Many of us grew up playing board games like Monopoly, Sorry and Scrabble and I was no different. I loved to compete and would always take no prisoners when I played. If I was going to take the time to set up the game, count out the money or spread out letters then I was going to do everything I could to beat you. Some of those games actually come in handy later on in life. They can help you spell, count or even draw.
The game that helps you think though is the age-old game of chess. Chess takes strategy in order to best your opponent. You have to be thinking several moves ahead in order to trap the king and ultimately win the game. One of my favorite clichés is “Checkers vs. Chess” because it differentiates the thinkers. I have played both games many times and one calls for thinking ahead, several moves ahead, and the other for simply one move at a time.
We hear in sports all of the time how the best players anticipate where the play is going while the average players are playing in the now or where the play is. Knowing what your next move is going to be, or at the very least what your move options are, will serve you well in this game of life.
I am reminded of a story that I once heard about a very successful preacher in Southern California during the 80’s. His congregation was growing by leaps and bounds every Sunday and the outside world was really starting to take notice. One day after another huge Communion Sunday service the pastor was approached by a savvy marketing executive who was interested in purchasing the mailing list of all the church’s members. Names, addresses and phone numbers were all given a handsome price of $500,000.
Without blinking the pastor told the executive that he had no interest in selling his church members’ personal information to his firm or any other no matter what the price. This executive would not be denied so he decided to get on the agenda of the church’s next board meeting. At the meeting the board was furious to learn that the pastor had turned down the rich financial offer without consulting with them first. They were excited about all of the changes for the better that could be made at the church with that amount of money. They were not very concerned with the privacy of their members as they were for the enrichment of their coffers.
Unfortunately the board was unable to accept the marketing executive’s offer without the agreement of the sitting pastor. Some wise board members wrote that into board policy decades ago and now it was keeping the board from moving forward today. The pastor knew the rules were on his side so he dug in and refused to move from his position.
The fact that the board did not want to share this information with the church membership really upset the pastor because he felt that they had a right to know their personal information was being sold to a third-party for a hefty sum. The board now found themselves in an unwinnable position. They could not get the pastor to budge and they certainly did not want the membership to know their plans.
With the board’s frustration mounting daily, a few of them decided to approach the pastor’s wife. Surely she could convince him to see things their way and let the payoff go forward. They argued nightly and the pastor shared his disappointment in his wife with her taking the board’s side against him. She thought that they could benefit financially from the transaction and her greed got the best of her. She was playing checkers.
The battle between the board and the pastor continued on for weeks until the board decided their only recourse was to have the pastor removed in favor of a sitting pastor that would okay their transaction with the marketing firm. The entire church membership would participate in this historical vote and just like most elections not all of the members came out to support their pastor. Most figured he would win in a landslide and then the board would go through a shake up of its own.
Well as luck would have it, the pastor’s detractors came out in full force but his backers were a little less motivated. They figured he would be fine and he wasn’t. The vote was very close and, believe it or not, the decision to oust the beloved pastor came down to just one vote…the one cast by his wife. She sided with the church board and not her husband so now he was out.
What she did not realize immediately was that she was out as well. There was no financial windfall realized by her betrayal. In fact, the result was just the opposite. The church sent someone to retrieve the couple’s beautiful Cadillac as it was paid for by the church. The pastor’s wife was even more shocked when the sheriff came knocking at her door to inform her that she would have to vacate the premises in a timely manner. The church paid the mortgage on their home and now that home was there for the new pastor and his family.
Now it all made sense to her that she was out too but it was too late. Had she stood strong with her husband she would not have lost her home, her car and soon thereafter, her marriage. The pastor was down for a few months but his faith sustained him while he founded a new church and soon went on to marry again. He lived another twenty years of church and marital bliss before he died suddenly of a heart attack.
Thousands of people turned out to attend his funeral which was held in of all places, the very church that had ousted him decades ago. You see, the membership declined under the leadership of the replacement pastor and some members got wind of the church board’s greedy manuever regarding their personal information and went to worship elsewhere.
Everyone lost in that transaction many years ago. The church lost a charismatic leader and their membership growth. The marketing firm never converted the data or sold the membership the products and services they had hoped so they lost. The pastor’s traitorous wife lost most of all and then died alone. The pastor did recover nicely because he was a pretty good chess player. He didn’t see wis wife’s betrayal coming but because he knew it was an option her move didn’t sink him.
The pastor often spoke to his church members about strategic thinking with regards to their faith. If they expected to one day end up in heaven they would have to stay a few moves ahead. Ahead of the devil. Ahead of the flesh. Ahead of their futures sins. Because if they died while playing checkers, their name was probably not going to be called at those pearly gates. Think about it…a few moves ahead.