In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek draws a distinction between finite games and infinite games. While not a perfect analogy, I do think it has something to say to those of us in the church-world.
Finite games have a beginning and an ending and have fixed, agreed upon rules, known players and agreed upon objectives. All of the players have agreed to play by the rules and accept penalties when they break the rules. Whichever team has scored more points at the end is declared the winner and everyone goes home.
Infinite games have no definite beginning or ending. An unlimited number of known and unknown players play infinite games, and people can constantly enter and leave the game. Although there are broad boundaries and conventions, there are no defined rules, and the players can operate in any way they want. Since there is no finish line and no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as winning and losing so the objective is to keep playing and perpetuate the game.
Finite games are limited. Infinite games are continuing.
In many ways, the church and practice of the Christian faith are part of an infinite game. God always has been and always will be. The game was already going on when we entered it, and unless Christ comes again in the meantime, will continue when we leave it.
Think of those who have gone before. You are in good company. Moses, David, and Paul all entered and left the earthly part of the game before you joined it, and many others have been in it along with you to mentor and work beside you even as you influence them and others.
Unfortunately, much of church practice is built on the assumption of being involved in a finite game, and you can devalue your faith by treating it in this way.
You do this when you:
craft worship to draw and please a crowd (it takes time and spiritual substance to grow a relationship with God)
promote shortcuts to enhance numbers (it’s easy to draw a crowd)
water down Biblical principles that don’t align with the prevailing culture (make things more palatable and populist)
focus on “changed” lives with a sense of finality rather than on lives being actively changed. (Growth has no endpoint! We must continually grow and nurture growth in ourselves and in others)
make walking the aisle or baptism your ultimate focus (dunk ‘em and leave ‘em)
try to teach others when you in fact are not growing yourself (leaders are learners)
are not changing your mind, methods and behavior in light of fresh encounters with Jesus (growth equals change)
make attendance, baptisms and budgets the be all and end all measure of success (instead think faithfulness)
The busyness of this season lulls us to finite thinking. All of the programs, get-togethers and stress may leave you thinking, “If I can just make it through the big program, or the Christmas Eve service, I’ll be home free!”
However, this type of thinking points toward finality. End game strategies for survival have a way of limiting your perspective of the big picture.
Yes, you’ll need some rest, but the game is not over. Sunday is coming… and that’s a good thing! Don’t let your focus on survival limit your perspective of the big picture. Enriching lives is an infinite opportunity!
Try to think a little bigger. Rather than being trapped by the finite, set aside a little time even in this season with pencil in hand to dream big and pray expansively. You’ll not be finding large blocks of time, but the resulting enlarged horizon will give you more space for the routine things. Practice living with the wisdom of C.S. Lewis, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
Be an infinite game leader!