Have you ever had one of those moments when your plans were suddenly interrupted? My wife and I recently joined a city softball league. Our purpose for doing so was to place ourselves in the position where we needed to be an influence for Christ, get to know others in the community, and network.
Picture it . . . June 2014 . . . while playing shortstop, the bases were loaded. There were two outs. A 240-pound right-handed batter steps up to the plate. The next 30 seconds after he walked up to the plate and planted his feet ready to hit the softball, my mind was racing. I was planning my move if the ball came to me. All I needed to do, depending on where the ball was hit in my vicinity, was stop the ball and toss it to second or third base for the last out. I would be the hero of this half of the inning! I was ready.
First ball over the plate was too high. Ball. Second ball over the plate was just right. The 240-pound slugger swung and missed. Strike. The third ball was thrown. Every muscle on this batter tensed as he poised himself. He swung hard, connecting with the ball. The distinct sound of aluminum hitting cork, yarn, and leather echoed. The ball was headed straight for me bouncing along the dirt. My adrenaline started pumping. I was already feeling the elation of getting that last out. I stepped up to meet the ball, placing my glove in the scooping position. Then it happened. At the last split second before my glove made contact with the ball, the ball hit the ground and bounced straight up making direct contact with my face. The force was so hard it knocked me back. I grabbed my face and fell to the dirt. Later that evening, others would tell me the sound was eerie as leather connected to skin and bone.
My thoughts instantly changed from “hero of the inning” to “How will this affect my future?” I started anxiously churning my mind. My thoughts rapidly fired, “I don’t have insurance. Potential for high medical bills. We cannot pay for this. Did I break a bone and need to have surgery? Will I lose sight in that eye? I’m going to have one MAJOR headache tomorrow. Will my face be deformed? Will I still be handsome for my wife (as if I already was to begin with)? Will I be able to play softball next week? Or any sports ever again?”
One thing happened for sure. I was not playing the rest of that game. This injury knocked me out of the game. My plans were superseded by the reality of a softball to the face. Over the next few days while resting after the injury, I started to question WHY this happened to me. Although I do not really know the “reason” for it, I have attained some clarity regarding our calling as ministers.
- As ministers, we are all on the same team. We may live in different parts of town, cities or even states, but we are still on the same team. We may be credentialed through different denominations or organizations, but we are still on the same team. The unfortunate reality is we act as if the Bible-believing, teaching church just down the street is our market competition. In the Sacramento region, there is a growing movement of unity (not uniformity) where several hundred pastors are coming together every quarter. Their purpose is to discuss topics that transcend denominational boundaries. Also, twice a year, pastors from all over the region gather in order to unite “Christians, churches and their pastors throughout the Sacramento valley to partner in using their unique gifts and God-given passions in order to see a regional move of God.” (http://leadinginthesetimes.com/about/ ). We may have differences in ministry, but we cannot allow those differences to segregate us from each other. We will accomplish more when we understand the barriers and work together to overcome those barriers. The world will know God loves them when we exemplify the love we have for each other.
- In our current positions, we play a vital role, and we should train and try to plan for the future so we can be the best in that role. There is a fundamental flaw in the phrase, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” A team is any group of two or more individuals working toward a common goal. Notice the word “individuals.” We come to the team individually with different backgrounds, unique in our own way, with our own set of strengths. It is extremely important to add value to the team. In order to be a valuable part of any team, we need to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. The place where God has you is strategic. Study, work, prepare, and show up every day with the expectation that you will give it your all.
- Sometimes we may start to think we are the “star player” on the team. It could be the church you serve has had some wins recently. Maybe your local church has been growing and you are experiencing a season of abundance. Each service gets better and better. People are excited about the progress. New visitors are coming every week. People are getting saved and baptized every month. The trend over the years has been to elevate this scenario, interview the pastor about what he or she has been doing, and encourage others to emulate the steps this church has taken, hoping for a similar outcome. This is equivalent to thinking this church or pastor has become a “star player.” There are principles that can be taken from their positive results. However, the danger is thinking this church or pastor is being favored more highly because of the results of the ministry they oversee. Getting back to softball, the role of a shortstop is very different than a first base player, the pitcher or any other position. The shortstop may seemingly be in the limelight because of how many balls have been stopped, caught or thrown to first for the out. The reality is there are more right-handed batters than left. More than likely, the shortstop will see more balls hit their way than other positions. It doesn’t mean the shortstop is a better player or the star player. The key question is, are we all individually preparing for the role we will play, no matter what the size of our church or ministry?
- Things happen in life that can knock us out of the game. Local church ministry is difficult. Let’s face it. Pastors are expected to be engaging every week, available 24/7, and the local expert on theology, relationships, and church management. This can take its toll on anyone. Sickness could enter the picture. A life-threatening illness may present itself. A sudden accident could happen. Any one of these items could knock us out of the game. What will we do when one of our teammates gets knocked out of the game? Have we developed a relationship with the one who has been affected? It is our responsibility as part of the body of Christ to care for those who have been knocked out of the game. How will we respond when a church in our community (other than the one we attend) is going through difficulty?
- We can be so focused on our next move, we forget about the importance of what is currently in front of us. When I was reaching for the ball, I wasn’t thinking about stopping the ball. I was already thinking about throwing it. If I had been focused on the ball instead of where it would go next, I may have avoided the injury. In local church ministry, it is quite easy to get focused on the next event, the next series or the next service. The pitfall here is we can completely miss the opportunity right in front of us. Just like the grounder that took a nasty turn toward my face, any situation in our lives can take a turn for the worse. It can take us by surprise and potentially knock us down. It is okay to think about our next steps, but not at the expense of our current step. What is happening right now in ministry that requires our attention? Has something happened that has taken you by surprise and changed your plans? This could be God ensuring His purpose will prevail.
- When something as shocking as “a softball to the face” happens, it quickly brings you back to reality. The only response I could have had to the injury was to rest, recover, and reset according to the purpose God had in mind. I had forgotten God’s purpose for my involvement in the softball team. It was not to be the star player. It was to be an example of Christ, His love and mercy. Has something happened to you that has snapped you back into reality? Have you been focused on your own plans for local church ministry that the WHY of what you are doing is lost? What is God’s purpose for your church in your community? Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Sometimes in the ministry our plans are superseded by reality, but God’s purpose will still prevail. What is that reality? We have limitations. We will make mistakes. We will lose sight of WHY we are in the ministry in the first place. When I started in the ministry over twenty years ago, I had grand plans. I was going to take the city for Jesus, this community, every youth in junior and senior high. Then life happened—deaths, sicknesses, hospital visitations, relational issues between church members, business decisions, bills, theological debates. I became discouraged. Oh sure, I was still striving, but my plans were superseded by reality.
Through the softball injury, God opened a door for me to be an influence to more people as they came up to me in the weeks following and asking how I was doing. God’s purpose prevailed. A conversation began with one of the guys on my team that I pray opens the door for him to accept Christ. We have had several discussions regarding how God has spared his life and is calling him to a relationship. I do not believe I would have had this opportunity if I had not been knocked down.
What is the reality that supersedes our plans? It is the Lord’s purpose. His purpose and desire are for us to love Him and love each other. He is also patient: “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). Our plans may include building a large church or ministry. God may even grant this for some of us. However, what is the Lord’s purpose for this large church or ministry? His desire, no matter what size church or ministry—and I am cautious here because I do not pretend to speak directly for God—is to be an enduring example of His love, His grace, His mercy, His justice, and His Word.
We are not alone. We have each other. We have the companionship available to us in the lives of those whose call to serve in the ministry is clear. We can learn and grow together. We can embrace our vulnerabilities because they are what make us dependent on God’s grace. “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). When we lead by our strengths, we leave ourselves susceptible to losing sight of God’s purpose. Over time, we can lose the WHY of what we do. We can become so entrenched in HOW we do ministry (methodology). We can become bogged down in the WHAT of ministry (programs, service order, etc.). We can become distracted by WHO’S WHO in the ministry. This takes our eye away from the WHY of ministry. The WHY is this: Love God above all others. Love your neighbor as yourself. In order to fulfill His purpose, we need a steady, persistent perseverance. We need to build and model healthy relationships. Develop relationships with other pastors, churches, and ministries in the area. They are on the same team.
Play our position to the best of our ability, embracing our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, because His power works best in our weakness. Play for the greater purpose of the entire team, to extend God’s love and to show the world God loves them by personifying His love with each other. When our plans take precedence, they can become blinders keeping us from fulfilling God’s purpose. We are the avenues God has chosen to carry out His purpose. When we become a blockade to His purpose, there could be a softball headed our way.
My prayer is that our churches, pastors, ministers, and their leadership will not need to experience “a softball to the face” moment that knocks them down and potentially out of the game. My prayer is that we can get to the point of relationship with each other where pride and ego do not get in the way of our effectiveness together. My prayer is also for us to develop relationships with each other that bring mutual healing and health and to fall in line with the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s prayer is that, “We will experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:23 NLT).
Dan Chrystal, MBA, is a husband, father, author, speaker, and life coach. He has over 28 years in executive leadership and relational coaching, including six years as an administrative officer of a large faith-based nonprofit organization and also served as the Director of Sponsorship and National Church Relations for Bayside Church in Roseville, CA. Dan is passionate about helping others love their neighbors as themselves, and is a dedicated life, career, and couples’ coach. He holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from Purdue Global University and is currently studying Law at Purdue Global University Law School. Dan’s ministry experience spans almost all pastoral positions. He is a committed student of “Relationship” and believes deep, meaningful relationships are God’s design for us. He is the author of Lost Art of Relationship and Discussions for Better Relationships. For more, see Dan Chrystal – Book Author – Discussions for Better Relationships | LinkedIn