Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago, liked to play racquetball. He had decided to give the sport a try and within several months he was beating most of the people he played. He enjoyed it so much that he was playing four or five times each week. He thought he was good.
One day he saw a poster about a tournament at the club where he played. The tournament had three levels, with Level C being for recreational novices, Level B for intermediate, and Level A for those who took racquetball very seriously.
He was trying to figure out which level he should sign up for. He tried to think objectively about his own skills and how he would compare to others. Obviously, the C level was not for him. But should he go with the B or the A level? He figured he would do well in B, but maybe he should take his chance and go for A.
As he stood there pondering his skills an older gentleman came up to him. “Are you thinking about joining the tournament?” he asked Bill. Bill could tell that the man was sizing him up, trying to figure out how good of a player he might be. Bill was doing the same, and he wasn’t impressed. The man had a pot belly and was short with stubby arms. He didn’t have much “reach,” something important in racquetball.
The man told Bill that he had played at the C level the year before and came in tenth place. He actually sounded proud of it. Bill tried to keep from laughing. If he had come in tenth at the C level he wouldn’t have told anyone.
The guy invited Bill to play and he said yes, thinking that this was a great opportunity to see how he measured up to others. After he saw how hard it would be to beat this guy he would have a good sense of whether he should be in the A or B level.
In 7 minutes this older pot-bellied guy beat Bill—21 to nothing. Bill had never played anyone so good. They went to the shower room to change. The older man was getting ready to leave–he didn’t have to shower since he didn’t even break a sweat in the short game–and then Bill asked him, “How well would you do against the C level champion?” “I might get 5 points to his 21,” the guy said. “And how would the C level champion do against an average B level guy.” “No contest,” the guy said, “the C level champ wouldn’t score a point.” It was the same if the B level champion played an average A level guy.
Bill was depressed. But more than that, he realized just how deceived he had been. He thought he was good at racquetball. He thought he might be A level material but now he discovered that he wasn’t even competitive in the C level. He was so deceived about his abilities. He had vastly overestimated his racquetball skills.[i]
[i] Bill Hybels, “Christianity’s Toughest Competitor: Moralism” Preaching Today 115.