Last night was the first baseball game of the season for us. Not Major League or even Minor League, although we've stepped up from Little League for one of our boys. This year my oldest is playing Junior High baseball, but since we live in a small school district he plays with many of the same kids he played with in Little League. Many of those kids also were on his youth and Junior High football teams as well. So there is a core of parents who have sat through many a game together. We follow the teams, showing up to all the games and rooting for all the kids.
Last night the boys' coach gave some pretty faulty directions to an away game. That resulted in a bunch of us parents trying desperately to find the correct diamond somewhere in an unfamiliar town. After checking the better-known diamonds and not finding our team, the parental vehicles began to search the town for some long-forgotten diamond where the boys could be playing. We formed a line of traffic, eventually reaching eight cars long, winding through every possible area of town big enough to house a ballpark. Finally after four failures and a few group u-turns, we found the right place just after the game had started. We parked in a row, got out and took our seats on the bleachers and rooted our kids to an 8-4 victory.
It's an odd dynamic between baseball parents. We all have separate lives, yet we come together as a team in many of the same ways the boys do. We encourage one another's kids. We even join forces to heckle the umpire (all in a spirit of Christian love, of course!) We transport kids to and from practice if a parent can't make it. Last night we even had to sit close together to keep warm! (Baseball on April Fool's Day in the northern climates may not be a great idea.) But through it all we share the same goal. We want our kids to have fun, play their best and win. Pretty simple, huh?
Now there are other issues that we have to deal with along the way. We have the occasional injury, so we support one another by getting whatever is needed. A bag of ice, a bandage, a couple Tylenol, a Gatorade. . . we freely give where it is needed. Some of us bring along our other children to the games which essentially makes us babysitters for one another's kids. Someone always has an eye on what the "other kids" are up to. Last night my two other kids were playing on a playset on the other side of the outfield fence when my wife saw what she thought was a lone adult walk onto the playground. It turned out to be a bigger kid coming to play with his brother, but we couldn't see that. So I went over to check and make sure nothing funny was going on and sure enough, another dad was following me to back me up. Neither of us had said anything -- it was just understood. And his kids weren't even at the game last night. Yet he was as focused as the rest of us. Our goal for the players on the field hadn't changed and the love we have for one another was a part of that relationship.
Of course everything doesn't always go smoothly. We don't always agree on which player should start at which position. We don't always agree with what the coach does or how he does it. We might not even care for some of the things some parents do which embarrass the rest of us. But our goal remains the same: the kids on the field and taking care of our team "family".
Why am I boring you with baseball parent stories? Because I think it's an illustration of how a church should be structured for the long term. There is a goal which everyone should be able to agree upon -- glorifying God. That should be basic. Just as we baseball parents gather to watch the games, the church should gather to praise, worship and glorify God. Of course, it's not a side interest for us as Christians, but a constant goal personally and corporately. All we do should be done to glorify Him.
Then there are the side issues; those of loving one another. As a church, we should encourage one another, bear one another's burdens, love one another, pray for one another and about another fifty or so "one anothers" listed in Scripture. Just like another parent encouraging my son, or me giving a kid a ride because his mom isn't home from work yet, so we as church members and as brothers and sisters in Christ must support one another in our Christian walk.
There is a third aspect of my long term vision for church which is where my baseball parent analogy breaks down. As Christians we must not only worship God and love one another but we must also reach out and love others -- the ones who are not on "our" team. That comes naturally sometimes, but other times we really have to work at it. Face it, some folks are easier to love than others.
But our call is to love. We don't love by becoming just like them, although we are much more alike than we care to admit. Instead we stand for God's truth and we speak that truth in love. Shouting Scripture through a bullhorn is not speaking the truth in love. Everything must come through the "love filter". Too many times Christians like to speak with authority or with knowledge, but we forget the love filter. Dana Carvey's Church Lady character captured that sinful attitude beautifully years ago. But we must love, just as the Master loved.
If my church can live up to the goals of glorifying God individually and corporately, loving one another and loving others, then what will the church look like? What should I expect to observe from my church in the year 2105? First, I would suspect that the group would be larger. Sharing the truth in love should bring more people to the Truth. I would also imagine that there would be precious little emphasis on what the church building looks like or what the people inside it look like. Instead we would focus on loving people both inside and outside our congregation. I would think that the people of the surrounding communities would know where our church meets; whether it's a permanent church building or a rented facility. And I would also imagine that those people would know where we stand on doctrinal issues as well as social issues -- not because we force our views but because we live them out.
Sure, it's a dream. But if a group of baseball parents can demonstrate community with common goal, why can't a group of believers empowered by the Holy Spirit do even more?