I’ve heard the phrase, “slow the game down” a hundred times. What is it? How does it help and how do we do it? This article is directed to pastors, but the principles work for anyone who is feeling like they’d like to be more effective, feel more confident, and get more enjoyment out of what they’re doing.
The phrase “slow the game down,” comes to us from sports. It’s used a lot in baseball. Many of the ideas I have in this article come from a baseball coaching website and an article by Geoff Miller.
Slowing the game down is a practice that helps us see and act in a more relaxed, confident and unhurried way, which in turn makes us more effective at the things we do each day. Let me give you a couple of examples.
In baseball, imagine you’re standing at the plate with the game on your shoulders. It’s the ninth inning and you’ve got the winning runs on base. A coach on third base is giving you signals. The crowd is roaring. Standing in front of you is a pitcher who looks like a lanky Goliath, on what appears to be
Another sport I enjoy is motor racing. Think about the challenge of driving a car on a road course at 160 miles per hour. The turn is a hard right-hander, but in less than a few seconds, you’ll be facing a fading left, then you will be entering the chicane. As you come out of that, you will be hitting a straight away that you will zip through in 7 seconds, then you’ll quickly slow, so you don’t hit the wall in Turn 1. If you’re looking out the side window, things will go by you so fast that you’ll never make it around the track. When you look down the road, the race seems to slow down. You have time to decide and act. You have to stay focused.
Focus changes everything. I am convinced much of our frustration, anxiety and stress has to do with our focus. Some responsibilities and challenges of ministry are overwhelming at times.
These are some of the things that come at us at 100 miles per hours.
- Every week, preaching and teaching content demands to be written. It’s supposed to be solid, creative, sensitive and confonting.
- We are bombarded by the expectations of family, staff, volunteers, board members, the congregation; and let’s not forget God himself.
- Details have to be tended to for ministry management. Recruiting and encouraging volunteers, giving direction, affirming and coaching all add to the mix.
- Caring weighs on us. We care about other’s struggles and often take them as our own. Visitations, counseling sessions, notes of encouragement keep us running while trying to offer an unhurried presence.
- We are weighted down by our personal failures, real and perceived. I’ve never heard of a pastor who is satisfied with his own holiness.
None of this is meant to be a complaint. Most of us believe we’ve been privileged to serve God and people this way. But there are times when we feel stuck or stymied by all that is coming our way. We live distracted, we hide in addictive behaviors, we get depressed because we don’t know a way out.
Like the batter at the plate, or the driver at LeMans, it can all slow down when we focus on the right things at the right time. Miller pointed out 4 areas of focus. Two are inward focus and two are outward. Two are narrow focus and two are broad focused. Take a look at the graphic below.
Let’s review each one.
Awareness is both broad and outward. It’s the exercise of noticing what’s going on around us in the big picture. Where are we in the game? Who’s around us? Who are the players? Here we’re aware of seasons, trends, patterns, attitudes, hopes, aspirations, and frustrations.
Analysis is broad and inward. It’s the exercise of focusing on the Why’s? This is where we understand our mindset? What are people thinking, feeling, and why? We go beyond noticing the pattern and we discern why the pattern exists. This is inward, because we’re trying to figure out what’s happening in us, or in the team. This leads to the next area of focus.
Problem-solving is an inward and narrow focus. It’s inward, because it focuses on how we will achieve our goal. It is narrow, because it’s not “big picture”, it’s focused on specific solutions that will help us overcome the obstacles. Problem-solving creates the action plan.
Action is outward and narrow in its focus. Action is the actual performance of the plan. It’s doing what we said we would do. It’s narrow, because it’s specific. What will I do, here and now in this moment? is being answered. It’s outward because it is an action outside us which affects others.
Focusing on too many areas at one time, completely clutters and overwhelms our minds. When that happens, it’s like looking out of the side window of the car as it’s
Let me run through an example from my own ministry, the stress of sermon preparation.
Let me use an area I was involved with for over 3 decades – preaching the weekly sermon. The game is this — How do I help people hear God’s voice through His word and give them direction on where to go next? I always saw my preaching schedule as a way to point the congregation to the future God wants for us. I wanted people to have a clear glimpse of who Gods is, what He wants us to be and how we can get there.
- It starts with awareness. We have to look outward and get the big picture. Ask, listen, see are the activities we do when we are becoming aware. We observe what is happening in our people. We ask about their lives. We listen for cues as to their hopes, struggles, challenges and joys. We watch the ways they relate to one another and pay attention to the topics of their conversations. We need to put a finger on the situation we are in together. We also need to listen to our community. Whatever is happening outside the church affects the church because that’s where they live life.
- Then analysis had to happen. This is digging within ourselves, or in deeper reflective conversations with others, to ask the question, what does all this mean? Why were people experiencing what they were? Were they stuck? Were they challenged? Were they hopeful? Was there peace, or discord? And why? What were the underlying issues? In analysis we have to identify the dominant themes and we look for meaning. This is the interpretation stage of the process. It helps to have an outside voice that helps with this.
- Then it was time for problem-solving. This was where I developed my preaching plan. I explored if there were Biblical books, or sections that helped address the themes, meaning, or obstacles that were identified. For me, this was the fun part. I spent time reading whole sections of Scripture and praying through whether this could be part of the solution for my congregation. Once I identified passages, I created my preaching schedule. And because of the work above, it seemed to come together like I was planning a journey for us to travel together. And I would actually anticipate the opportunity to take the next step from week to week.
- The last step was action. This is what I did from week to week. I sat down, took my sermon schedule out, studied my passages and wrote my messages. At some point, I’ll share with you the template that helped me with that. I had a Monday through Saturday routine that kept my preparation on track.
When I preached each week, I never had to decide what I would preach on. That decision was made a long time ago. It freed up my energy to actually write a sermon. It didn’t limit my creativity but enhanced it because I knew what was coming weeks and months in advance. It also allowed me to include others in the process.
Steps we can take to correct our focus and slow the game down.
1 Schedule times for analysis and problem-solving.
These are inward processes that require thought, reflection, study, conversation, and collaboration. This takes time. When these things aren’t taken care of well, they will try to dominate your thoughts when you are supposed to act, or when you’re supposed to be sleeping. For example, if I didn’t take time to analyze and problem-solve (create a plan), for my sermon writing, then every week would have been a struggle. I would’ve start every week with the question of what I’m doing and why. Rather than acting, when it was time to act.
Put these activities on your calendar. Create monthly, seasonally, and yearly times of analysis and problem-solving on your calendar. This will help you focus, and it will give you freedom to invite others into the process.
2 Focus in the externals during the game.
When we focus on the externals, the world slows down. We get our minds off what’s going on in our heads. We remove our own doubts, questions, insecurities from the equation and we are freed to look outward, stay aware and act.
If I haven’t done my work of analysis and problem-solving, I will feel completely overwhelmed by preaching. I will get caught in my own head, wondering if I’m saying the right thing, or whether it’s even worth saying. If I’ve done the internal work because I took time to focus, I will step up with the mind-space to notice who’s there, how they’re responding, and how to best present the message.
Focusing on the internals through preparation and focusing on the externals when we need to step up, will slow the game down. We will have more bandwidth to see and act. Our minds won’t be as cluttered because decisions have already been made. And when changes are needed, we’ll be more aware because we’ve focused outside ourselves on the needs and opportunities around us.
3 Automate as many decisions as you can.
By automating, I mean create rhythms and patterns and habits that help keep your decisions to a minimum, especially when you’re in the game. The more we create our way of doing things, the less we will have to decide every time.
A few years back, because of heart disease, I adopted a plant-based diet (vegan). I’m amazed when people ask, “do you cheat?” I always answer, “no.” Why? Because that decision has been made. This is what I eat. What if there is nothing to eat? I go hungry because this is what I eat. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to decide it anymore. There is no energy lost on that decision. I have created space for other things that will come up in my day because I’m done with that one.
I’m in the process of converting all my shirts to black button-downs. Why? Because I don’t want to decide what to wear every morning. I want to think about more important things. A pre-made decision gives me more bandwidth to think, reflect, pray and decide other things.
The more we can do that with everyday things, the better. We can still be flexible when we need to be (that’s where awareness comes in), but if we can pre-make decisions, it helps us have energy to do what has to be done in the moment.
Back to baseball. A batter doesn’t decide what pitch he’s looking for as he’s standing at the plate. He has already factored in all the variables and decided on a course of action. Will it change? It will, but only if he becomes aware of new situations that he has to factor in. He trained, did the internal work of analysis and problem-solving and now can focus all his energies on action. In his mind, the ball has slowed down. This is what allows him to see the threads on the ball when it comes at him.
Now, this can seem like one of those self-help strategies that squeezes out God’s involvement in the day to day activities of life. I’d like to answer that in 2 ways. First, I always believed the Spirit of God could just as easily lead in the planning process as He can in the urgency of the moment. Second, preparing ahead of time gave me more freedom to be sensitive to the Spirit because my mind was less cluttered with my own thoughts and worries in the moment.
I hope this is of encouragement to you. If I can encourage you further, please subscribe to my blog, or DM me on Instagram.