Why being the best isn’t the goal

The downside of our “GOAT” culture

December 30, 2019

The term GOAT—“Greatest of All Time”—is commonly used today, especially in the context of social media. We love to argue over who is the greatest of all time in every field. It occurs most often in sports contexts, especially in the debate over whether the title belongs to Michael Jordan or Lebron James. But our obsession with identifying the GOAT isn’t limited to sports. In fact, the term has become so widely used that Merriam-Webster added it to their dictionary (separate from the entry for the animal) in 2018. We want to know who the best is within each style of music, within different types of literature, and even in Christian preaching or authorship.

When Michael Jordan was initiated into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, his speech turned into something of a parable. At the time, Jordan was widely recognized as the greatest within basketball, if not of all sports. Yet, his speech sadly turned into a re-hashing of decades-old slights, insults, and challenges to his basketball supremacy. Instead of being gracious and simply accepting the GOAT title that the sports world was eager to give, Jordan displayed an insecurity and an unhealthy competitiveness that still sought an outlet. Like King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, Jordan had it all, and yet he found that it was vanity, a chasing after the wind.

Making it personal 

Like Jordan’s display of self-centeredness, we often don’t just seek to know who the best is—we make it personal. We constantly compare ourselves to others, and if we aren’t the best at something (at least in our limited context), we aren’t happy. I serve as a pastor, and recently, I had lunch with a church member whose daughter has taken dance classes for years. This daughter has been gradually surpassed in ability by some other dancers who are younger than her. Now, she can’t even enjoy her dance classes because she’s not the best in the troupe. 

We should seek to find fulfillment and delight in the arts, sports, our vocation, ministry, and any other good gifts, first of all, for God’s glory; he’s the one who has gifted us, enabled us, and sent us to use our abilities for his mission.

I also have friends who are incredible singers and have tried out for “The Voice” or “American Idol.” Given our cultural environment and the emphasis on being the best, it’s tempting for my friends who didn’t make it to feel like they’ve failed. In our flesh, it’s easy to lose enjoyment in something you are good at when you discover that you aren’t the best at it. So, we over-correct and insist that every kid in a sports league get a trophy simply for participating. But, what are we teaching them? What we aren’t teaching them is how to enjoy sports and other activities in life, even if we don’t win or aren’t declared the best. Furthermore, we’re failing to teach them how to celebrate others. 

Pastors often compare themselves and their churches to others, too. We can end up lacking contentment because the other guy’s church is bigger, grew faster, or has a larger budget. Usually this springs from a man-centered, formulaic view of ministry and a neglect of the Holy Spirit’s sovereignty in growing his Church.

Finding joy and engaging in God’s mission

1 Timothy 6:17 says that God “richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” Sports, music, and activities of all types are blessings from God. The devil has come to destroy our joy in God’s rich blessings. But, we don’t have to (and shouldn’t) let pride and unhealthy competitiveness take the fun out of these gifts from God. This is true for all people, but it’s especially important for parents or those who teach or coach young people. From an early age, children should be encouraged to excel, to do everything “from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people” (Col. 3:23); not to pin their self-worth or enjoyment of life on the outcome of a game or how their talent stacks up against everyone else; and to rejoice with others. 

We should seek to find fulfillment and delight in the arts, sports, our vocation, ministry, and any other good gifts, first of all, for God’s glory; he’s the one who has gifted us, enabled us, and sent us to use our abilities for his mission. I’ve seen God use pickup soccer games on Sunday afternoons to fling open doors for gospel proclamation. All of our hobbies and activities are opportunities for mission as we engage in recreation with unbelievers all around us. And second, we should be able to simply and humbly enjoy each of these activities, regardless of how we compare to others, because “it is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts” (Eccl. 3:13).

By the time I got to college, I had taken piano lessons for 10 years, so my parents encouraged me to pursue a music minor, even though I had no plans for a career in music. I got into the program, but I didn’t enjoy most of the time I spent with the other music majors because of the competitive nature of that environment. The thing that I enjoyed the most in the program was accompanying vocal majors as they performed. In those settings, I wasn’t in competition with other piano students. Being able to support someone else as they displayed their talents  and working cooperatively to create something beautiful were the main things that I enjoyed in that program. 

Competition is not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t allow it to rob of us of the simple enjoyment of God’s good gifts and the celebration of others. We don’t all have to—and won’t—be the GOAT. But we can all glorify God in being faithful with what he’s given us for his glory. 

And for the record, Pelé is the greatest athlete of all time.

Matt Crawford

Matt Crawford serves on the staff of City Church Tallahassee as the pastor for the church’s East Campus. Matt also works for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention as a Cooperative Program Catalyst. He has served as an associate and senior pastor for two other churches, and he … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24