March Madness?

by Mark Johnson, ECCU Executive Vice President
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

March Madness is just around the corner, with Selection Sunday less than two weeks away. That’s when 65 men’s college basketball teams will be slotted into the single elimination tournament that captures the collective attention of sports fans and fanatics across the country.

This year, if February was any indication, March also promises to be a month of madness for financial fanatics as well.

Okay, maybe “madness” is too strong a word for the economic and political action last month, but there was a certain craziness to it all. The stock market kept falling. Unemployment kept rising. Bailout packages were debated, approved, criticized, and defended.

How can ministries and their leaders minimize the madness in this volatile environment? One thing seems obvious. Just as elite college players always need to keep their eye on the ball, we have to keep our eye on our finances. Managing ministry finances is more challenging than ever. The game has definitely gone to a higher level.

A second thing should be equally obvious, but may get obscured by the focus on finances—while basketball players always need to know where the ball is, they also have to know what everyone else on the court is doing. The same goes for ministry these days. We need to stay focused on people. Those we serve. Those who give to support the work. And those on our staff.

While the future is always uncertain, people usually have some idea where things are heading. That’s not true today. No one can say with certainty when we’ll pull out of this economic crisis. This much ambiguity can create immense anxiety for all these people.

How can you manage that anxiety? The same way a coach keeps his players from panicking when they’re down by two points with 42 seconds left in the game. By not focusing on the final score, or the crowd, or the next game. A good coach reminds his players what they’ve learned in the earlier part of the game that will help them now. He reminds them that, win or lose, they remain a team. And he assures them that they’re the ones who belong on the court today to do what needs to be done.

This way of “coaching” was highlighted at a recent training session for ECCU’s leadership team, where we spent considerable time on two things. First, learning how to better acknowledge excellent performance. And second, addressing mistakes quickly, in a positive way that helps reduce them in the future. These two approaches reduce anxiety by assuring our people not only that their efforts don’t go unnoticed, but also that they’re not going to come in one day and be caught off-guard with a pink slip.

Two of the six values that guide ECCU are the foundation for this kind of training:

  • We value the uniqueness of every person in our organization.
  • We value individual and team accountability.

Amazing, isn’t it? Ministry is just like basketball. Fundamentals and execution keep you in the game, but working well with the people on your team is the way to eliminate uncertainty and win the ultimate prize.

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