I am about 9. The lights are in my eyes, and I feel like I need to throw up, go to the bathroom, or maybe pass out.
There are adults cheering. My parents are encouraging me. And the kids around me are either yelling or staring at me like I am a mortal enemy.
If you’re thinking I’m talking about Little League Baseball, you are a very astute individual.
The pitcher is throwing the ball towards me. It isn’t really to the catcher, and it isn’t exactly at my head. But it feels like it.
The count is 0-3. He’s in the dirt with two and over my head with the third.
I’m planning on a walk.
It works a lot for a kid my age. This game is well before the introduction of pitching machines or coach pitch. This erratic 10-year-old pitcher will later end my baseball career with two stunning wild pitches. I am confident that I am playing all the right odds in betting on a walk. Three out of seven is a lot to hope for — and against.
Suddenly, the large man in the blue shirt is yelling what I later would realize was the word “strike.” You can’t really tell right away because he sounds like a cross between a slurring drunk, a drill sergeant calling cadence, and maybe an umpire.
Great. The kid found the strike zone.
“Now you’re ready!” everyone is yelling. I brace up to not-swing again. Here it comes.
“Thwack” is the sound of the ball kissing the catcher’s mitt at a screaming 40 miles an hour. The umpire slurs his “STYYYYY” and adds a quite understated, “two,” as he gestures and points toward the dugout with his right index finger. He adds a half-Nixon with his left hand to show the count of strikes.
Great. Now I gotta take a swing. I lift the bat from my shoulder, squint into the lights, and make my stand.
The whistle of the ball and the whiff of the bat are pretty standard sounds. Insert those here, won’t you?
The umpire erupts now in full-on, “this-is-why-I-do-this” mode. He jumped out to his right, pointed his right hand so hard it was trembling, and shouted, “STYYYYYYY thuh-REE! YOOROOOOOUUUT!”
After the game ended, I left with my small complimentary drink, a Suicide: Equal parts root beer, Pepsi, Seven-up, Orange, and Grape from the concession stand in that particular ball park. Incidentally, the winning team got a large drink.
And What Did We Learn?
On the way home, my Dad had some words of wisdom.
“Son, you’ve got to want it,” he said as he piloted the family Ford LTD back towards the house (ours was a 1977, in a lovely shade of maroon). The land yacht was a place where I learned a lot of things.
Oddly enough, I learned how to consistently hit the baseball while sitting in the backseat of that car.
He said a lot more than that one little sentence. I’m sure there were reminders about my stance and posture, something about the angle of the bat and what to watch for when the ball was coming in. But the thing that I still recall very, very clearly is the simple reminder to harness my desire.
I have to say that the lesson didn’t do much good for my baseball career in the long run. I already told you that the pitcher that night soon ended my baseball career. The kid who loaded up the count and then blew one by me managed to peg me twice a few games later: Once in the head in the second inning and then again in the back of the right calf in the fifth. You heard me: The BACK of the right calf. You gotta work hard to hit a kid from behind like that. I called it a career and hung up my spikes.
But before I did, I had actually started to connect in those muggy, insect-ridden baseball games back at the old ball park. Some of them even made it out of the infield.
Even at that age, I realized what was going on. I could hit the ball in practice because I wanted to. I could do it in the backyard because I wanted to. I could hit the ball at the batting cages, even at a screaming 40 miles an hour, because I wanted to.
During the game, I didn’t really want to. What I really wanted to do was throw up in the dugout and be left alone, like the other half of the team who were not into organized sports but were there to A) “Build Character,” B) “Develop Coordination,” or C) “Give the family something to do together.”
We were “D) Maybe he might be good at it and win a scholarship someday.” But I digress.
Applications in the Church
Surprisingly, Dad’s advice has come in handy in the local church.
When leaders come to me and ask if there is something that we can do to increase attendance, increase the offering, or increase the commitment to serve the Church, I have a ready answer.
“You’ve got to want to do those things.”
You can’t just wish for it. And you can’t expect the pastor to pull it off alone. The work of the congregation is vital to the success of the effort.
In fact, you’re better off to have an interested congregation with a lousy pastor than a great pastor with an apathetic flock.
The point is to want to give for the right reasons. The point is to want to grow for the right reasons. The point is to want to commit more and more deeply for all the right reasons. And you’ve got to want it badly enough to take the bat off your shoulder and swing.
What’s Behind the “Want?”
So many people are at church for so many reasons. And that’s okay. I’m happy to get people nearer to the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness. But when it comes to the work of the church, it is really difficult to move forward when everyone has a different goal.
The real task is to determine why a person wants to see improvement in the congregation. So I have some follow up questions.
- Why more people? Is it just to keep the place from looking so empty, or because you want to see people find the Jesus who found you?
- Why more money? For more and better ministry or to keep up with the Joneses?
- Why more commitment? To get more bodies to run the program or to increase discipleship across the board?
When those answers are wrong, you’ll be reminded that I’m Done Growing the Church.
Getting down to the core issues in the church helps to determine what it is that people REALLY want. And when those motivations are good and right and to the glory of God, then I am ready to go full bore. And I’m ready to lead the congregation to those ends.
But there’s a condition.
You’ve got to want to.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend and they live in Kentucky. Joey serves Mayfield First United Methodist Church, the Purchase District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.