Comment from across the partnerships

The long ball game and discipleship

30 October, 2014 Steve Casey

Longball game

Maybe it is just me, but aren’t pastors more comfortable with a version of the long-ball game of discipleship? As those trained in preaching, we are keenly attuned to the goal of seeing our church family grow into the likeness of Christ, be active for the furtherance of His kingdom and stand firm in the truth. But we see so many in our congregation who, like us, are struggling, failing and pressured, and we wonder how we get them to this goal the fastest. So we “hoof” long balls of Bible truth - and big visions of the life of faith - down the pitch at them every Sunday morning, hoping and praying that there is someone fast enough to get on the end of it. The congregation feel challenged, inspired, and want to be that guy who gets there. Yet Monday morning - or even just Sunday lunch - arrives and they discover that sinful habits and genuine weakness get there ahead of them. They get disappointed and disillusioned, and so do we. Perhaps we follow it up with a shout to try harder and run fast, but they don’t know how to get on the end of the ball – it is beyond them, and it is beyond us.

Could I suggest that we need a short-ball game? The short-ball game of discipleship involves two things. First, continue to direct our congregations to the ultimate goals, but do so in a way that sets the time-frame in decades rather than hours as the Lord, the Master discipler, grows us in grace and knowledge. Of course, for us to do this will mean letting go of our desire to be “the play-maker” of our church family. After all, we cannot expect to change what the Lord has left unfixed for the moment.  

Secondly, be more active in breaking down to short and targeted passes, just in front of where our individual people are at, for them to run on to in faith. So on Sunday I might preach a passage that calls us not to fear, for the Lord is with us. That is long-ball, and I could leave it there. But I can make it short-ball by asking them to consider what situations they are most anxious about for the coming week: perhaps a trip to the doctor, an impending exam, a confrontation situation or an unpayable bill. We know the ultimate goal - but, for this week, their part in the game may be simply to turn to the Lord, who is present as they face that threat. This is a tiny, but deeply Spirit-wrought, step in the direction of recognising that a difficult area of their life is territory ruled by Jesus Christ.

Rarely does the Lord grow His people by the long-ball game. I often wish He would. We ought to see and celebrate the Lord’s activity in the lives of His struggling and failing beloved, even when there seems to be little movement down the pitch.

Steve Casey Steve has been the full time pastor at Speke Baptist Church since the beginning of 2004. Before that, he was a teacher at a school facing challenging circumstances.

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