As I write tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays are visiting the Dodgers in Los Angeles. And right now at the top of the 8th inning, the Blue Jays have one run against the Dodgers and appear to be closing in on them. But you never know. The other night I watched the Blue Jays come back from behind in the bottom of the 9th to win against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 12 -11 picking up 6 runs at the end of that inning. That’s how it is with baseball; just when it looks like you’ve lost, suddenly everything can turn around. Or alternately, just when you think you have it made, things can fall apart — leading to a big loss!
I’m not exactly the world’s most enthusiastic baseball fan, but I really do like watching a good game now and then. And recently, after not having played baseball for years, I’ve had the opportunity to try my hand at it again — with our Church’s slow-pitch baseball league! (I know some would not even consider that to be baseball, but it gives lots of us wanna-bes a chance to enjoy something of the game a little.) Well, I was amazed how difficult it is to manage good playing in a baseball game — even a slow-pitch one! It’s definitely not as easy as it looks when you’re watching the Major Leagues. I have a new appreciation for the athletic ability of the professionals. I knew they were good, but now I know they’re really good. For one thing, I couldn’t believe how much I hurt in my legs several days after that game. And my left arm started to hurt a lot too from catching a few balls. And hitting even a slow-pitch ball takes a bit of skill — I’ve seen some pretty good players strike out, or hit the ball weakly!
A lot of the success in baseball obviously comes from playing as a team — at least on the defense end of things. But it also applies to the offense side of things in the sense that the ball seems to go higher and further off the end of the bat when there’s a good spirit among the players. The other night, we were see-sawing back and forth for the lead with the other team. I noticed that what our team lacked in skill, they made up for in spirit and good team comraderie. Everybody was really into it with one another — lots of high-fives, dramatic acrobatics and general sense of humour. In the end, I think that was a huge factor in winning that game. (I didn’t play because my legs were hurting too much from the game we had played six days earlier!)
(Well, the Blue Jays, are now within one out of winning against the Dogers. Can they do it? The count is 1-1! Now it’s 1-2! Now it’s 2-2! And 3-2! And on the next pitch, the ball is hit and caught! The game is over! The Blue Jays have finally won another game! 1-0! How cool is that!)
Desipite this fine win, the Blue Jays are not having a particularly good season. They are losing more games than they’re winning. Some of their problems are due to crucial injuries. And I’m sure there are other factors. But they are also having some great victories — like this one and the one against the Devil Rays the other night.
It’s a lot like that in the ministry of any particular local church a lot of the time. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like the team is making a lot of progress. Sometimes it seems like there are more losses than gains. Sometimes, the professionals don’t look so hot! But then again, there are some great plays, and some great victories. I think it’s important to remember that every service, every ministry, every event is not necessarily going to be a big win! It’s not that the church team doesn’t try its best (through faith in Christ and the power of the Spirit) to make it so. But sometimes a worship ministry, a sermon, and an attempt at evangelism just doesn’t come off as well as you had hoped or planned. That’s not the point. The big thing is that everyone is working to their best ability (in Christ) and playing as a team. Success should not be measured so much by the big win, as by the spirit of love and devotion to Christ (and one another) and some obvious wins.
I wonder about the coach, John Gibbons, and how he handles a whole series of losses sometimes. Probably he wonders what in the world he and the team are even doing out there. Does he want to quit? Does he get frustrated and mad? Does he throw a tantrum? Probably not. (Well, most times anyway!) Like some pastor in his church, he probably tries to pull his own emotions together and just keep going, encouraging the team to do better next time, seeking to build team spirit even in the midst of set-back and loss. And they’re the professionals. Why should it be any different in the church? Sure there will be some losses, some set-backs, some big disappointments. I’ve seen some very professional players make some pretty poor plays. But that’s no reason to quit! After all, we’ve also seen some of those same people make some really phenomenal plays.
As in baseball, so in the church, it seems to me that the pastor and his team have to keep working the angles, keep believing in God and His truth, as well as in one another, and just keep moving forward. They can’t make too much out of the losses — they can learn from them, but they have to keep pushing ahead for victory, knowing that their final victory is already secure because Jesus has won it for them. There are definitely going to be some losses — maybe more than you’d care to think about. But there are also going to be some big wins. And most of them probably won’t even be evident until you get to heaven.
So keep playing the game; keep learning from your mistakes; keep encouraging one another to do better, to aim higher, and to go further, ’til Jesus says the game is over!