For pastors, far too often we can get tempted to have the same attitude that took over baseball in the 1990s. Then it was made famous by the phrase "chicks dig the long ball" as record home run years were the news. Now it's an attitude of "churches dig the awesome sermon." Every week we feel the pressure to deliver, to really drive, to make this week better than last week, and if we're really honest with ourselves we're maybe even looking for the viral soundbite.
If you'll let me use the baseball analogy a little more, may I propose a shift? Maybe it's not that God wants us constantly swinging for the fences every week, but that our faithfulness in ministry is consistency with a long view in mind? Maybe it's that God wants us to be like Tony Gwynn more than he wants us to be Aaron Judge?
Aaron Judge, slugger for the Yankees, looks every part of a video game character. He's huge. And strong. And when he hits the ball it comes off the bat just sounding different. Except when he strikes out. Which happens, a lot. In his career since 2016 he's had 2,068 at-bats and has struck out 733 times. Sure he's hit 158 home runs in that same space. But more often than hitting it out he's walking back to the dugout.
Compare that with Tony Gwynn, who looked nothing the part of a video game character. In fact, on appearances he looked like the computer team you'd beat up on in the practice version. But when he stepped into the batter's box, everything changed. He came the closest to hitting .400 since Ted Williams, and his lifetime average of .334 is 16th all-time. Even more surprising was his strikeout rate. In 9,288 at-bats, he struck out a total of 434 times. He may have only hit 135 home runs in his career, but rarely did he walk back to the dugout from striking out.
Thank you Baseball Reference for the stats here.
Pastors, here's what I want you take away from this:
1. Every week, stand in the pulpit and take your swings - Don't be afraid to step up, don't quit (especially on a Monday), and don't make excuses. When it's your time to go, get up there and go. Trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit and the work of preparation you've done before standing before God's people. Hitters become hitters by hitting.
2. Don't aim for the fences, give your people consistency - Keep giving in your preaching a steady diet of Bible exposition and application. Tell them what the passage says, what it means, and how it applies to them. Challenge them. Encourage them. Love them. Bless them. Plead with them. And do it consistently. Over time, you'll see a difference in them and in the church.
3. When it happens, swing hard - Every now and then everything just feels right. You know what this is, it's "the groove." Don't forget Tony Gwynn still hit more than 100 home runs. Every now and then he connected on one that was perfect. When you as a pastor get the chance to swing for the fences and you're in the groove and you're feeling the Spirit pushing you, go for it.
4. Trust God - The difference in hitting and preaching is in hitting you're in (relative) control of what happens. In preaching, you're not. So pastor, trust God. Give it all you've got, and leave the results up to God. You never know, God may be using a message you preached where you felt like you absolutely whiffed. Or He may take a point you didn't think much about to leave an impression on someone that draws them closer to Jesus.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.