With it being a new year, I thought it might be prudent to offer a “State of the Union” of sorts. I have no intention or desire to talk to you about Simplicity’s growth in terms of attendance, offering, or charitable giving data; nor am I going to inundate you with our new initiatives or upcoming program expansions. While those are all very important metrics for any institution to take into consideration (metrics that, for the record, we’re doing very, very well in), for our purposes here today, they’re secondary, to say the least. Rather, I want to talk a little bit about the differences between Finite and Infinite Games, and why it’s essential that the Simplicity community and its leadership have the mindset of the latter as we push forth into 2020 and beyond.
According to Simon Sinek in his book The Infinite Game,
Finite Games always have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They’re played by known players, have fixed rules, and have an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. (Think football, checkers, or poker). Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules, and players can operate how they want. The manner in which each players choose to play is entirely up to them, and they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason. Infinite games have infinite time horizons, and because there is no finish line - no practical end to the game - there is no such thing as “winning”. In an infinite game, the primary objective is simply to keep playing…to perpetuate the game.
I thought it practical to offer an example of just what playing an Infinite Game looks like. Last week, a formal statement went out to the Heritage Hall community, which is an educational institution near and dear to my family’s hearts that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, to announce that effective June 30th, 2021, my father, Guy Bramble, will officially retire from the position of Heritage Hall’s Headmaster after 32yrs of service. Headguy, as I often affectionately refer to my dad, has been a tremendous leader for this community; the impact he’ll leave on this institution upon his departure will be indelible because he understands that one doesn’t simply “win” at education. He recognizes that it isn’t about beating the competition; he gets, whether he realizes it or not, that he’s playing in an infinite game, one that transcends finite metrics, such as having the highest enrollment, the most national merit scholarships, or the most state titles. All great things, to be sure, but fleeting in their meaning. No, Headguy, in all his wisdom, has always believed that education is about teaching children to learn with honor, to lead with courage, and to serve with compassion, and generations of Chargers have reaped the benefit. My sister very poetically summed this up when she said in his retirement announcement, “and upon becoming a patron myself, I realized that he built this for us…so that my brother and I (and thousands of others) could have a rich upbringing in a community that taught us to learn, to lead, to serve…and to love.”
You see, Great leaders don’t think in terms of quarters; they don’t think in terms of years; they don’t even think in terms of their own finite career’s timeline. Great leaders think in terms of generations. They think in terms of their communities and institutions outlasting their own temporal existences. They work and build and create and inspire not for themselves, but for a larger, longer lasting purpose, one that, at some point, lays the foundation for the next wave of great leaders. My dad has proven himself an exceptional leader over the past 30+ years, yet in just 18 short months, The Guy Bramble era at Heritage Hall will come to an end. And while there will certainly be apprehension, uncertainty, and sadness in the wake of him stepping down, a new era will begin and new leaders who believe in the vision that’s been cast will arise and the school will go on.
So why am I talking about leadership strategy, business practices, and an Oklahoma City private school? What does all of this have to do with us, here today? Many of you in this room probably couldn’t imagine a Simplicity without its vibrant, poignant, passionate, at times scattered, but always convicted pastor, Israel. And why would you want to! Fortunately for us, unless I’m missing something, Simplicity isn’t a stepping stone to something else for Israel. But, with that being said, there was once a time when some of us couldn’t imagine a Simplicity without its founding pastor, Michael. Whether it was God’s plan or fate or the universe unfolding or just merely some version of a coincidence is beyond me, but the fact remains that Simplicity, in its infancy, had to outlast the departure of its initial leader. Yet here we are several iterations later, foraging ahead, despite every odd, “gooding” the world around us.
What then is the state of Simplicity?
Oddly enough, like Heritage Hall ushering in a new era after the Guy Bramble years and Simplicity finding its footing post Michael Canada, from a Biblical perspective, the Infinite Game theory has an eerily similar framework to the narrative of Jesus; I’m no religious scholar, so correct me if I’m wrong (please, not right now though!), but His life’s work seemed to be about showing others, His disciples, how to live into His vision and do the work after He was gone. Simplicity was bigger than Michael (and if you know Michael, that’s saying something). Simplicity is bigger than Jamie and Kathryn. It’s bigger than Israel and every other person who’s stepped into some form of leadership role here, which is why we say “Everyone Can”; at some point, if Simplicity is to serve generations of people, others, indeed, must.
The state of Simplicity is that its leadership is conscious that we are playing not a Finite, but an Infinite Game, a game in which our collective interest is not to simply build a community that’s big enough to sustain itself, but to build one that’s capable of increasingly building a better world, not just for ourselves, but for our children, our children’s children. And equally as important, our neighbors’ children. That, friends, is our “Why”, and our “How” is by actively living through the lens of Jesus and His teachings. As such, things like attendance, offering and tithe, charitable giving and outreach data function less as a means of fulfilling arbitrary bottom lines and quotas and more as a means of measuring how well are we actually doing the things that we hold with the utmost regard: building relationships, demonstrating love, and serving all peoples. Are the metrics relative to and in proportion with our growth? Are they demonstrative of an expanding awareness of and care for others beyond our own immediate microcosm? Are they indicative of an institution that has a desire to outlast its current leadership? In other words, are we becoming something that inspires and encourages others to serve and to lead, to develop and to flourish, so that our existence isn’t tethered to the talents and passions of “the few”, but of “the many”?
Well, as the person who’s largely responsible for tracking the measurable data - the “stuff” by which players live and die by in Finite Games - I’m happy to say that our averages across the board are growing at a fast clip and that the future appears to be very, very bright. Beyond that, though, I’m overwhelmingly proud about the fact that Simplicity looks to be playing a brilliant Infinite Game, one that increasingly reflects that most important of Jesus’ teachings - love one another.
So, as we enter deeper into 2020 and solidify our one word for the year, let us continue to be the kind of people and community that puts relationships first and that builds others up without agenda so that every kind of bird has a place where they’re welcomed, wanted, and affirmed for generations to come.