Balancing Our Out-of-balance Structure

The Agony of Defeat

Vinko Bogataj, a Slovenian ski jumper, became famous in the United States for a moment of grand failure. Bogataj was competing in the World Ski Flying Championships in Oberstdorf, West Germany, on March 21, 1970. At the start of the event, snow began to fall, getting heavier as the jumping continued. Midway down the ramp for his third jump, Bogataj realized that the conditions had made the ramp too fast. His failed attempt to end his jump resulted in a horrific crash. Bogataj’s crash may have remained obscure had not a film crew from ABC’s Wide World of Sports been on hand to record the event. The producer of the show decided to use the clip in the opening seconds narrated by host Jim McKay. For many years people watched Bogataj’s crash as they heard and the agony of defeat.

If you remember that clip, you know Bogataj as the agony-of-defeat guy. It is amazing that Bogataj suffered only a mild concussion. What most people do not know is that Bogataj was successful in what he was trying to accomplish at that moment: stopping his jump before his fate was much worse.

Bogataj could have thought, I’ve done this a thousand times. I know what I’m doing. I’ve jumped in difficult conditions in the past, and I’ve always survived to jump again. Instead, he recognized that the situation required serious action.

There are many ways churches can respond to today’s culture to make disciples of Christ. There is one change, though, many are unwilling to make because it is too difficult and does not fit with the common structure or plan. To make matters worse, there are few models to learn from. Would it not be better to apply Bogataj’s strategy and make difficult adjustments before it is too late rather than face a worse outcome?

This illustration is not meant to create a sensational extreme or the preview of a miracle cure for the numerical losses in our congregations. But, the examination of a subject, a strategy, a philosophy of ministry can be easily brushed aside by church leaders and Christian educators. What if you could help your church bring greater community, foster greater responsibility in Christians, and invest more effectively in younger generations? Would you be willing to do something that does not fit with the conventional structure of church?

To read the rest of this article and obtain a downloadable PDF of the winter 2008 issue of Enrichment journal, click here.