Yes, it does look like a baseball diamond. No, it is not an early promotion of El Paso’s “Chihuahua’s”. It may be something of a silly symbol for the church of the 19th and 20th centuries. However the illustration might also illuminate what Christian discipleship must look like in and into the 21st Century. The Mission of God through His Church is changing; being transformed by His Spirit once again from century into new century.
Sociologists of Religion use new and somewhat challenging terms to describe the state of religion in
this nation and in Western civilization in general. Descriptions such as “Post Christian”, “Non-Churched”, “spiritual, but not religious” are used to communicate fundamental shifts in worship attendance, church membership, financial support and cultural influence across all denominational and religious affiliations in the U.S. … Now the baseball diamond …
Next to the 1st Base line (in the foul ball area) is a blank line that might have Membership and Morality written on it. The 2nd Base line blank would be assigned the word Maturity. The 3rd Base … line is marked by Ministry and the path toward Home is complete with Mission. Perhaps a rather crude, but nevertheless a helpful visual for Discipleship. (I’ll wait while you print the descriptive word on the Base line.)
First Base: In the past decades, and perhaps even centuries practicing the faith, being a Christian and “joining Jesus” often meant two things, 1. joining a church and 2. trying to be a good member and a good citizen; in other words … Membership and Morality. The organized church often ended up with the vast majority of its adherents “stranded on First.”
Second Base: The path to Second or Maturity was often reserved for those who were perceived of as being “more religious”; those who joined Bible study or congregational service groups, perhaps served in elected positions, supported the church financially and ”never missed church”. (The old rule of thumb for any organization often applied here, “20% of the people do 80% of the work” )
Third Base: The yet smaller number of members were those understood to be either more bold or blessed with more time and interest and consequently served in extra congregational service i.e. Ministry … feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, teaching the children, visiting the sick, pursuing and leading adult studies and sometimes even worship.
Those who “Made it Home”; those in Mission were, for the most part, those who went off to a college or seminary to study and prepare for professional leadership positions in the church.
With some notable exceptions and occasional institutional gaping holes the system worked fairly well in a society and in cultures that were generally quite supportive of this churchly style. At the same time this model for “church” is presently what has led or is leading to a “Post Christian”, “Non-Churched”, “spiritually irrelevant” institutional religion. This “Baseball Diamond”model is sadly, but obviously no longer “America’s Pastime”.
And yet the Paradigm still works … and works well! As the Holy Spirit resurrects the dead who die in Him and transforms His Church Militant into the Church Triumphant so He breathes new life into an old model and His Mission – the “Mission of God” – works Resurrection life for His people and for His world.
We might name the new mission model; the new diamond, “Joining Jesus on His 21st Century Mission”.
In this model being a Christian is not first “joining a church” it is first, last and always “Joining Jesus” and joining Jesus on His mission. Perhaps the most exciting and fulfilling experiences in life are those when we first see and then join Jesus on His mission. However, in the words first of the Old Testament prophets and then in the words of Jesus Himself … You have eyes to see, but you do not see … You have ears to hear, but you don’t hear … You have hearts to understand, but you do not perceive. Joining Jesus is seeing, hearing and perceiving. “Joining Jesus on His Mission” is neither an art nor a science. Joining Jesus is a discipline, a blessed work in which blessed individuals intentionally gather with His family to see, to hear, to experience Jesus in His mission around us, for us and through us in our daily lives. Joining Jesus in His Mission is to see Him in our neighbors – at work, at school, in our neighborhoods, our recreation, our
friends and families – and to join Him in His mission to them and with them.
In the seven Sundays following Easter beginning April 12, the members of Zion are being asked to join with one another each Sunday morning 9:15-10:15 in the church auditorium for small group study, direction and discussion of a study guide, “Joining Jesus on His Mission.” The process will be led by Pastor Patten, however the deepest value will be 1. in the reading and study of the book, 2. the discussion of Jesus’ mission and ours in small groups around the tables, 3. the prayers
for the seeing of Jesus in His mission and the growing joy and confidence in joining Him in His mission to the world and our mission to our neighbor.
The congregations of Christ’s Church, if it is to be His Church into the 21st Century can no longer be reduced to leaving people stranded at 1st Base as mere members. Every single one of the baptized must grow into maturity in Christ, engage with Him in His ministry and join Him in His mission. These studies, discussions, prayers and commitments are a step toward the Spirit’s invitation to PLAY BALL! The first inning begins April 12.