The most nerve-racking games for Ordell as a coach are the times when his teams take the field with a predetermined outcome. When a team approaches a game assuming they will win, they tend to approach the field flat. It’s only when the other team (usually considered the underdog) begins running up points on the scoreboard that the overconfident team fully engages.
Now they are sitting in a losing position and face an uphill battle. Will the team rally together to fight for a win? Will they lean into the coach’s game plan? Or, will the athletes start looking around for someone to blame for their own lazy efforts? Will a lack of humility get the best of them?
Sometimes the favored team ends up winning anyway. Other times the underdog has a far enough lead that they pull off a win. Either way, the favored team faces critical press because they failed to play to their potential. Had they followed the game plan, the coach presented with the correct amount of effort, it’s likely all would be well. Assuming we know the outcome can cause apathy.
Assuming the Outcome is Dangerous
The assumption that we know the ending of a story can lead to a loss on the game field; however, it can risk lives in other circumstances. For example, have you ever seen a road with water that covers a large section after a storm? There’s a reason why the saying “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” flashes on highways. Our instinct is to assume the water is shallow, and we can easily drive through a flood zone. However, it only takes six inches to float a car. So if the street divots in any way, you could quickly find yourself in a disaster. It’s a human instinct to assume that our preferences are the truth. In fact, it happens so frequently that there’s a term to define it. Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Knowing we all have a natural bias, the question becomes, are you willing to acknowledge when your bias gets the best of you?
Empathy Develops with Listening
In the book 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, researchers Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin said,
Today’s teenagers can access almost any information. They can instantaneously receive scores of possible answers to just about any question—plus a list of new ones. But they’re also growing up in families and churches that shy away from some of their deepest questions about faith and meaning. One of the reasons young people are drifting from faith is that churches aren’t focused on the questions they care about most. Instead, we’re pitching answers to questions that aren’t anywhere near their strike zone.
During a recent Fuller Youth Institute summit, the executive director from a national training organization shared about one high school student who yearned, “I wish the church would stop giving me answers to questions I’m not asking.” The specific questions that he and other teenagers most value might be unique to our time, but questions aren’t new to God.emphasis added
Assuming We Know Is Driving Generations from the Church
A Barna survey reveals 7 barriers to faith and church engagement for Gen Z and Millennials:
- The problem of evil and the existence of suffering is the largest deterrent to a belief in the existence of God. (29%)
- Christians are hypocrites. (23%)
- Conflict between science and religion. (20%)
- Distrust in Bible as fact “I don’t believe in fairy tales”. (19%)
- History of injustices within the church bothers of Gen Z. (15%)
- Had a bad experience with a church/a Christian. (6%)
I think it’s worth noting that while only 6% of Gen Z say they had a “bad experience at church/ with a Christian,” 23% list the hypocrisy as a barrier to church. This indicates to me a possible discomfort with calling out people close to them. It’s easier to offer to blanket “all Christians” than call out one person.
Breaking Down Barriers Begins with Humility
Philippians 2:1-4 says,
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV)
When our words and actions are a direct barrier to people engaging with Jesus, we fail to be salt and light in a dull and dark world. We fail when we don’t reflect Jesus to the world. The best way I know to prevent this is by walking into a situation without assuming I have all the answers or how the scenario will end.
A learning posture may prevent a public loss like a team that confidently assumes they’ve won a game before the clock runs out. You’ll likely walk into scenarios with the right energy and effort rather than driving through water deep enough to risk drowning. Most importantly, you’ll reflect Jesus accurately to the world.