This post continues the conversation Glynn Young, Nancy Rosback and I are having over the book Mere Churchianity. They always have a head start on me, so be sure check out their thoughts on Chapter 13, "Leaving Behind the Church-Shaped Life" over at Faith, Fiction, Friends and Bend the Page. Melissa at In Silence, Humming Softly has also joined the discussion so be sure to check out her thoughts as well.
Michael Spencer, being a baseball fan, uses the analogy of Big League ball versus his childhood playing in empty lots. He notes that despite all the scandals (steroids, salaries, sex), it is the kid's game that captures our imagination and fanhood. As soon as the game under the lights and in the cathedrals to the game forget this, then interest will wane and seats will empty. The same is true of the Church, that it is the Jesus-shaped Spirituality that exists inside each of us, outside of the "big-time" walls, that drives us to the Church. And like Major League baseball, churches who forget this may fill the pews for a time, but will find many leaving for the purity of the sandlot.
To keep myself out of trouble, and being a huge baseball fan myself, I'm going to continue with the analogy. I grew up watching Minor League baseball. Rookie level as a matter of fact, where "kids" fresh out of high school would try and show of their talents, earning measly pay, and hoping to someday earn their "cup of coffee". I lived far from any major market team so I relied on TBS and WGN to watch the Braves and Cubs, respectively, and the network Game of the Week. I would follow my favorite players through the box score in the local paper. When traveling to visit family, we would catch a big-league game if we could and the enormity of "the Show" was magical compared with the rookie league I was used to watching. The players were faster, their moves more crisp and polished, their talents far surpassing the kids scraping by at the lower level.
I had my favorite players, enshrined with posters, jerseys, and baseball cards. I didn't care about the value of cards, I would trade away a valuable rookie for a card of my hero (but I at least knew not to put them in my bicycle spokes). The first World Series I remember watching, I laid out all my cards from each team and I followed the game using the cards to keep score.
Times changed and I grew up. I realized that none of the players I watched in the minors made it to the majors. An expansion team came to my region. Still not close, but drivable. TV expanded, ESPN gained in viewership, and I could catch a game every night. The Internet came and instead of following my favorite players through the "simple" box score, I now could follow their "splits" and "advanced metrics". The Internet and Cable TV enabled the 24-hour news cycle and sports followed suit. I could find out what my favorite player was doing at almost any moment. They would soon become unable to hide from the public eye, so every misstep, every harsh word, every bad decision would be highlighted for the world to see. And the magic of the game, the childhood awe, waned.
Today I live walking distance to a high-A club and I love taking my son to watch the game at this level. I go to Major League games on occasion, but the price and the publicity for the most part has discouraged it. There's something about watching these kids trying to make their way that maintains the childhood purity I remember.
So what does this have to do with the church? The megachurch, the spiritual superstars the big crowds can drown out the child-like awe we should have before Jesus for the sake of the show. Just as the Internet as created instant experts out of every fan who voices an opinion, so it has for Christians and the blogosphere who have no expertise other than their opinion (myself included). And I think myself, like many who relate to Michael Spencer in this book, are longing for Jesus-shaped Spirituality that can be found in the sandlots, being played by kids, free from all the trappings, glitz, and glam. When Michael was sharing this analogy, I was thinking about how the game is the same, whether played in the Major League cathedrals or at a beat up Little League field. Jesus is the same, whether worshiped within walls filled with thousands, or in a beat up old church filled with a dozen. And in both places, Jesus is found by the awestruck child who just loves the game.
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3)