Baseball season is upon us once again. My older two have abandoned the sport in favor of other pursuits, but little Emerald is beyond excited that this is the first sport that she is old enough to play. She has her brand new pink baseball glove and a heart full of enthusiasm, even though before last week she had never in her life picked up a baseball bat.
Tonight I sat in the stands, watching her practice. She has a way of sort flitting from base to base, feet barely touching the ground. She looks like a little baseball fairy out there, floating around the diamond with no sense of urgency at all. They practiced their batting. She has done pretty well hitting it off the tee, but tonight her coach got her all set up to swat at some real-live pitched baseballs. He gently lobbed them over the plate while Emerald swung wildly, with no sense of where her bat was going or what her arms were actually accomplishing. Over and over again she swung her bat, and over and over again she missed the ball. Her coach never stopped smiling. He never stopped encouraging her. And, he kept pitching the ball. Try again! he called out, sure that this would be the pitch that would make contact with her tiny pink bat. He kept trying. She kept trying. But, she never did hit that ball.
When she got in the car after practice, she told me she was good out there tonight. In true mama fashion, I agreed: You did great! She smiled at me from the backseat, her cheeks pink, her hair disheveled by the stout west Texas wind. Yeah, I wasn’t just good. I was GREAT!
Next week, when we meet back at the slightly overgrown early spring t-ball field, her coach will hand her that little pink bat, and he will pitch the ball to her again and again and again. She may or may not hit it in the next practice. Or the next one. But, one of these days, she will put her bat to a ball, a testament to the patience and encouragement of her sweet coach.
Our churches are kind of like little t-ball players sometimes. Churches need time to figure out the best way to carry out their mission in their field. Our churches need our patience.
The local church is never going to be perfect. It’s never going to handle every person and every situation in exactly the best way. It’s always going to have people here and there who are in the wrong positions, who make poor decisions, who leave bad impressions. Churches will always struggle to be everything to everybody, although they try. No church anywhere will ever achieve perfect Christ-likeness, ever. Because every, single church is filled with people who struggle every day against their own sins, their own selfish tendencies, their own desires for glory.
We have to be patient with each other.
Chances are, if you aren’t attending a local church because you had a bad experience there, you’re eliminating the entire church from your life over one thing that one person said. Or how someone looked at you. You may be holding a grudge against all local churches because of one comment that one guy made when you were a teenager. You may be convinced that people are looking down on you, even though there is no evidence of that whatsoever. You have to remember that God created the church for His glory and for your good. Are you really going to stand before Him one day and tell him that you just couldn’t serve Him in the local church because so-and-so made a rude comment about your hair? Or because someone once passed you by in the hallway without shaking your hand? Excuses like that are going to seem so ridiculous in the light of His presence.
And then, others of you are active members of churches, but you are impatient to see things done your way. You are frustrated with the leadership. You feel like your pastor is dropping the ball. You feel like Sunday school is outdated, or you hate the concept of home groups.You place so much value on your pet issues that you ignore all of the good that your church is doing. You get so upset with your pastor or with the music choices or because the service runs ten minutes longer than you think it should. You get worked up over carpet colors and money issues, and you want control.
Or you are a pastor. You are concerned about the slow spiritual growth of the congregation. You can see how things could be better, and you want them to change as soon as possible. You are so tired of being held back by old ways or being pushed into new ways. You feel like you are constantly dealing with silly issues instead of the real work that you feel called to.
To all of you, I say it again: have patience with your church.
Let’s imagine for a moment that Emerald’s coach had no patience. Imagine that she gets up to bat with her sparkly tennis shoes and her hot pink batting helmet. Imagine that the smiling coach throws the first pitch. Emerald misses, of course. The coach maintains his smile. Try again! he encourages her. But, again she misses the ball. After a few pitches, the coach starts to get red in the face. He turns to another player on the field and makes a comment about how bad Emerald is at baseball. Then he gets on Facebook and posts a status update about how he hates pitching the ball to her. He marches up to the plate and tells Emerald that if she doesn’t figure out how to hit the ball pretty soon, he’s walking off of the field, and he’s never coming back.
Do you think any of those things will make Emerald hit the ball on the next pitch? Of course not, because she still isn’t sure how to do what she needs to do.
If we want our churches to do better, to be better, to accomplish more of what God has called them to do, we are going to have to hang in there with our churches. We’re going to have to keep pitching the ball. Keep encouraging. Keep praying. Keep serving. We have to have the kind of patience that a sweet granddad t-ball coach has: I’ll pitch this ball as many times as it takes, for as many weeks (or months or years) as it takes for you to figure out what you’re doing here on this field. We are all just trying to figure out the best way to do church. And, if we keep going and we keep begging God to work and bless our churches with His presence, one of these days we will see our churches start to hit the ball regularly. And sometimes, we may even hit a homerun or two.
Just read some of Paul’s writings to the churches of New Testament times, and you’ll see that local churches have ALWAYS had issues. Our modern churches are no different. But, we are never going to be able to fulfill our individual roles as members of this Body if we are too impatient. Too easily angered. Too quick to criticize. Too offend-able. In fact, if we talk about our church and complain about our pastor more than we pray for them, then we are a big part of the problem.
Go to church. Serve God. Love people. And, make a conscious effort to keep pitching that ball with a smile, knowing that your prayers and work and sacrifice and love will make a difference to the Kingdom of God. In the words of an old song that my kids like to sing in the bathtub: Remember that God is patient, too. And, think of all the times that others had to wait for you.
It’s worth it. Take a deep breath, and gift a little patience to your church.