Growing up, baseball was my game of choice. Watching our Texas Rangers run through the playoffs inevitably leads me into nostalgic (and romanticized) daydreams of my great baseball feats from the past. One of our favorite things to do during the warmer months was head to “Bob Moore’s” Batting Cage and Driving Range Complex and waste a stack of tokens in the “Nolan Ryan” fastball cage. While there is not chance of me even making contact today, there was once a time when nary a ball got passed me. And that got me thinking. ANYBODY can bat a .1000 in the batting cages, but for some mysterious reason, those Pujolsian statistics never seem to translate to the diamond. Why is that?
In the batting cage, you see the same pitch every time. Your environment is predictable, controllable, and (unless you get a busted ball) poses no threat to your welfare. As long as you put the bat in relatively the same place and the same time with each pitch, you can be “successful.” Batting cages don’t throw curveballs or changeups…and they definitely don’t brush you off the plate by throwing at your head!
Live pitching changes everything!
I think the same as true for many of our methods of “discipleship” in the church. We gather workbooks in hand into safe, predictable classrooms and living rooms with groups that pose no threat to our belief system or personal well-being. Within this system we crank out the guys and gals with highest “batting averages” to lead and train others to be similarly effective in their respective “batting cages.” And we multiply one big hitter after another to make more and more batting cage disciples with the intention of sending them against “real pitching” to reach the world with the gospel. Only it never seems to happen.
Do you have a hard time leaving the batting cages to face live pitching in the world? Why? Maybe we’ve become enamored with more shallow measures of “success.” Maybe a few “whiffs” against live pitching has made us a bit jittery in the batters box and preferring a safer environment that poses fewer threats to our [preception of] success. Perhaps you don’t even know where the “game” is being played and how to get involved? Whatever the reason might be, the fact remains that our growth in the knowledge of God and His gospel will soon plateau if we are never forced to apply it in a world that is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unsafe.
Our growth in the knowledge of God and His gospel will soon plateau if we are never forced to apply it in a world that is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unsafe.
When you leave the batting cages and enter the batter’s box against live pitching, the entire context as a hitter changes. We can no longer swing mindlessly at predictable pitches with little appreciation for how and where we hit the ball. Against live pitching, the game situation is dynamic rather than static and always dictates how you approach your at bat. Are there runners in scoring position? Is there a fielding shift that has opened gaps in the field? Are you facing a “hitter’s count” (3 balls, 0 strikes) or a “pitcher’s count” (0 balls, 2 strikes)? I can keep going…but the point is that the ever changing dynamics of the game force you to grow in your knowledge of the game, your appreciation for the situation in which you find yourself, and your ability to respond to a given game situation appropriately. When you are faced with applying your skills in an ever-changing context, your growth as a hitter is practically without boundary!
The same is true for our lives as disciples of Jesus. If we are to continue to grow into the image of the One whom we are following, then we must be willing to follow Him where he would go (John 1:14), among the people with whom he would associate (Matt. 9:9-13), preaching the same message to them that he was committed to preaching (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 24:44-49), and accepting the same response and ridicule which He Himself suffered (John 15:18-24). We will be forced, like Paul, to grow in our ability to creatively and courageously communicate the timeless truths of the gospel in meaningful ways to the shifting contexts in which we find ourselves (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Only when we follow Jesus out of our classrooms, living rooms, and fellowship halls and into the world in which he was sent (John 17:15-18), will we learn to pray like Jesus…know the Scriptures like Jesus…depend on the Holy Spirit like Jesus…love and adore the Father like Jesus…and see the gospel spread and bear fruit as it did with Jesus.