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How to hit the curveball

By Tim Spivey

In honor of the end of baseball season, this Monday’s post offers ministry insights from the great enemy of most hitters (and pastors) – the curveball.

Those who cannot effectively hit the curve ball will never be effective at the “Big League” level. Game 4 of the World Series featured some seriously wicked curves, and given the day I had yesterday, I’m thinking a lot about curves. For those of you who haven’t seen a wicked curve, here’s a Clayton Kershaw curveball to Gregor Blanco of the Giants. Sheer nastiness.

Yesterday was curveball city. It was a veritable obstacle course of ministry. It was as though Satan himself said, “you can preach, if you can get to the pulpit.” I made it to the pulpit, but the curves kept coming. During the assembly, after the assembly. They kept coming:

Curve. Curve. Curve.

I used to think a lot about them when I played. That was the problem. I could hit nearly any fastball, no matter how hard it was thrown. Most of the time, I could hit a curveball, as well. However, if the pitcher had both – a great fastball and a great curve – I couldn’t hit the curve for one reason: I thought too much about whether it was coming or not.

Ministry has its share of long-term curves – changing churches, family issues, etc. If you aren’t ready for them, they can really cause you long-term problems. But, it’s the short-term curves I’m interested in:

  • Someone drops a key ball, despite being dependable nearly 100 percent of the time.
  • You turn up ill on a Sunday.
  • Someone drops an earth-shattering piece of news on you right before you get up to preach.
  • The copy machine is broken and the bulletins can’t get printed.
  • The communion thought-giver forgets to ask for the offering.
  • Your sermon notes go missing.
  • A sick child keeps you up all night on a Saturday night.

These are the curves that, like flies around our faces, make ministry really frustrating and can make us look and feel really foolish. The good news is we can learn to hit or manage curveballs. Here are some tips:

Limit them as much as you can. Sometimes, we invite curves by the way we handle our responsibilities. Tardiness, laziness, poor planning, being last-minute with things – these produce the most wicked curves of all. The good news is these are easily limited. As a hitter, I realized that if I backed away from the plate six inches or so, the outside corner was virtually irresistible to a pitcher. He would throw a fastball most of the time if I gave him the outside corner. So, that’s what I did. Knowing he would go for it, as he delivered, I adjusted my swing and lived on the right-center field gap for years. Give the extra time, plan well, work hard. Know the curve is always a possibility and allow space for it. Limit the curves when you can.

Lean on your team. The beauty of baseball is it is team-oriented nature. If I can’t hit the curve, someone else can. If none of us can, someone can walk, someone can then bunt them over or they can steal a base. Perhaps the other team makes an error or someone gets hit by a pitch. There are a lot of ways a team can deal with a great curveball a single hitter can’t. Yesterday, the way we made it through was for everyone to take a turn in the batter’s box. Different people stepped up – staff, volunteers, even guests – and together we squeaked a few runs across.

Remember, it’s not every pitch, but every at-bat that matters. If you look silly on something or swing and miss, don’t make it worse. Don’t freak out our sulk. Get back in the box and work the count. Draw a walk, take one in the shoulder, swing better next time, but don’t sulk or get rattled by doing something wrong. You’re a human being, not a perfectionist. In addition to overcoming your own flesh, you’ve got Satan to deal with and those in the church with personal agendas. But, you’ve got what God has put in you, a team around you, and the greatest Cause in the world. He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world. When something bad happens, remember this, and keep serving.

Cultivate a non-anxious presence on Sundays. This is extremely hard to do, I grant you. It’s still something I’m working on like crazy. However, one of the reasons the curve is so devastating is because you have to make up your mind whether to swing at fastball right away. It’s not just that the pitch curves, it’s that it’s 15mph slower than a fastball. If we’re jumpy toward the fastball, we can’t hit the curve. A calm approach to hitting in general is necessary to hit the curve, whether in baseball or ministry. If we’re wound up before anything goes wrong, we’ll be an explosive mess of a minister when the curveball comes. Get your rest, eat well, avoid family squabbles like the plague, and spend at least 10 minutes in prayer before you arrive at the building asking God to quiet and strengthen your soul.

Dr. Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book “Jesus, the Powerful Servant.”

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