Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Every Pastor Should Have To Play Risk.

My posts have been sparse because of family obligations and work demands as Central UMC is working with McKinley UMC on cooperative ministry plans and what that might mean for the future of the two churches in ministry, identity, and well everything.

Having just started this process of discussing merger possibilities, cooperative parish models, and everything but doing the "same old thing," I have been reading many leadership books and doing a whole lot of reflection. As I look at the road ahead I am fully aware of the vast amounts of work both physical and mental this is going to put on the pastors of the churches and on the people of the churches. It will take lots of planning and strategy to move into a new culture of being.

That is where I believe every pastor should have to play Risk and learn the nuances of strategy and negotiation. For those who might not know what Risk is it is a board game in which the goal is world domination. All of the players are given territories on continents that they own but then could lose in battle, etc. Each turn you get more military based on the amount of territories you own with bonuses coming from owning entire continents. The game goes on until one player has conquered and owns every territory on the board.

So why do I believe it is important that every pastor should have to play Risk?

1. You have to be strategic. You need to look at the territories you own and see where you strengths and weaknesses are and then you have to plan on how you will fortify and then advance your domain.

Many of the same principles apply to the role of pastor. You have to be able to look at the big picture and see where the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation are and then you have to figure out how to address those to best go out in mission to the community around. However, as a pastor your goal is not to "force" takeover of people's lives but the goal is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and to help Christ transform lives. To do that just like in Risk you have to be able to see the map of your community and the needs/opportunities. In Risk you might really want to take-over Europe, but realistically Europe is a hard continent to hold and you strategically could should yourself in the foot. It is the same in our communities. We have to look really hard at the entire picture and see the opportunities in need and really assess our strengths and how we can use those to fulfill the needs. If we spread our gifts/strengths into a place that really isn't a strong need well then we have just spread ourselves thing and expended time and energy into something that in the game of Risk would have caused us to lose.

2. You have to relate well to others and do some relationship building.

To be successful in Risk you have to be able to work with another person and develop a treaty/truce in order to position yourself better in the game. You have to gain their trust and show them how the move benefits them too. It is the same for pastors in the church. Really to be successful in transforming lives we have to be skillful and building relationships and showing our congregations and also those in the community how what God is offering is beneficial to their lives. This doesn't "just happen" people have to gain our trust and trust is almost always built through relationship. If I don't know a new player in Risk I am very hesitant to do a treaty because I don't know if I can trust them, in the same way we could be offering something of great value to the community but if they don't know us then they are more than likely going to be hesitant to trust us too (both pastorally and as a congregation/community of disciples). I have to admit this is something that I am still developing as a pastoral leader. The introvert in me moves slowly in building relationships and some of my personality can be misinterpreted. However, I recognize it and am working on it because I know it is vital.

3. You have to be willing to change directions/strategies quickly

In Risk you can just look at the board at first and then say this is my strategy and plan of attack and then go forward at all costs. If you do you will lose. The landscape of the board quickly changes and what at first might have looked like a good plan (and probably was) no longer is a good plan at all. This can even happen in the middle of a turn. You might be attacking South Africa but the battle thinned out your armies and you quickly have to think about how that changes your plan of attack. You might have gone into a turn expecting to take over Africa but the battle didn't go as planned and now you have to look at the reality mid-turn and readjust your strategy if you are going to continue to be successful.

It is the same way in ministry. Pastors may enter a congregation, take stock and realize the strategy for helping the church grow in Christ, but if a pastor goes forth at all cost more than likely that could backfire. Why? Because the landscapes of churches, communities, and people are always changing. Life is always causing things to change and that means what might have been a good plan 6 months ago may no longer be applicable or best for the situation and to proceed would lead to failure for true growth in Christ. Pastors must always be evaluating the situation/ministries/vision/plans and looking at the current context and taking stock. Prayer is the central practice that pastors should use in taking stock of the changing landscape and needs and we must be willing to realize that what might have been great at the onset no longer applies and be willing to change strategies or directions.

4. You have to be patient, but not too patient.

In the game of Risk you have to be patient and build up your forces while fortifying your territories. If you move to quickly then you just decimate your armies and open yourself up to defeat. However, if you do nothing more than wait and fortify your territories you get stuck and while you might last longer in the game, really you aren't going to win because eventually the other players left will have larger armies and be able to quickly build them to destroy your well built up fortress. You have to balance aggression and conservation.

Pastorally, the same principle applies. (Trust me I know because well, I am impatient) If a pastor goes into a situation and tries to implement too many changes too quickly (even if they are needed and in the long run would help the vitality of the congregation) disaster will ensue. People may not be ready, etc. However, if you just sit back and wait and don't implement any changes and try to build up the total solid foundation where you then think you can start to implement changes, well guess what the time will have passed. As a Pastor one has to be skillful at discerning the situation and really understanding how much a congregation can handle in change, but the fact is change does need to occur. Churches aren't going to just change themselves it takes and outside influence to change. (I mean seriously if I could eat fatty cheeseburgers and pizza my entire life I would, but an outside influence of a doctor telling me that my arteries are full and blocked will force me to re-evaluate the inner reality and what needs to be changed) Risk helps build those skills of being aware of how quickly one can move and how sometime one has to hold back. To be honest, this is something I am still developing also. I am impatient and I am learning to develop patience through prayer and guidance from God.


The list continues and I might come back and write some more later. Really playing a game like Risk helps develop skills and ways of being that easily translate into the vocation of pastor and that is why I think every pastor should play Risk.

Now as a disclaimer, I sometimes throw caution to the wind in Risk and because of situations I get bitter/mad/angry and go kamikaze on friends just to make sure they don't win the game if I am not going to. It isn't good sportsmanship and it is horrible gameplay, but that is me being honest. That way of playing Risk would be a horrible translation into the life of pastor and leading a church. Could you imagine kamikaze pastor's who approached leadership that way and said if I am not going to have success in ministry well then none of you are and devoted all their energy to making sure that another didn't have success. That would be horrible. So my dear friend, Joe (who will read this) I apologize for my kamikaze missions against you and I vow to never again do that when we play Risk.


  1. Great post.

    I'm a UMC member in the West Ohio Conference, and am beginning the local pastor process this month - then, off to seminary.

    I'm also a wargamer. I play games with rules that are more elaborate than Risk, but still encourage one to think strategically, focus effort on clear, specific goals, etc. During many a wargame tournament, I have found myself praying. :) Here is a link to the wargaming blog I've just started. You can find some great wargames links on my "follow" tab:

    If you're so disposed, look up a podcast on iTunes called "Noisemaker." The fellow who hosts the show is a full-time pastor in the Nebraska area (I'm not sure which denomination), and is a wargamer. He would agree with much of what you've written here.

  2. I appreciate your metaphor with Risk. I too have played many a game and understand the dynamics. Lately I have enjoyed Island of Catan, which offers trade relationships and agreements while trying to finish the point goals first. I find this game a better illustration as it lifts up strenghts and sharing of resources in a creative way. I find your strategy thoughts to be valuable whether one is merging churches or starting a new worship style, etc.


  3. So what we really need to do is form relationships with UMC churches in Australia, right?

  4. That should be the plan if Duke Divinity School plans to really stretch to world domination.....or touchscreen kiosks with give-away usb or the other.