I wrote this four Aprils ago---but want to call it back up from the minor leagues as this new 2015 baseball season starts.
Truth is, we still see a rift in many churches between the infield (under 60) and outfield (60+)---even when some outfielders are hitting the ball out of the park in their serving efforts.
While YES! specializes in coaching the outfield, we remain convinced it's a full-team effort that leads to the most heart-warming victory celebrations.
Abbott and Costello’s team lineup starts with "Who’s on First" and concludes with ‘I Don’t Give a Darn’ playing shortstop. Throughout this classic and corny routine, Abbott keeps hurling screwball names that his sidekick Costello can't quite catch.
It’s time we take you out to the ball game for another look at the American Church. But we're not buying you peanuts and Cracker Jacks! It's game time, and you're on the team. Suit up quickly for our Team of the Decades.
Positions already have associated numbers, which we'll correlate with each decade of life. Right off the bat, we’re assigning you to your field position based on your decade. (Try this at your next all-church picnic!)
Pitcher (1) - 1st Decade (age 0-9) "Tomorrow"
Catcher(2) - 2nd Decade (10-19) "Today"
First Base (3) - 3rd Decade (20-29) "Who"
Second Base (4) - 4th Decade (30-39) "What"
Third Base (5) - 5th Decade (40-49) "I Don't Know"
Shortstop (6) - 6th Decade (50-59) "I Don't Give a Darn"
Left Field (7) - 7th Decade (60-69) "Why"
Center Field (8) - 8th Decade (70-79) "Because"
Right Field (9) - 9th Decade+ (80+) (sorry, nameless!)
Got the picture? Know your position? Got your cleats and glove? We're ready to play.
Usually when baseball is used as a metaphor in the church, we're taken only around the base path. Too often the outfield is forgotten or ignored.
Part of our mission is making sure the outfield stays in the game. Think about it. How would your favorite team fare if we eliminated the outfield positions?
They may get lucky, survive, or even thrive an inning or two without a ball going beyond the infield. But chances are good they’d soon discover how necessary these players are, both on the field and at the plate.
Ironically, though, the two infield positions at the start and end of Abbott and Costello's routine are the ones in trouble. The American Church is currently losing the most momentum at First Base (third decade, 20-29) and Shortstop (sixth decade, 50-59).
Churches are not quite sure Who's on first anymore, and "I Don't Give a Darn" shortstops are leaving the stadium in record numbers.
Imagine for a moment that you’re an outfielder on a team where the first baseman and shortstop walk off the field. You’re very concerned, right? You know instinctively how important every position is to achieve victory.
It’s always a team effort. You wouldn’t simply ignore the problem because your outfield position is well covered or because you're not the team's manager. The infield vacancies would have your full attention.
What’s troubling is that we don’t often see a similar level of cross-generational concern within our churches, in either direction. We’re insulated within our peer groups to the point we sometimes lose sight of the whole team. Or we trust it's someone else's job to look after the other positions on the team.
We may not even be aware Who the first baseman is, and We Don't Give a Darn that the shortstop is missing. We sometimes completely forget that there's a game going on or that we're playing to win (souls!).
At best, only twenty percent of Christ-centered churches in America are growing. We know this doesn’t automatically translate to a 20 and 80 win-loss season for the Church, but shifts in our game strategy are needed---of Biblical proportions! Non-integration leads us down the basepath of disintegration.
We're on the winning team, but we’re not playing like World Series champs or even mature team players.
We need every generation to step to the plate.
We can’t settle for disharmony between the infield and outfield. We can't move the fences in and pretend the outfielders don’t exist or have only a secondary role on the team. Everyone must suit up and get on the field!
Coaching Advice for Team Leaders
Clearly every position/decade needs to be resourced if you want to play with a full squad. If you’re a leader called to help lead your team to victory, don’t settle for equipping only the pitcher, catcher and infield. Or, by contrast, don’t resource only the outfield.
Make sure your church's budget reflects concern for the whole team. Treating outfielders or anyone else on your team as self-sufficient or unneeded will breed generational isolation and discord.
Short on resources? Instill in your players a deep passion and concern, not just for their own interests, but also the interests of others. Your existing players are your best and most cost-effective resources to address gaps in your lineup.
Invest in enhancing relationships between the decades. Don't pour ALL your prayer, time, energy, money and other resources into age-specific programs that keep generations separated.
Encourage intergenerational leadership for all age-specific ministries, including your older adults.
For those of you working with adults in life’s second half, don’t lose sight of your call to equip believers for the work of the ministry. The game is not over! Don't center all your activities around the dugout or the seventh inning stretch. Don't give credence to the notion that retirees belong perpetually to the off season.
Keep your team on the field, and for heaven's sake, invest in their ministry potential!
Work diligently to fill all vacant slots on your roster. Get the whole team involved, from oldest to youngest.
Invite YES! to help you shift your strategy so that your part of the team is better integrated with the whole team.
We want to see ‘Who’ back on first and ‘I Don't Give a Darn’ adopting a better attitude and scooping up grounders at shortstop!
Collaborating with the infield, YES! helps church and ministry teams
inspire the outfield to serve and make disciples.
(YES! Mission Statement---NAPV---New American Pastime Version :)