Centerfield

As a kid, I loved baseball. As a kid growing up in South Jersey, I loved the Philadelphia Phillies. As a kid growing up in South Jersey who loved the Phillies, I loved Mike Schmidt. He was my hero and I watched him play every chance I got.

I remember being on a camping trip with a bunch of other boys and dads from our church. I was probably around 9 or 10 years old. I was playing with a friend near a shallow, slow-moving river where the occasional canoe would meander by. I recall a canoe and its paddlers paddling by when one of them–an lady probably in her 50s–called to me on the shore, “Hello!” “Hi!” I replied. She called out, “You look like a baseball player!”

She couldn’t have known it, but she had just gifted me with the greatest, most magnificent compliment a boy could receive. I was immediately dumbfounded and honestly don’t think I said anything else to the stranger in the canoe. My brain was spinning, trying to figure out how this women knew of my love for baseball and how its all I wanted to do, and how I dreamed of playing with my hero and idol, Michael Jack Schmidt in the major leagues someday. She must have just seen it in my eyes. I must’ve so powerfully oozed a love for baseball that she couldn’t help but see my future in it.

After she was gone around the next bend and out of sight, I stood there with mouth a-gape. Still reeling. Still reveling in those 6 glorious words, believing this woman was undoubtedly a prophetess, uttering the proclamation of my future glory on a major league diamond somewhere. Then I looked down at my left hand. And saw my baseball glove.

Oooooooooh.  So THAT’S how she knew I loved baseball. That lady wasn’t a prophetess. She just had functioning eyeballs and the ability to spout the obvious to little kids onshore.

I won’t say that my dreams of baseball stardom were dashed that day, but they were severely dented. Maybe I wasn’t headed for the majors after all.

This morning on my commute to work I was listening to the radio when the song “Centerfield” came on. If you haven’t heard it, John Fogerty basically created the defining song about baseball.

“Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play…today.  Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play…today.
Look at me, I can be….centerfield!”

As a youth pastor I sometimes think about who I am, where I am, and what I do.  It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while someone will dare to ask me if I’d ever consider taking a “lead” or “senior” pastor role. I think to many it equates to a call to the major leagues.

But I don’t think so…at all.

I love student ministry and while I’m very realistic about my plummeting “hipness” factor, I still love every single day that I get to pray for, serve, speak to, disciple, laugh with, counsel, help, support, walk with, listen to, and influence the next generation. I just love it. It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, it’s not lucrative, it’s not glamorous, it’s not simple, it’s not always fun…but I just somehow love it. Will I do this for another 21 years? Who knows. But for now, “Put me in, Coach!”

So whether you’re in full time ministry or mopping floors (there’s often overlap there), my prayer for you is that you wake up tomorrow with an insatiable desire to play centerfield. Wherever you find yourself.

C’mon…sing along…

 

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A Misspelled Reminder

I remember back in high school, while walking between classes I’d sometimes hear a distant voice from another hallway calling out, “Fight!“. Nothing got people going in the same direction quicker than the opportunity for public spectacle, even if it amounted to not much more than a couple girls pulling hair and feverishly slapping each other. If we were really lucky, it would be a couple of juiced up jocks going at it.

A simple truth about human nature: A crowd draws a crowd.

That’s why I don’t put much stock in a church or student ministry that has the ability to simply draw a crowd. If you’re a youth pastor and you’ve bragged over your big numbers I can honestly confess that I don’t get too fired up about that. Good marketing doesn’t always equal good ministry. After all, that fight in the next hall over drew a huge crowd and there was nothing good happening there.

I attended a one-day conference called the “Orange Tour” the other day. For the most part, it was very enjoyable and I got to see and hear from some well-known and very impactful communicators. Big shots like Carey Nieuwhof and Jon Acuff to name a couple. While sitting among a small sea of ministry leaders, I was careful to take copious notes. But I don’t take notes like normal people. I’m a note-doodler. So there I am doodling two words that were being discussed from the stage. Two words that, according to the speaker (and statistical reality) trump the attraction of spectacle via lasers and fog and up-to-the-minute trendy music when it comes to why people go to and stick with a particular church.

You ready for the two words?  “Relational warmth.”

In a nutshell, its relational warmth that makes a church sticky to people. Its relational warmth that draws people in, puts them at ease, and allows community to happen. Its relational warmth that far outweighs the lighting effect budget or lack thereof.

Now, take a look at mrelational-warmthy doodle I drew as I was listening to this truth being talked about…

I got nearly all the way through this doodle and realized I misspelled the word “Relational”.  In the very next moment it dawned on me that in that silly mistake is a powerful truth. If my relationships aren’t real…that is, if I keep my guard up, if I posture like I’ve got my whole act together all the time, if I’m not willing to be vulnerable and honest, if I keep up an affront that gives the vibe that I’m more than I am or less than I should be….well, that relationship won’t get much deeper than…you know…something shallow.

Sometimes I wonder how people view me as a pastor. (And pastors in general, for that matter.)  Am I approachable? Am I welcoming? Do I engage others in authentic conversation well? Or do I seem too busy to most people? Do I come across as unteachable or unreachable? When you get my attention do you feel like you have ALL of my attention?

In other words, am I REAL?  Gosh, I hope so.

Here’s what I want to do.  *Gulp*  If I’ve EVER made you feel unimportant, overlooked, or marginalized, I’m inviting you to contact me. I’d happily contact you but I honestly don’t know who you are (or if you are).  Use the menu at the top of this page to find my contact information. I mean it: Would you give me the opportunity of knowing how I’ve hurt you and allowing me the chance to apologize?

I want my relationships to be realationships. I want my ministry to be marked by authenticity, even when that means the light shines on my imperfections. Because I know that it’s in my brokenness that God’s ability to mend and restore is most clearly seen.