I’m a parent, and I’m a pastor- and if you’ve spent any time around us, you know that one of our greatest gifts (and perhaps curses!) is to draw spiritual principles out of just about everything that happens between us and our kids. Much like our uncanny ability to alliterate in our messages- I mean, you do know that we dream about three points all starting with the same letter, don’t you?– we tend to inevitably process the events of our everyday lives through a teaching lens. What follows in the paragraphs to come is the product of one of my latest such thought processes. I mean, we really can’t help it here…so be gracious.
It’s a new season in our family- one in which we have three kids old enough to get outside the bubble of home and try their hand at some of the fine activities our community has to offer. Our quest to “try some stuff” led us for the first time this spring to the t-ball fields with our two boys. A few weeks in, it’s been quite an experience- good for some proud parent moments, a few head scratching parent moments, and a whole lot of laughs at the expense of small children and the adults trying to corral them into some semblance of an organized contest.
And of course, in true parent-pastor fashion, it has also called to mind some principles that apply well beyond the confines of preschool level sports to the life of every follower of Jesus, including you and me. Here are four things that God is showing me through my time observing, cheering, and “coaching” (and I use that term verrrry loosely)…
1- Everyone has to start somewhere. Have you ever thought about the fact that every professional baseball player in the world today was once three years old, toddling around a t-ball field in their hometown? The first key to excellence- in baseball, or in anything else in life- is to simply get started.
When Jesus called His first disciples, they were far from world changing spiritual giants; they were actually stunningly ordinary, and more than a bit under-developed. So how did they become the men who would one day take the Gospel of Jesus to the world? They simply got started– by responding to one simple invitation to follow Jesus. If you sense calling you to follow Him (overall, or in a specific direction within your relationship), have you taken the first step?
2- A little encouragement goes a long way. I’ve been volunteering with my boys’ teams as an extra set of hands on the bases and in the field. Do you know what I have found to be my primary role? It’s not teaching technical skill; it is simply reminding the kids (approximately 57 times per game) to pay attention, give their best, and have fun doing it. For example, I’ve used the phrase, “Run so fast that fire starts to come from your feet” more times than I can count. Despite being a somewhat terrifying image, it seems to be a kid favorite.
How much do we need the exact same thing over the long road of our lives with Jesus? While there is certainly a place for what we might call “technical instruction” (more on that in a moment), more than anything we need to be reminded of a few simple things- God’s great love for us, God’s constant faithfulness to lead us, and God’s amazing grace available to us at every moment through Jesus. These core truths are the “fuel” for perseverance through the inevitable ups and downs of life. What word of encouragement do you need to hear right now? What word of encouragement do you need to give someone else right now?
3- “Showing” is far more powerful than just “telling.” My three year old son, Asa, entered his inaugural season with a very interesting take on batting, one that could be generously described as a “tomahawk chop” in the general vicinity of the ball. No matter how many times I told him to alter the direction of his swing, he just wasn’t getting it. Turns out, he needed something more than a good “talking to”; he needed to see a different way of swinging. After getting a glimpse of such a way from his coach, his teammates, and a family member other than me, he’s now slugging like a champ.
Often, our default mode of helping others grow in Jesus is much like my method of teaching Asa how to swing the bat. We “talk at” people instead of taking the time to give them a glimpse of what following Jesus looks like in real life. We don’t need perfect examples, but we do need living ones that we can observe and imitate. This is why Paul could say with such boldness in 1 Corinthians 11:1- “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Where and how do you need to be “shown” the life of faith? Who in your life can you imitate? Where and how can you become a “living example” for others as well?
4- The team win is far more valuable than personal glory. We don’t do much fussing in 3-5 year old t-ball- but there is one area where we have had to lay a hard line with our players. In their unrelenting zeal to “get the ball” while playing defense, several of our kids would consistently “dogpile” their teammate, attempting to wrestle the ball from them. Aside from the obvious injury concern, this led us to teach a critical principle- The point isn’t for you (whoever you are) to make every play, but for our team to make every play. When one person succeeds, we all succeed. We can’t waste time and energy fighting against one another; we support and celebrate everyone else.
As I was saying that for what felt like the hundredth time, I was struck by how much we need that word as the church of Jesus. How often and easily do we become fixated on amplifying our glory, or our church’s glory, or our ministry’s glory– forgetting that in the end, it is the “team win” that matters? Are we as eager to support and celebrate others’ efforts to follow Jesus and help others follow Him as we are our own, or are we “dogpiling” others in an effort to wrestle glory from them and gain it for ourselves? How much of our criticism of others is rooted in this very spirit of self-promotion? If I could be this direct, we need to ask ourselves this question, and if we find the answer is in any way “yes,” it’s time to repent and ask God for His heart and His perspective. Where are you most prone to seek personal glory instead of “team wins”? Who do you need to take time right now to support and celebrate in their ministry efforts?
Now, who says t-ball can’t have eternal value? Based on my experience, I beg to differ. I pray these thoughts encourage and challenge you as you consider God’s call on your life today.