Monday, March 31, 2014

A Little Baseball Wisdom for Pastors and Churches

Opening Day!  Woo-hoo!  This should probably be a national holiday … just saying.  I’m ready to root for my Baltimore Orioles for the next six months and, fingers crossed, just a little bit longer.  My beloved O’s are in the toughest division in baseball, but on opening day everything is possible.  We do currently sit atop our division in a tie for first place.  So on this opening day, I thought I'd connect two of my loves—Orioles baseball and ministry—and reflect on pastors and churches through a baseball lens.

The pastor is a player-coach.  He leads by word and example.  He doesn’t ask others to do things he wouldn’t do himself.  He doesn’t just pontificate; he is also in the thick of the game.  So after almost four decades in the ministry, more than three of them as a senior pastor, I want to share some of the wisdom I’ve accumulated.  Though I could have done a lot better at my job over the years, God has blessed and I have learned a few things along the way.  A caveat: you won’t see a lot of supernatural references in these little quips; God’s overarching providence and power are assumed.  So with that in mind, here goes.

·         The team belongs to the Owner; the coach’s job is to manage and develop the team.

·         The coach is going to take some criticism.  He needs to learn what he can from it and let the rest of it go.  His primary job is to please the Owner.

·         Our opponent is a tough out.

·         Coach the team up, not down.

·      There are no roster limits—you can’t have too many players on your team.

·         I’d rather go down swinging than take a called third strike.

·         Laying down a sacrifice to advance a teammate is a worthy at bat.

·         Sometimes you’ve got to play small ball to manufacture runs.  Small ball = don’t swing at bad pitches, a walk is as good as a hit, bunt for a base hit, sacrifice to move the runners, take the extra base every chance you get.  Small ball is neither flashy nor glamorous, but it gets the job done.

·         A long fly ball to the warning track is still an out.

·       Every player and every team is prone to a slump now and then—coaches too.

·      If you bat .300 in sharing Christ with others, you are an all-star; if you share your faith at all, you’re a starter on the team.

·         Don’t forget to thank the bat boys, the grounds crew, and the folks who clean the locker room—they’re part of the team too.

·          Pound the strike zone.

·         Even though you’ll probably never change the call, it’s okay to argue with the umpire once in a while on behalf of your team (see Job, Jeremiah, and the Psalms).

·         Everybody makes an error now and then, so lighten up.

·         Make sure the team gets plenty of practice.

·         The positions are different but every position matters.

·         Shuffle the line up every now and then; change the batting order once in a while.

·         The guys in the bullpen need to get their innings.

·        Don’t lose touch with the players on the Disabled List; they’re still part of the team.

·      Talk with each other in the field so there are no collisions and we don’t hurt ourselves.

·         The guy who scores and the guy who knocks him in count the same.

·         It’s okay to let a player rest and sit out a game now and then.

·         Work to maintain unity in the dugout and the locker room.

·         When you’re on a serious losing streak, a team meeting may be in order to clear the air and get refocused on the goal.

·       Don’t let the guy on the bench who would rather watch than play soak up all your energy; give your best attention to the ones who take the field.

·         Don’t be afraid to bring up the guy from the minor leagues and give him a shot at the big-time.  He just might become the rookie-of-the-year.

·         Most every team member thinks he’s a free agent, and some of them will leave your team to join another.  Don’t worry too much about that; you’ll probably grab your share of free agents too … whether you want them or not.

·         When team members get too old or infirm to play and have to take a seat in the stands, tip your hat to them now and then and honor them for all they’ve done.

·    In the course of a long season, some games are more important than others.  It’s important to discern the difference.

·         When on a winning streak, stay humble and stay hungry.

·      And no matter what happens with the team, remember this: the Owner always has your back.

So there you have it: a little pastoral/baseball wisdom on MLB’s opening day.  If you’re a pastor, I hope this encourages you a little bit.  If you’re a team member, I hope this helps you see some things through your coach’s (uh … pastor’s) eyes.  And if you’re either and you want to add a little pastoral/baseball wisdom of your own, please do so.

Go O’s!  Go Pastors!  And go Church!

Monday, March 10, 2014

He Turned Out Okay

Maybe in some ways I’m just a starry-eyed idealist, but I believe with all my heart that people can change, that anybody can change.  And why can’t they?  I believe in a God who saw fit to include in His Bible these words: “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things pass away, all things become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).  People can change.  God is in the transformation business.  The man who wrote that Bible verse was once Church Enemy #1 yet became the church’s greatest missionary.  Being a pastor in a local church, I get a ringside seat to watch God change people.  I’ve watched the fearful find courage, the greedy turn generous, lost people found, haters learn to love, and sinners become saints.  Watching people change for the better is one of the great joys of my life.  And it reinforces my faith that God can change anybody.     

I was reminded of that just today.  I called to check on one of our church family who is stricken with Alzheimer’s.  Her memory is pretty much all gone now.  Life consists of spending a few hours each week at The Caring Place and staying home the rest of the time.  When I called to check on her, her son answered the phone.  Her son—a man who spent much of his life in trouble or in jail or both, a man who was so messed up and checked out that his parents had to raise his son.  I had a lot of agonizing conversations about him with his mom and dad who never gave up on him or never stopped loving him.  Sadly, his dad died some years ago, still praying and hoping for his son to change.  

Anyway, this son and I had a nice chat on the phone about his mother.  She lives with him now.  He takes care of her.  He keeps a steady job.  He’s changed.  He’s a different man in the same body.  Just before we hung up, he said something that struck me deeply.  And he said it with the tone of lingering regret: “I only wish dad could see how I turned out.”

“I suspect he knows,” I said.  “Somehow, I suspect he knows.”

Now the Bible is not clear on whether people in heaven can see us down here on earth, and it's also unclear about what they might know of what’s happening in our lives down here.  But this we know for sure: God sees, God knows.  And after all the prayers this man’s father offered up for him over the years, I suspect when his son changed, God let his dad know about it.  Approaching him with the wry grin of a man who was about to give someone a gift, God must have taken as much joy in telling him as the man did in hearing it: “Clay, you know your son you prayed for for years?  He turned out okay.”

Praise God who can change us all!