By Bob Hiller –
The fastest way to upset a Denver Broncos fan is to say that John Elway is overrated. Not only will you anger that fan, you will make yourself look foolish and ignorant. So, imagine my frustration when I come across this list on Rant Sports suggesting that Elway does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Five Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl rings aside, I guess his career wasn’t impressive enough for this genius? So what that he retired with the most NFL victories (148) of any quarterback up to that point in history? Sure, that record has been surpassed, but only by the “overrated” likes of Tom Brady (or is he over-inflated), Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning, but what do wins count for in football anyhow? I mean, honestly, has there ever been anyone more efficient in the last two minutes of a game than Elway? One is hard pressed to find a list of all-time great quarterbacks that doesn’t put Elway in the top five. So, what is this brilliant blogger’s reasoning?
Well, Elway only had one season where he threw for over 4000 yards, his highest total of touchdowns for any season was 27, and his adjusted quarterback rating is a barely-above average 105. In the muddled mind of the blogger, these three stats should keep Elway out of the Hall of Fame. Could we consider the fact that he threw for fewer yards because he ran for 3100+ yards? That is sixth most all time for any quarterback. Could we also consider that, over his career, he knew how to utilize his less-than-impressive running game? Or, how about the fact that in the ‘80s he was taking average teams to Super Bowls? Could his numbers reflect the fact that his receiving core in those days, the Three Amigos, were all under six feet tall? The three Super Bowls he lost had more to do with his sub-par team than with his own abilities. He was the only reason they got there in the first place! He would need the likes of Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, and Shannon Sharpe to win a pair of Super Bowls, but he did that at the end of his career and rode off into the sunset. Not only do we Broncos’ fans think Elway should be in the Hall of Fame, we can’t figure out why his face hasn’t been put on Mount Rushmore!
I don’t want to spend all my time praising Elway on the blog today. Well, actually I do. But, you don’t want to read that. Instead, what I want to focus your attention on is one of my favorite soap-boxes: the use, or abuse, of statistics. By bringing up three less-than-stellar statistics from an otherwise brilliant career, the blogger from Rant was able to suggest that Elway was ill-deserving of the accolades he’s received. To be sure, those three stats are not the greatest. But, they are taken entirely out of context and take no consideration of how Elway actually played the game. Numbers don’t lie, but numbers don’t make miraculous drives down the field in play-off games either. Sure, if we were to take those three stats and then ignore everything else Elway has done then, yes, he should be left out of the Hall. But, that would be a ridiculous way of judging someone’s playing career.
An over-reliance on statistics and numbers is not just a problem in sports, it is certainly a problem in the church as well. Time and again I hear pastors making ministry decisions based on statistics and sociological studies. We worry about this demographic or that generation. Then, based off of so-and-so’s poll findings, we begin to organize and plan ministry strategies. We design worship services that cater to the upcoming generation. We change the décor in our sanctuaries to be more familiar to people who are put off by church. We begin to copy other ministries and church programs that we, and the numbers, have deemed more successful. We adjust the content of our preaching to combat what the recent polls say about this or that popularly held view. Statistics and numbers drive us to be more relevant, but not necessarily more faithful.
Pastors, it is time to stop paying attention to church stats and demographical trends and to start paying attention to the game itself. Instead of making ministry decisions based on what the numbers say, go out and talk to people in your congregation. Instead of trying to figure out what appeals to millennials, spend an afternoon with the young adults in your church and listen to their concerns. Instead configuring a church service based on the musical tastes of a given generation, do the hard work of bringing people to a place away from their own preferences where they can join the song of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. Don’t worry about why the “Nones” are the fastest growing religious group in America, instead, follow up with the visitors from Sunday and stay in touch with people who haven’t been to church in a while. Don’t allow Pew studies to develop your next sermon series. Pay attention to the sins and sorrows of the people sitting in the actual pews so that you know what needs to be attacked with God’s law and what needs to be healed with the blood of Jesus. Stop worrying about numbers. Start preaching the Word, and start loving your congregation.
Using statistics and numbers to deny Elway a place in the Hall of Fame is to foolishly ignore everything that happened in Elway’s remarkable career. Using statistics and numbers to shape the focus of your ministry is to foolishly ignore what God has placed before you in His church: His Word and His sheep that need to hear it. Statistics and demographics need to stop distracting our pastors away from the Word and away from the hard work of serving their Good Shepherd’s flock.