Don't Swing for the Fences
For a lifelong Cubs fan, there was hardly a more thrilling player than Sammy Sosa. Let's set aside, for a moment, the fact that he played during the scandal-plagued steroid era. At the time, I was a giddy baseball fan, tuning into WGN to hear every thrilling at bat in 1998, when Sosa and Mark McGuire competed for the home run title. Sammy's home runs were the stuff of legend and made tuning into a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon a community event. I still hear the dulcet tones of Pat Hughes in my head, "There's a drive, deep right field … " and the corresponding "Yes!" from the late Ron Santo.
Sammy's "at bats" were epic. To watch him swing was to watch a man with one purpose in mind: hit the baseball as far as humanly (and apparently chemically) possible. Sosa either whacked the ball into another zip code or struck out. But even his strikeouts were fun, watching him twist with such indomitable force.
Sammy was great those years. But Cubs fans know that winning baseball doesn't rely on super-star home run hitters alone. In 2003, when we won the division (and then lost the Division Series to the Florida Marlins in agonizing, memorable fashion after being two outs away from the World Series—thank you Steve Bartman), the Cubs were more balanced. Yes, we still had stars like Sosa. Mostly, though, the team was made up of everyday grinders like Mark Belhorn, Doug Glanville, and Paul Bako. Players who showed up every day and did their jobs without much acclaim.
Homeruns and Homilies
Ministry is very much like baseball in this way. There will be the home run hitters—exceptionally gifted preachers. But most who lead God's people will be the grinders. The Belhorns, Glanvilles, and Bakos who show up every week and feed God's people truth in faithful, but unspectacular fashion.
This is not an excuse for mediocrity. It's not a rant against celebrity. Every generation has genuinely gifted servants with ministries beyond their congregations. We should rejoice at their large kingdom impact. "There many not be many noble," Paul says. But there are some and we thank God for their giftedness.
Still, I wonder if the rest, called to grind it out and preach weekly attempt to be superstars. I wonder if we try too hard, swinging for the fences with every new sermon. When I pastored, I had to fight this weekly.
You might call this the Revival Syndrome or the Camp Meeting Syndrome. Most of us who serve in ministry have experienced one or more of these emotional, life-changing moments, where a single message altered the course of our lives. But if we were to be honest, those sermons might have been catalysts, but it was the patient daily practices of Bible reading, church attendance, prayer, and spiritual mentoring that helped the seed of spirituality blossom.
As a pastor, you want every Sunday to be this meaningful for the people in your congregation. Yet, there is something wrong if we expect every message, every worship service to be like that revival or camp meeting.