by Rick Chromey
I love baseball. It’s truly a beautiful, unique game.
Baseball is influenced by its past but not dictated by it. Like Christianity, baseball is Trinitarian. Three strikes. Three outs. Three bases. Nine players. Nine innings. Ninety-foot base paths. Ninety-degree angles. It’s naturally eternal, meaning, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” No clock rules the play. Often criticized for being slow, it features some of sport’s fastest moments. It’s the only game where the defense has the ball, coaches wear the uniform, and errors are calculated. It’s a game of sacrifice, teamwork, failure, honor, and tradition.
Anyone can play baseball, but it’s a hard game to master. You can get hurt, seriously hurt, at a baseball game. You can also participate in communal rituals like being baptized in the “wave” or singing the “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” communion hymn (with beer and brat). Baseball is oxymoronically pastoral, played on a field in the city. You don’t even have to know the game to enjoy the experience.
In baseball, people belong before they believe.
Unfortunately, much of contemporary churchianity is rooted to the opposite idea: people must believe before they belong. It’s clearly seen in our rituals, traditions, and communication. Churches often become cliques, clubs, and closets. We talk about church as time and space (“I went to church yesterday”). We count nickels and noses. We celebrate conformity and compliance. Send in the clones! If you don’t believe in Jesus in a particular way, you’re not in our family. Every denomination is division by doctrine.
But in a postmodern culture, this thinking no longer plays. Over fifty years ago, sociologist Edwin T. Hall identified four spaces for human interaction: public, social, personal, and intimate. The modern church concentrates largely on the latter two, but as Hall points out, all four are significant for authentic community that entices, engages, and empowers.
Think of church community like baseball.
FIRST BASE: PUBLIC SPACE (SEEKERS)
Everyone starts somewhere with Jesus. In baseball, a seeker usually has a ticket and opportunity to see a game. They’re not vested or invested. In a church community, the seekers attend church with basic needs for security and pleasure. Often they attend due to a life crisis. Consequently, they need more than “connection corners” or guest gifts. They want a friend. They want to be known but not spotlighted.
SECOND BASE: SOCIAL SPACE (FANS)
In baseball, a fan has committed to a team and wants to make some noise. Fans attend games and root for their team. They buy the apparel, learn the lingo, and study the history. Their basic need is relationship. That is, fans hunger for deeper and wider connection and acceptance within the community, sometimes obnoxiously so!
THIRD BASE: PERSONAL SPACE (PLAYERS)
A player is a committed Christian who’s ready for coaching and team play. Players simply need affirmation. They want to feel valued for their contributions and included in the overall vision of the organization. Players enjoy small groups, special interests, and community events. They like to “play ball” and make a hit.
HOME PLATE: INTIMATE SPACE (COACHES)
The committed and accomplished players desire to use talents, treasures, and time to build something special. They want to leave a legacy and essentially seek empowerment. These leaders desire to matter, enjoying power on the team and for the organization.
That’s why in my book Sermons Reimagined I argue for a collaborative message model. We need to lose the lecture and get people talking. Interactive sermons that employ partner shares, trios, and other groups spark pleasure and security (seekers), friendships (fans), appreciation (players), and empowerment (coaches).
It’s the only way to nurture all four social spaces simultaneously.
Play ball, church, play ball!