In Braves Country, we’ve been a little giddy of late about our baseball team that struggled to achieve more wins than losses for more than half the season. Then, despite the loss of key players, went on a run to win the Major League Baseball World Series.
But I write this column to do more than brag about the Atlanta Braves. I want to pass along some perspective for churches and church leaders who are experiencing a lot of COVID-related angst.
Experts are offering all kinds of postmortem evaluations and strategies for the new realities facing congregational life. My non-expert advice is primarily to chill — and do the caretaking for a while longer that is the best mark of a Christian community.
Enumerating “things” I’ve noticed is the way many posts are composed today to bring clicks on a website. So, here are three — like “three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame” — though I’m really over the excitement of the baseball season’s excellent ending. I promise.
First base, I mean first: There’s a lot of talk about whether people who regularly attended church will return. The definitive answer is: Who knows?
My guess is that many came for years out of habit — a good habit. But they’ve acquired new habits during the pandemic — like not getting out of their PJs and into their Sunday attire. As we know, habits — both old and new — can be hard to break.
Second (where Ozzie Albies hangs out unless the shift is on): Cut out the shaming. I tire of seeing memes about why someone “ought to be” in church. That is not going to get them there — and, even if it did, it wouldn’t be for the right reasons.
Many have endured enough guilt-driven religiosity to last a lifetime. And there’s a whole generation that’s not looking for any place that ladles out guilt where acceptance is what they find attractive.
Convey what your church offers, not why someone should feel bad for not being there.
Third: This is where Braves’ manager Brian “Snit” Snitker comes in.
When asked if he could have imagined a World Series championship when his team struggled mightily in the first half, the man who spent about four decades working in the minor leagues before reaching the Braves’ helm had a good answer.
It was too early to tell. Snit said he doesn’t even look at the division standings until after the All-Star break.
I know of four persons who’ve had breakthrough COVID cases recently — with varying degrees of symptoms. Wisely, they were fully vaccinated and have recovered, or are recovering well.
So, it is no surprise that even some vaccinated and boosted people — especially those with compromised health — aren’t rushing back to join singing crowds. Chill, because — when it comes to the fuller pandemic season’s impact — it’s not even the All-Star break yet.
For those more attuned to the pigskin sport this time of year: It’s not halftime; stop the postgame analysis.
I’ve run out of bases, but there are surely other factors at play. Particularly, there is the public face of white Americanized Christianity as a driving force behind the politics of discrimination, exclusion and fear of societal change.
If your response is, “But our church is not like that,” you sure better prove it — even if it means those within your congregation who “are like that” get mad and leave.
There is nothing appealing about a group of professing Christians who prefer self-serving politics over the sacrificial way of Christ. A church’s reflection of Jesus is much more important than how many chairs need to be set up next Sunday.
The priority of following Jesus remains a challenge for many congregations amid an unprecedented time of change. Giving attention to ultimate allegiances is a better use of time and energy now than counting heads and trying to determine if current stats are the final score.
So, stop watching the standings — or the scoreboard. Work on assembling the team, and focus on the clearly defined priorities and the immediate tasks of caretaking at hand.
And chill — because only God knows what’s ahead. It could be quite good.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.