A long time ago, I used to be pretty good at fastball. (For the uninitiated, there are three distinct, yet related sports: hardball, which uses a 7-inch ball, is pitched overhand/sidearm from 60ft 6inches, and has 90ft between bases; fastball, which uses an 11 or 12 inch ball, is pitched windmill underhand from 46 ft and has 60 ft between bases; and slowpitch, which has lobbed underhand pitching from 50 ft with a 13-15” ball.) At any rate, one thing that always amused me is how the difference of point of contact with the ball, even by a fraction of an inch, could make all the difference between a good hit and a foul ball, or between a pop-up and a line-drive. I always feared facing certain pitchers because they were better pitchers than I was a hitter. (For the record, my batting average in my fastball career was about .360, 0 HR. More a contact hitter than a power hitter; if I recall correctly, I might have been the only player on my team without a home run one particular season.)
Being a pastor is kind of like playing fastball. You get in a groove and you just seem to find all the right passages of Scripture to encourage and strengthen those who struggle, people seem to be growing from the sermons preached, things are rolling along well. Like being on a hitting streak, and playing solid defense in the field. (I played 2B and LF.)
And then the devil throws a riser, high and inside, breaks your rhythm. A long-time strong member struggles through a marriage breakdown. A child of a pillar of the church apostasizes. You struggle to find the words, not wanting to be a platitude-spouting blowhard like Job’s counsellors in his time of need, but not wanting to be utterly useless. On occasion you seem to hit the ball OK but you seem to be popping up or hitting easy grounders a lot. Your defense is still pretty solid but you aren’t making the spectacular plays, and even the routine plays can become a challenge.
And then there are the times when you just strike out every time. Try as you might, the words don’t seem to come and you have to go to the archives well one too many times. People leave the church and won’t let you visit and the only reason you hear is, “They won’t come back as long as you are the pastor.”
Yet you just keep on going. You don’t know what the next at-bat will bring. Sometimes you get a hit, sometimes you strike out. But you keep going. Because you know who has already won the series. You know what the final outcome will be. And in those times you utterly mess up everything, having an 0-4 at the plate and a couple major defensive gaffes in the field—- then you especially rejoice that each day you start over again by contrition and repentance, and, reclaiming the grace given you in Baptism, you go back to work. Preaching the Law and Gospel in right measures, as best you can. Encouraging. Teaching. Visiting. Administering the Sacraments. That’s what I do.
And I remain ever thankful that ultimately all the power, all the authority, and all the effectiveness rests in God and His Word, and not in me.
Just an observation. (If the extended metaphor is a big swing-and-a-miss, I do apologize to you, dear reader!)