A few years ago I jumped at an opportunity to do something I hadn’t done before, or since: I attended Dodger Stadium two nights in a row. The Dodgers were hosting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. One night I went and sat in the lower section—field level, the other night I sat much higher up in in the fourth level. It soon became apparent that there are actually two versions, two variations, two varieties of Dodger Stadium.
The lower level is predictable, unchanging and safe. It’s the same now as it was in 1962 when the Angels played there. The upper level is unpredictable, constantly changing and even a bit dangerous. Nothing is like it was in 1962.
With lower level tickets, you tend to get “Preferred Parking.” Everything is laid out neatly, you bypass the traffic, park close and follow the clear signs to your section. Upper level seats tend to come with, “General” parking. General is a Latin word that means, “In a different county.” The parking space is typically further away from the stadium than the freeway off ramp, you have to walk up 142 steps, unless you can find the escalator which is especially designed to be moving the opposite direction than the direction you want to go. It seems like down is up, and up is down. Nothing is neatly laid out. Most folks seem pretty confused.
On the lower level they warn you gently about batted balls being hit into the stands. On the upper level they do not warn you about anything. If you are wearing the garb of another team, you will be heckled. If you wear a Giants or Padres cap, you might be beaten—so you better be on the alert at all times.
On the lower level, it’s the same people every time—season ticket holders. Everyone feels privileged because they paid good money—big money--for the experience. In the upper levels, it’s a different crowd every time, nothing belongs to you, so you just might feel disenfranchised. And chances are somebody gave you the ticket.
In the lower level, everyone looks the same. In the upper level, diversity reigns.
In the lower level everything is in English. One orders a “Dodger Dog” and a Blue Moon, which comes with the orange slice. In the upper level, not much is in English. There’s a good amount of Spanish and other languages that are difficult to decipher. In the upper level your order nachos, the Vietnamese rice bowl with peanut sauce or the latest tuna poke bowl.
In the lower level, you watch the game. In the upper level, you watch the crowd.
In the lower level, the bathrooms are spotless and clearly marked. Pleasant bathroom attendants make you feel special. In the upper deck you are not sure which bathroom to use, so you just hold it.
In the lower field level you can see everything. In the upper level you are fortunate if you can see the sky.
In the lower level it appears that there are no broken people. In the upper level, most people are broken.
In the lower level, the values are universal, and Christianity is the dominant culture. In the upper level, there are competing values and Christianity means little.
When it comes to the church planting world, when it comes to ministry and spiritual leadership, we no longer live in a lower level environment. Christian leaders must recognize that the world has changed and is changing.
Consultant Bill Easum says, “It’s not a ‘National Park’ world any more, it’s a ‘Jungle’ out there.”
It’s not 1962, it’s 2017. Unless we are flexible, nimble and alert, we may end up with an experience that is negative for everyone.
One last contrast: In the lower level, you can go alone. In the upper level, you probably won’t make it if you are on your own.
That’s why Excel Leadership Network exists.
We exist to help. When I sat in the lower level, I showed up by myself and met some people there. When I sat in the upper deck, I had my wise nephew—one who attends dozens of games each year—accompany me.
At Excel our philosophy of ministry comes from Acts 13. The church in Antioch was enjoying its lower-level status when the Holy Spirit spoke, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.”—Acts 13:2 (NIV)
The church kept fasting and praying and sent the two church planters out into an upper-deck world.
And they supported them. As leaders, the world may be changing, unpredictable and even confusing. But if we support each other, we can have a great time and make a big impact.