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This is the third installment in The Stadium Principle. Let’s finish this off.
After many years of playing, usually someone with great talent develops—from little league to college to the big leagues. Picture a rising star with me. He’s like a Nolan Ryan or a Roger Clemens. He’s Randy Johnson. Ok, imagine it’s the bottom of the ninth inning at game seven of the World Series. We’re talking intense—the President of the United States threw out the first pitch, Grammy-award winner sang the national anthem like you’ve never heard it before, the game has been back and forth, back and forth. Bottom of the ninth and everything is on the line. Randy’s on the pitcher’s mound and it’s the moment of a lifetime for him. All of the years or little league and college ball have built up to this. Randy has lived baseball—eaten, drunk, and slept baseball. His friends love the game and they love how he plays the game. Bottom of the ninth—it’s a full count, two outs, one strike and we win. People are tuned in around the world watching this.
Do you think Randy Johnson, at this moment, remembers what it feels like to not care about baseball? Do you think he’d be able to relate to someone who has never been to a game at this moment? Just like Randy, do you think pastors who have lived church—eaten, drunk, and slept church—with friends who love God and admire them…do you think they remember what it’s like to be a stranger to church and to not know God? Do you think most pastors routinely remember what it’s like to hear about Jesus for the first time? It is almost counterintuitive. After all, as church leaders, we spend most of our time with church folk.
I say this in prayer that we never forget what is going on in the hearts and minds of those people in the upper deck. Those are the most overlooked and least connected with. It’s easy to pitch for the lower deck—they are the cheers we hear the loudest. A good pitcher learns how to make the game great for people at all levels of the stadium. God give us a heart for the upper decker and allow us to never forget the first time we heard the crack of the bat.
© Richard L. Reising
Last time I gave a baseball analogy and talked about how I went from making fun of the baseball freaks to actually becoming one. I talked about the fact that I didn’t get there overnight. It was gradually through baby steps. I went from hating the game, to giving in and actually going to a game, to discovering that baseball might even be enjoyable, to going back to another game, to buying season tickets, and joining a softball league.
These baby steps could be paralleled to many people’s experience with the church and accepting Christ. I thought I would never set foot in a church until my friend pleaded and I gave in. I sat there feeling empty and full all at the same time. It was obvious to me that there was something more and when the pastor spoke, it was like that home run—in my heart. His words inspired me and I returned.
Later, I committed my life to Christ and I found myself more and more sold out. I was investing more--paying more for my seats. I wore the Christian t-shirt and I had the leather Bible. God was working in my heart and people began to see a change in me. I joined the church and solidified my commitment.
One day, as I was growing, God called me out to the playing field. I now find myself serving any time that I can. I can’t wait to see all of my friends and family come to know Christ.
Sometimes, like Paul, God completely knocks you off your horse and you go from disconnected outside of the ballpark to the playing field in a very short time. Unfortunately, this is not the case most of the time. It’s a matter of progression over time. During that time, God works in our hearts and minds to change our perception. Now I am not saying we are not all immediately called to be witnesses, I am saying that we grow and progress in our walk with Christ at different rates, but in similar stages.
So what can we, as a church, do to help those outside the ballpark make it to the upper deck? What about the upper-deckers moving to the lower deck? How do we challenge the lower deck to get on the playing field and be part of the team?
I’m sure you’ve seen the parallel that I’ve made by now and I pray that you understand I am not belittling the church with this illustration. My heart is simply to understand that perceptions are quite varied in our churches. Whether it’s unbelievers, or scholars, we’ve got to learn to reach people right where they are and motivate them to the next level. Are you thinking about that every week as you prepare your messages? Make it so.
© Richard L. Reising
A scenario: ok, you and I are good buddies. You are the world’s biggest baseball fan. I am on the other end of the spectrum. I can’t think of a more boring game than baseball. I’ve never even been to a game before, but I am absolutely convinced that I wouldn’t like it. You ask me constantly to come with you and I can’t wait until you’ll stop asking, but one day I give in to your request in the midst of a weak moment.
So I’m going to this game with you, but you are most definitely buying my nosebleed ticket that’s approximately $2 and my hot dog as well. We sit in the upper deck on a blazing hot day—you’re completely happy and I’m pretty much in agony. I’m eating my hot dog and slurping my drink when suddenly, the home team knocks one out of the park. We jump up and high-five each other! I’m totally caught off guard. Somehow the hit inspired me and I’m thinking that maybe I like baseball after all. Not what I expected at all. I might have actually enjoyed a baseball game.
Of course you ask me to go again and I surprisingly commit. This time I’ll buy my own ticket and hot dog. I’m willing to spend that much, but not enough to sit in the lower deck with the $80/seat baseball freaks. They are just a bit much for me at this point. Although I like baseball, my commitment is minimum.
After returning for a couple of games in my cheap upper deck seats, my passion for baseball builds. Now, the $80 seats don’t seem so expensive and I could even catch a foul ball down there. I find myself decked out in all the gear—hat, jersey, leather glove, the works. I’m a sold out fan. I push it even further by getting season tickets. I want to make sure I don’t miss a single inning. People at work now know me as one of those baseball freaks and I’ve even joined a softball league. I plan on coaching my kids’ softball team.
The thing is, I didn’t get here overnight. I got here with baby steps. Something to think about and chew on for a few days. Were you ever the person who hated a particular thing and made fun of the so-called “freaks”? Paul was. And even he spent a short season getting prepared for the transition from onlooker to first baseman.
© Richard L. Reising