My baseball career was neither long nor successful. I played growing up through my freshman year of high school. After that year, I thought there were better uses of my time than playing on a baseball team of 21 guys. I never had a homerun but was a solid “contact hitter” and average fielder. God gave me different gifts in different sports.
But baseball is a wonderful analogy of “doing ministry.”
When I was a 7th & 8th grader, I had the wonderful privilege of having my dad be my coach. My dad knows A LOT about baseball, but up to that point had coached my grades’ traveling basketball team. I have less fond memories of those basketball practices. As a high schooler my dad had two tryouts with Major League Ball Clubs. He then tore his ACL twice, and those dreams ended.
What I LOVED about my dad as a baseball coach is that he made the game so simple. I had coaches who would try to change our swing, how we threw, and more to the point I had more plays to memorize during baseball season than football season. Practice with my dad went this way: running back and forth from 1st to 2nd base 10 times, warm up throwing, grounders, pop flies, and then live hitting – where he would pitch, and we would hit 10 balls; on the 10th you would run the bases as far as you could before getting out. Those first 4 items on our practice list took about 15 minutes of our hour and a half practice.
We spent so much time on live hitting and fielding because My dad would often tell us in practice and in games, “Just hit singles.” This strategy of baseball is best summarized as “Small Ball” – you put the ball in play, get on base, and use savvy baserunning, and other “less cool” ways to win the game. The 2014 & 2015 Kansas City Royals got to the World Series using this strategy.
Small Ball isn’t considered “cool” – in fact, some would say it almost killed baseball. It isn’t about hitting bombs of home runs – what most people want to see at baseball games. Playing small ball means dropping a bunt when guys are on 1st and 2nd with no outs to advance them to scoring position, even if you’re the team’s power hitter. It’s about getting on base and letting your teammates hit you in and vice versa.
I think the best way to go about ministry is to play “small ball.” To hit singles.
About a year and a half ago, I realized I was trying to hit booming home runs. I was trying so hard to make every devotion and Bible study SUPER impactful, emotional, and deep. Quite honestly, I was trying to be that celebrity preacher, who comes and gives a motivational speech, every week.
Then I realized what I was actually doing.
I was starting to have devotions & Bible studies at youth activities that would last nearly an hour. We stopped doing ice breakers and up-front games. Our Youth Nights went from being 40 plus kids a Wednesday to being 20, and eventually a group of 7.
In my pursuit of hitting home runs during our devotion time every week, I failed to see I had turned on the “Jesus Hose.” I was giving the youth SO MUCH Biblical content. That can be good – we certainly had what I perceive to be good discussions. But our group lost something deeply important to a Healthy Youth Group: Relationships.
I spent so much time making sure the Bible study was perfect that I forgot that people – especially high school kids – want connection. High schoolers want to hang out, play games, and laugh with each other. They want variety in their lives. Having super long, deep, impactful Bible studies is good – and needed at times – but kids also need to just be kids.
So, we scaled back.
We started trying to hit singles with our Youth Ministry. We started doing more ice breakers & up-front games before our devotion time, and gym games (yes, multiple games) after our devotion time. Make no mistake though, we do still take at least 20 minutes to be in The Word, since that’s the center of what we do, – but it is done in a more relational way.
We give each youth a notecard with a Bible verse written on it. On the back are three questions:
- What stands out to you as you read the verse?
- This allows them to dive into God’s Word and let the Holy Spirit work in finding something meaningful to them. More often than not, the youth are able to pick out the vital things God is saying to us in those verses.
- A question that is based on the main point.
- This is a question that gets them thinking a little bit more about the passage and how it relates to their lives and other parts of Scripture.
- How do you plan to apply this verse to your life/week?
- This is to try and help them see that being in God’s Word should impact how they live out their faith.
Each week is a different notecard. Sometimes they have things kids can color. The youth have to take them home – we send it to them if they leave it behind, even if it is on accident. We’ve had youth tell us that they have found a notecard laying around from weeks ago, and that it gave them motivation and hope for their day. It’s simple, not flashy, dramatic or intense, but it continues to put God’s living and active Word in front of them week after week.
Hitting singles has produced incredible results for us. We have had at least one new person come to Youth group each week this school year. Youth want to invite their friends because they are having fun! We have heard Youth talk about Youth Group being a high or THE high of their week. We have heard them say how they are finding value and how they are feeling valued by the Adult Leaders. God is at work in His Word and working through the relationships built.
Hit singles, focus on relationships, and let the Spirit do the rest.