By Laura Cassidy-Moffatt
The faithful gathered together. They loved being together and enjoyed one another’s company. Some even knew each other’s extended families. They shared what food they had and watched over each other’s children. When something good or exciting happened, they all cheered and hugged one another. When something not so good occurred, they commiserated with one another and tried to encourage each other to keep hoping for something good. They had kind words of encouragement for those who were opposed to them. They walked away from their time together looking forward to seeing each other again soon, focused on and hoping for what is to come.
I’d like to tell you that I was describing a small group of Christ-followers meeting for Bible study, prayer, discipleship, and mutual encouragement in the faith. That is the ideal, right?
Instead, I’m describing the recent experience of being among those who were part of supporting a 10-year-old baseball team–the parents, grandparents, coaches, siblings, and friends. It was interesting, as a pastor, to watch this dynamic. The people are great. They truly care about one another. They enjoy being together and they discuss what’s going on in their lives, jobs, and families. Some of them have children in the same schools, which further deepens their connections. They display remarkable sportsmanship, both to their own players, if they make an error or strike out when up to bat–and even to players on the other team when they make a good play or try hard to do well. There are high-fives and cheering, regardless of the score. It’s a positive environment that the kids are blessed to be a part of.
As a pastor, I thought to myself, this is what the church is supposed to be like: the encouragement, the enjoyment of being together, the sense of unity of purpose. The sharing. The hope. The knowledge that when the other team (church) does well, it is ultimately a good thing, because it helps the players learn, and thereby makes everyone better in the process. Every player knew his role–what he was supposed to do–and how to help and back up other players so that the team did well as a whole. The players respected their coaches, took direction, and became better through each experience. Although everyone was in it to win–it wasn’t a cut-throat competitiveness that made bystanders uncomfortable. It was an atmosphere that you were happy and proud to be included in.
Too often, we have experiences in and around churches that are, sadly, completely unlike this fun and positive atmosphere. People are too competitive, too focused on their own roles without understanding how they can benefit the church’s mission as a whole. There are even some who are more concerned with their own sense of happiness or fulfillment than is helpful for the church body a whole. There are some who, like some overly involved parents at other sporting events I’ve been to, try to tell the coach (pastors, in the case of the church) how best to run the team (church) because they mistakenly believe that they are smarter or more skilled. There is an atmosphere of judgmentalism and criticism. There is an overemphasis on money, or attendance numbers. Too much keeping score. There is jealousy if other teams (churches) are doing well and we are struggling. There is not enough encouragement to go around, it seems.
There are also, sadly, people who are in church that don’t feel cared for, shared with, or included in the group’s goal’s and mission. They are lonely spectators. They are attending, but not really PART OF what’s going on. They are there and have the potential to add to the value of the team, but are discounted, disregarded, or ignored. There are people who used to be more ‘part of the game’ but do not play as much anymore, but they also aren’t consulted for their wisdom to be passed on to younger generations of ‘players’.
Anyone who knows Pastor Howard and me knows that we love baseball. At the risk of pushing the comparative analogy too far–why can’t the church be better? Why? Why does it sometimes seem more encouraging to be in places, among people, and doing activities that have nothing to do with church or building God’s kingdom? Why is there more encouragement for a team of baseball players than there is among believers for one another as we walk the Christian walk, in both good times and challenging ones? Why is there more cooperation, encouragement, and mutual working toward the goal of the team in baseball than there often is in the church?
This is the reality of living in a fallen, sinful world. We get glimpses of ‘how it’s supposed to be’, but they are the exception rather than the norm. But, you say, we as believers have God. We have the Spirit. We are divinely empowered to accomplish great things and build the kingdom through love, care and selfless service to our neighbors. Yes. Yes, we are, but do we?
Listen to Paul’s words of challenge and encouragement from Philippians 2: 1-11:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(c) 2019, All Rights Reserved. Scripture from the New International Version (Zondervan)