For the Win

by Bob Turner on February 06, 2024

I must’ve been the last one to try Schlotzsky's. It’s weird to look back and wonder how I missed it. I had seen it on Poplar Avenue in Memphis since 2005 when we moved here, and usually my Northeast Ohio upbringing would be attracted to last names with unnecessary consecutive consonants (even Coach K would be stumped by surnames in my high school yearbook). But it wasn’t until 2020 that I gave the Austin-based deli a shot. It was close to the church building and it had outdoor seating, which was perfect during the global shutdown. I’d go with the interim preacher and grab lunch in between our 10am and 3pm services (weird times, in every way).

I ordered the caprese sandwich. It’s vegetarian and I’m sorta vegetarian— not by choice, but because my Falstaffian family has bequeathed me with a heart history longer than a Cheesecake Factory menu. So, I try to limit my intake of red meat, cured salami, and other treats that sound delicious right now. “The sins of the father are passed down to the third and fourth generation” (Num. 14:18); high cholesterol comes from the mother’s side as well. So I got hooked on the delectable caprese sandwich: basil pesto, mozzarella, basil, mayonnaise, balsamic glaze, mixed greens, and oven-roasted tomatoes on crusty bread. Of course, vegetarian doesn’t have to be healthy.

One day I ordered and discovered they no longer carried the sandwich. I asked why it got eighty-sixed. The woman said nobody ordered it. Her mispronunciation of “caprese” suggested she was telling the truth. I left without ordering anything else. No sandwich, no salad, no California chicken flatbread with two cheeses, avocado, roasted red pepper, and chipotle mayo. I didn’t return for months.  My plaque-rimmed, overworked heart was broken. Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But nobody in Victorian England had tried a caprese sandwich.

Is my problem that I hate change? Maybe. But I don’t hate change. I love new things. I’m sure Schlotzsky's had other fine sandwiches. It wasn’t that. I just wanted to acknowledge that I had a thing and that thing was no longer available and I didn’t like that feeling. Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linsky remind us that it’s not change that people resist, but loss. Change is often good (anyone wanna trade GPS on the phone for a paper Rand McNally map in the trunk?). Loss, not so much. It can be painful and agonizing, especially for churches. Formerly packed auditoriums feel empty. Plenty of good parking available. We all see the loss. We all keep records of losses, even the Bible does. The Psalms have a lot of loss. The prophets have some, too. Lamentations has more losses than Cleveland football. But who is keeping records of the wins? 

One of the greatest challenges for leaders is to remember the wins, which don’t always grab our attention. 

Churches spend years in grief after a few families leave. But new people come all the time. Can we check in on them with the same vigor that we conducted exit interviews for the disgruntled and departed? Churches watch as leaders step away and leave gaping holes—wishing that someone would come and fill the vacuum. But wouldn’t that energy be better placed in mentoring emerging leaders in their strengths, rather than in compensating for what is missing? It’s all an exercise in loss. 

We lament failed capital campaigns and declining weekly attendance. Yet throughout the week more people in church provide meals to others in times of need than at any point in recent history, thanks to online sign-ups and group texts. We look right past the wins.

We grieve marriages that fell apart, but we fail to celebrate the hard work of couples who beat challenges and stay together.

We lament programs that flounder and die, but struggle to wrap our arms around the emerging ones that are flourishing. 

We miss our old identity, but deep down we know that God is just as at work now than he was then. 

One of White Station’s elders epitomizes celebrating the wins. During our last meeting he wore a hat of a foster care group that none of us had heard of two years ago. He hangs out with people younger than his own grown children and shepherds a ministry that speaks another language. If you ask him about White Station’s best all-time ministers, he starts with people currently on the staff (a habit he probably mastered decades ago). He’s infectious. He runs to the energy, celebrating the good things in the church wherever they are. He’s the ultimate frontrunner. He also happens to be very happy.

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

                                      -Isaiah 43:18-19

Yes, some things in the past were better (like malls, fast food prices, Saturday Night Live, and NCAA basketball). And let’s not even talk about our own eyesight and metabolism. But not everything is worse now. There are a lot of wins out there, if we have the desire to see them. Someone needs to record the wins. Someone needs to live in the moment with a dream for the future.

So a deli I learned about four years ago stopped selling my favorite sandwich because it was unpopular. Big deal. They cut their losses.

The rest of us should probably do the same.


Previous Page