
That’s why our Campaign for Congregational Development is essential for our future. The last time our Diocese had a campaign was 20 years ago. It was for $1.6 million. And $500,000 of that came as a grant from the Episcopal Church. For those who say we send money to the Episcopal Church and we never get anything back, I say to you that 20 years ago we got a $500,000 gift. That campaign helped build buildings and buy land. And 20 years later we can see the good fruit that campaign produced.
The Campaign we’re entering now, however, is not focused on building buildings or buying land. We don’t need more buildings or more land today. What we need is to make more disciples and to make a bigger difference in our communities. This campaign is about building up our congregations so they can be even more effective in their witness to the truth of God found in Jesus Christ.
- This campaign is about growing our small churches and planting new ones.
- This campaign is about assuring that every one of our congregations has a signature outreach ministry that responds to the most pressing social concern in their communities, so we will be known around town as the church that serves people where they’re hurting most.
- This campaign is about equipping our clergy and lay leaders with the practical skills they need to witness to Jesus in a post-Christian culture. Our old paradigm as a church was akin to putting an empty fish tank on the beach then waiting for the fish to jump into it. In a post-Christian culture we need clergy and lay leaders who are trained to put on their Orvis hip waders and go out into the water, where the fish are, and bring them into the Body of Christ.
- This Campaign is about reaching a generation for Jesus that isn’t present in many of our congregations. Many of you have read the things I’ve written about reaching young adults with the Gospel (if you haven’t, it’s not for my lack of trying). I believe the Episcopal Church is poised to reach young adults with the Good News of Jesus. We just have not had the resources to get into the game.
Let me be real clear what we need to do: We need to have a trained, gifted, young adult missionary assigned to every college, technical school, and military base in our Diocese. And these missionaries sole mission must be to evangelize these young adults and bring them into the Episcopal Church. We can’t wait for them to find us, because most of them haven’t found us. We must go where they are. And we must go equipped with the Good News that in our Church their questions will be welcomed, their doubts won’t be judged, and their intellectual curiosity about the world will not be called “unfaithful.”
When your Diocesan Council and I see an opportunity for such mission and we reach into our pockets for the resources to engage that mission, we discover our pockets are near empty. That has to change if we’re to fulfill the Great Commission and to live the Great Commandment in this Diocese. You put the Great Commission together with the Great Commandment and it’s clear: We’re called to make disciples by bringing them into a Church that loves God by loving our neighbors.
That’s what this Campaign for Congregational Development is all about: Making disciples by bringing them into a Church that loves both God and neighbor actively and audaciously. So, it can’t be about tinkering around the edges. It can’t be just a nip or tuck for the Body of Christ in Georgia. It has to be about a reformation of the age-old mission Jesus embodied. It has to be about ending once and for all the seven last words of the Church: “We’ve never done it that way before.”
This Campaign will be successful if all of us are on the team and on the field. We can’t afford to have any of us on the bench burying our talents in the ground. You know that parable of Jesus. The servants of the master please their master by taking some risks, by putting their talents into play. The parable concludes with those who took the risks seeing their risks rewarded, but the one who buried his talent in the ground, well, let’s just say, things didn’t end well for him.
I do not wish to rewrite the parable (it’s beautifully elegant as it is), but I have to wonder: What would have been the master’s response if one of those servants took a risk but then failed by losing the talents his master trusted him with? Knowing Jesus from his Gospel, I have to think that such a servant would be commended as well. At least he would have been willing to get off the bench and into the game and to give his best.
As John Milton wrote in a Sonnet:
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He, returning, chide
Living as we do by God’s grace in Jesus, we know that at times we’ll fail, or at least not accomplish all we set out to do. All sins of commission, faithfully confessed, receive God’s mercy. But it is the sin of omission, the sin of not even trying, the sin of sitting on the bench when God gives us a mission – that is the sin that seems to me to grieve God especially.
Many of you have heard me (and others) say: “The Church does not have a mission, God has a mission.” The real question then becomes: “Does God have a Church for God’s mission?”
So, what do you say? Let’s take some risks together. To paraphrase Oswald Chambers: “Let’s give our utmost for God’s highest.” And when we’re wounded and we fail (and we will), we will accept those wounds, learn from them, and press on.
Alan Paton, in his masterful work, Cry the Beloved Country, has one of his characters say the following:
I don’t worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is my intention, the Big Judge will say to me,
“Where are your wounds?”
And if I say, “I haven’t any,”
He will ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”
Like me, I know you believe that the Gospel of Jesus is worth fighting for, not with conventional weapons, of course, but rather with the weapons of love, compassion, and mercy. The world has always needed the Gospel of Jesus; the salvation that can only come from him.
I want to end this address with a verse from one of my favorite hymns, which we will sing later at our noonday prayers: O Zion haste, thy mission high fulfilling. Verse 3 goes:
Send heralds forth to bear the message glorious;
Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious;
Till God shall bring his kingdom’s joyful day.
Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace,
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.
To this Jesus we ascribe all power, dominion, glory, and might. And he shall reign forever and ever. Amen. And alleluia.