What your church can learn from professional wrestling

December 11th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, professional wrestler Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against Roman Reigns to become the new WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) champion during the pay-per-view event “Survivor Series.”

Yes, this post is going to dabble a little in professional wrestling. Yes, I still watch the WWE. Yes, I know it’s not real. And yes, I am going somewhere with this.

Sheamus being the champion isn’t what the fans, the writers or the powers-that-be of the WWE wanted. Sheamus being the champion is the result of the WWE not utilizing the talents of the younger wrestlers on its roster.

The WWE has an age problem. It keeps relying on the heroes of yesterday while only “pushing” a select few of its younger wrestlers.

The main event of Survivor Series was Undertaker and Kane (50 years old and 48 years old, respectively) vs. the Wyatt Family.

The headliner of the previous pay-per-view, Hell in a Cell, was Undertaker vs. Brock Lesner (for the third time).The main event of the September pay-per-view was Sting (56 years old) vs. Seth Rollins. The main event of August’s pay per view, Summer Slam, was Undertaker vs. Lesnar (round 2).

The WWE still relies on legends of the past to up their ratings by trotting out the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, and there are rumors that they want to sign Goldberg. I realize that these names may mean absolutely nothing to you, but their heyday was when I was in high school/early college.

Seth Rollins, the previous champ — and a good “heel” (term for the “bad guy”) got seriously injured and the WWE brass had to scramble to figure out what to do next. They had to do this because they didn’t invest enough time and attention into the younger wrestlers on their roster. And their always-reliable go-to-guys were out of action. Randy Orton was injured. John Cena (their workhorse) was taking two months off. And Daniel Bryan (a fan favorite) may never be able to wrestle again.

There was no real talent, ratings-drawing, bankable name to rely on because they didn’t develop their young talent enough. Sheamus being crowned champ was a sign that the WWE was struggling and had shot itself in the foot by not paying attention to the other wrestlers.

It reminded me of many of our churches.

Okay. It reminded me of my church.

Recently, one of our families decided to take a sabbatical for a year. This family was the John Cena of my congregation. We all have a John Cena in our churches: the always reliable, solid person. They can serve as the chairperson of any committee and are usually willing to do whatever they can for the sake of the church. We often take them for granted, thinking that they’ll always be around to serve. So we don’t take time to train and raise up new leaders because we figure John Cena is always going to be there.

But things happen. People get sick. People die. People move. People leave the church. If we haven’t spent the time training, leading and equipping people, when the John Cenas of our church can no longer lead, we’re confronted with a leadership vacuum and everyone scrambling to figure out how to fill that big hole. Sometimes that means folks are thrown into leadership positions, not because of their leadership skills, but because we need warm bodies to fill the roster. Then we can report to the powers-that-be that we have all our ducks in order — at least on paper. But I don’t have to tell you that filling positions for the sake of filling positions usually creates a whole new set of problems.

This isn’t a pitch to start targeting young folks at your church. Nor do I have a list of “Five Things to Get Your People Involved” because honestly, I’m trying to figure things out for my church. But what we do need to do is to start intentionally and actively recruiting, educating, training, and equipping our people to serve and lead.

WWE relied too much on ten percent of their roster to drive their product. So when their roster was decimated by injuries and sabbaticals, they had no one they could rely on — no faces to represent the company. (Sheamus won’t be the face of the WWE very long. Once the current storyline plays out, he’ll once again take his place in mid-card status.)

Of course the WWE and the church are different. But we can learn from their mistakes.

I was once told that 20 percent of the folks in a church do 80 percent of the work. But instead of trying to figure out how to enlist help from the other 80 percent, we tend to increase the workload of the current 20 percent. (Or if your church is small enough, leadership positions become musical chairs with everyone in the 20 percent rotating to the leadership position next to them.)

Here’s a thought. If you find yourself giving a longtime member who wants to step away from leadership roles the “one more year” spiel, maybe it’s time to reassess and re-evaluate your ministry.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of Practical Prayer and Encountering Grace. He blogs at JosephYoo.com.

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