Editorial: Inside baseball

Moneyball is exactly the sort of movie I thought I would hate. I loved it.

Released last year, it’s a movie in which Brad Pitt plays the manager of a fairly average baseball team trying to put together a successful season on a tight budget.

Going in to the theatre I knew next to nothing about it; all I knew was that it was about baseball, which I enjoy almost as much as cricket (spoiler: that’s not very much). However, given that I’m a nerd and much of the movie is about applying mathematics and statistics to the game in order to build a successful club, it turns out that it was an excellent couple of hours. It also helps that I rate Brad Pitt pretty highly as an actor. So despite most of the action being almost the quintessential expression of the term ‘inside baseball’—where the details of the game missed by most outsiders are prized, and the subtleties glorified—I found the process of examining the structures behind the game itself fascinating. For fans of The West Wing, it’s similar to what they call a ‘process story’, where the focus falls on the methods and manoeuvring that surround the real issue rather than the details of the issue itself.

I think it’s good for Christians to occasionally talk a bit of ‘inside baseball’. That is, in ways that might never be talked about outside Christian circles, it’s good for us to look hard at how we express ourselves or carry on our ministries rather than at the content of those expressions or activities. Don’t get me wrong—the content is critical, and so is clear, jargon-free communication with ‘outsiders’. But there’s also a place for working through the process. In his review later in this issue of a couple of books on ‘worship’, Tony Payne highlights a really useful metaphor: the architecture of any given building can work for or against the function or content of that space (published here July 16). The same is true for ideas: the architecture of a system can assist and enrich the content of those thoughts, or it can continually undercut and work against them. Sometimes we need to examine the system.

This issue, we’ve assembled a few articles along these architectural lines. Pete Greenwood writes about the dilemma posed each week all around the globe in Christian gatherings by ‘the sermon’ (or ‘Bible talk’, or whatever language you want to use). Both preachers and hearers of sermons feel at times that there’s a conflict between understanding and applying the text of Scripture, in terms of both difficulty and ‘payoff’ value. Thinking about the process of preaching and hearing—about what God does by his word and how we respond—will help us enormously as we seek to submit to God’s word day by day, week by week. (This article will go up next Monday, July 9th.)

Similarly, Sandy Grant takes a behind-the-scenes look at responding to questions about Christianity (July 23), David1 shares a framework for expressing the gospel to Muslims based on his experiences in evangelism (August 6), and Tony Payne and Col Marshall talk about the structure and purpose of small groups (August 20).

The focus of this Briefing isn’t therefore as much on the content of our belief, or what we do when we minister to and alongside others, as it usually is. But my hope and prayer is that this inside baseball issue of The Briefing (number 400, by the way!) will be of great benefit as we keep striving to disciple others as disciples of Christ

  1. David’s surname has been withheld to protect his ministry amongst Muslims.

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