What Would Bubba Do?
By Eddie Lowen
I’m on the Bubba Bandwagon.
This year’s Masters golf tournament concluded on Easter Sunday when a professional golfer named Bubba Watson hit an ultraremarkable winning shot from a grove of pine trees. “Bubba” is a surprising name for a Masters champion, but it’s better than being named “Boo.” Boo Weekley is a fellow pro who, ironically, hails from the same small Florida town as Bubba.
Bubba and Boo—they sound like characters from the History Channel reality show Swamp People. But they have become to professional golf what the Blue Collar guys are to comedy.
Trust me, their redneck credentials are unquestionable. Boo sponsors a line of camouflage-patterned golf attire. Bubba owns the most recognizable ’69 Dodge Charger in the world: the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard—the actual car, not a replica. You can’t make this stuff up!
Life, Friends, Family
If Southern charm doesn’t draw you to Bubba, his passion for life, friends, and family will. Bubba and his wife were baptized together in 2004. When asked about his marriage, he replied, “The Bible says when you’re married, you become one. That’s what we are. She is part of me, and I’m part of her.”
Without shame, Bubba wept publicly when his dad was dying of cancer. And Bubba is the only major tournament winner I can recall who was rushed by a half-dozen other pro golfers the instant he won. Most shed tears of joy for him; all embraced him like a brother.
As his friends spoke of him in post-tourney interviews, every man who watched hungered for that kind of friendship. It was good, good stuff.
Though I am often skeptical of celebrity testimonies of faith, my fraud-o-
meter doesn’t even twitch when Bubba talks about his love for Christ. He sounds thoroughly genuine and natural. He’s not playing a role. He’s simply being Bubba.
The risk factor is what made Bubba’s now-immortal winning golf shot so phenomenal. Unable to see his target, Bubba aimed directly into the opposite woods, then trusted the shot to curve. Even for a pro, it was enormously difficult. Calculating the curve and distance would have challenged a team of NASA scientists. If the shot had curved 10 percent too little or too much, he probably would have lost the tournament. But Bubba knows only one way to play, which is to go for it. His caddie calls his aggressive style Bubba Golf.
Leaders Like Bubba
God’s kingdom is desperate for leaders who will do life and ministry the way Bubba approaches life and golf: wide open . . . transparent . . . devoted to family and friends . . . diligent . . . respectful of conventional ways, but not obligated to them . . . solid as a rock . . . self-deprecating, but not self-defeating . . . possessing an appetite for risk. We need Bubba-pastors, Bubba-elders, and Bubba-church planters. The pink golf club Bubba wields is optional, but his courageous spirit is not.
I realize that advising church leaders to take risks is . . . risky. Church leaders with reckless tendencies and questionable judgment have done real damage in numerous instances. But I’m convinced that advising church leaders to “play it safe” is the riskiest strategy of all. Whether you die napping in your recliner or die mountain climbing, the result is the same. But at least the guy lying at the bottom of the mountain attempted something great.
A close pastor friend of mine is reshaping his church in dramatic ways. It’s a total church DNA transplant. Frankly, I’m uncertain it will work. And here’s the thing: he is uncertain, too. However, he sees the American church losing influence and participation, and is passionate about finding solutions. If his concern isn’t addressed, my grandchildren may live in a nation where the church is badly marginalized (think: Europe).
So, my pastor friend is taking a risk. He knows it. That doesn’t mean he’s flailing about. He’s done his homework and prays like crazy, though the risk is still great. He might fail. Or, he might help pioneer the next generation of explosive church growth.
Some think he’s crazy. But many thought the Wright Brothers were crazy. Yet, thanks to their Bubba-ness, you and I can now board an airplane and nap during takeoff. We live on the accomplishments of risk-takers every day. I’m glad my friend is trying to do a great thing for the kingdom.
A Challenge to Charge
I don’t lead a church in a cosmopolitan city or an edgy community. You might expect an exhortation like this one to come from a pastor who preaches in flip-flops. I’m not that guy. But while location must inform the speed and intensity of our leadership, it must not determine the potency. If you’re a church leader, you have a responsibility to identify the next level, determine an appropriate level of risk, and then lead a charge.
I’m convinced of this: it is a great sin to accept a leadership role in the church with the intent of never risking your leadership capital to advance it. It is unacceptable to wait out your working years, or to become so addicted to approval, that moving the needle seems optional. And, while preaching is of immense importance, it is not everything. If you preach well and lead poorly, you’re violating the very word you preach, which commands us to do, not just say.
As I waited for my car to be washed, a retired pastor struck up a conversation with me. He learned that I’m a minister and offered me a warning: “Take chances.” He confessed that his greatest regret was being too passive. I saw the ache of missed opportunities in his eyes. He wishes he had been more like Bubba.
A Risk Rewarded
One of my risky leadership moves was hiring five 20-somethings in rapid succession at a church that was 100 years old. Some advised me to lean harder on experience, but instinct and opportunity seemed to point the other way.
Those young adults shifted our focus and challenged our assumptions. They also attracted other young adults and helped us realize the importance of engaging our community. Today we are known as an affluent church with a big heart for the less fortunate. The vision and energy for that emphasis began with those younger staff members, but has now permeated our church.
A few years later, I doubled down on that decision by promoting one of those 20-somethings to our senior staff team. Although it was challenging for some to envision a young female in such an influential role, she is now an admired, effective leader who is obviously created to lead leaders.
Don’t allow your church to lose its Bubba-factor. We serve a great God. We have a mighty Savior. We’re indwelled by a powerful Spirit. As Paul coached Timothy, “God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible” (2 Timothy 1:7, The Message).
Eddie Lowen is lead minister with West Side Christian Church, Springfield, Illinois, and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.