Lessons from Little League

It’s a gray, March afternoon and I’m sitting in an alarmingly blue lawn chair watching my son from beyond the outfield fence. The mountains that frame the horizon still look like the dead of winter, but the Little League practice that is unfolding before me signals the presence of spring.

On the field, three adults are positioned around the diamond directing the boys in a drill to improve their fielding skills. One coach hits the ball in the infield, another catches the boys’ (sometimes errant) throws, and another gives them feedback on what the boy just did so that they can improve.

“Remember boys, we want to be better today than we were yesterday.” The coach continues, “And we want to be better tomorrow than we are today.”

The boys dig deeper, run harder, and are focused on the task at hand.

It’s impressively clear to me. The boys are learning the game of baseball.

This is no small feat. Baseball is a challenging game to understand. It’s even more difficult to perfect. Hitting a round ball with a round bat requires skill. Throwing the ball and hitting the cutoff man requires agility and fundamentals. Knowing how to see where the ball is hit before the batter swings demands experience. As anyone who has watched a T-Ball game of 5 year olds will agree, the game of baseball doesn’t work unless it is learned and practiced.
Faith requires practice, too. But many of us don’t believe that. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I think we believe that learning and practicing the faith are valuable. But I’m not so sure we believe it’s critical to being a person of faith.

Let me take that back. Most of us want our children to be exposed to faith and to be given opportunities to practice the ancient traditions that have helped us to hear and respond to God. So early on, we make a commitment to take them to church where they can become familiar with the stories of our faith. We are glad that our faith leaders teach our children how to read the Bible, how to pray, and how to worship. And then we rejoice when our children profess Christ as their Savior and are baptized in His name.
But then something happens.

After our baptisms, we often assume that since we have become professing followers of Christ that we are done with our faith development. Once that critical milestone has been met, we assume that there’s nothing else to learn or to practice. After the bar mitzvah-like, rite of passage experience of our baptism is over, we conclude that faith development is somehow extracurricular.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Faith requires practice, perseverance, sacrifice and commitment. The Bible calls this discipleship. Jesus calls individuals to practice the faith with him. He tells his students that they will be fully trained when they look like the teacher (Luke 6:40). At its core, our goal in discipleship is to become more and more like Christ. This doesn’t just happen. It certainly doesn’t just happen when we emerge from the waters of our baptism. We never graduate from the practices of faith.

Keeping with the metaphor of baseball, imagine what it would be like for a young lad to presume that he’s ready for the Major Leagues after only signing up to be on a Little League team. This sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? Then why would we treat the development of our faith this way? Perhaps deep down, we don’t think our faith development to be an important factor in our lives. If this makes us feel uneasy, let’s consult with our actions and behavior as the ultimate judge of our values.

“Remember boys, we want to be better today than we were yesterday.” The coach continues, “And we want to be better tomorrow than we are today.”

As I watch the boys excel, fumble and grow in their understanding of the game of baseball, I am impressed by this: the children have a zeal for learning. They hustle, they dig deep, they fall down and help one another get back up. The boys want to learn, they want to improve, they want to contribute to the team.

I am inspired by their passion to work as a team and to improve together; imagining what it looks like when our churches have as much enthusiasm and zeal to serve, to love and to grow. Jesus called this the Kingdom of God and it’s nearer—and more possible!—than you think.

The sun is beginning to set on practice. The boys are still out there, and their coaches are fired up. They know that this is how they improve as a team.

And no one, no one wants to leave.