Not too long ago, I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes with a rock star from the church leadership world. I’ve admired this guy from a distance for years. Somehow I ended up standing next to him in his kitchen, so I seized the moment to soak up whatever wisdom I could. He had heard a few of us speak that night and offered some encouragement related to strategy and influence. He said it like this: "you guys played the 5-yard game tonight. Good job." Then he elaborated.
He talked about how, in a big game, your adrenaline is pumping and your passion is high, and you'd give anything to throw the 50-yard pass down the field that makes huge progress in a single play. But that usually doesn't work very well. He mentioned an issue through which he had led his church where he attempted to make huge gains in too little time and too few plays. He went for the 50-yard pass and got demolished on the field. They basically had to punt, wait for their next possession, and try again with a different game plan. In matters that require influence to grow through careful strategy, it's the 5-yard game that wins. You sneak in 5 yards when no one's looking. Another 5 yards when you spot an opening in the defense. Before you know it, you're at 1st and goal and the crowd is actually starting to cheer for you.
The issue my friends and I were speaking on was one that we feel terribly passionate about. It was also a bit incendiary – the kind of thing where the loudest voices are the most extreme, and real solutions will only come if people will calm down. If I had found a soapbox in the garage of the house where we were meeting, I probably would have actually stood on it while I spoke because I was so amped up. But we worked hard to reign in our passion and speak with great care and tact instead. We prayed for wisdom and deference, and I'm glad we did. After we were finished with our messages, others in the small crowd stood and shared their stories. There were people in the room on both sides of the issue who were carrying intense personal histories into the meeting, and throwing the long ball would have simply hardened their hearts to what we were saying. Instead, we witnessed a powerful, generous conversation that I think was encouraged by our tempered efforts.
All of this made me think of Jesus. There are a few moments in the Gospels when He really lets loose, like when He cleanses the temple. But more often He seems to be holding back, looking for just the right moment to carry the Kingdom agenda forward little bit little. A parable here. A carefully placed healing there. And the 5-yard game He played has utterly changed the world.
A soapbox feels good. It feels passionate. And it's easy. One big play and you can leave the field and relax. The 5-yard game is exhausting. It requires an ongoing, disciplined vigilance, looking for those moments when progress can be made little by little. But the rock star leader put it like this: you have to decide that you want to win more than you want to feel passionate. Results are more important than the feelings you have on the field.
I want to be passionate. I believe passion is good. But I don’t want an impotent passion that leads to no growth in me or impact in the world. This guy’s words about the 5-yard game have been ringing in my ears ever since that night as an ongoing challenge in my life. I figured I should share them with you, too.