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Umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe on June 2, and Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost his perfect game.

Television replay demonstrated conclusively Joyce was wrong. In fact, after the game, Joyce apologized to Galarraga for the bad call. Because professional baseball does not have instant replay, the call stands. Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game.

Ministers are often robbed of “perfect games” through no fault of their own. It just goes along with the joys and challenges of ministry. I offer a few suggestions for the journey.

·  Never expect a perfect game.

Nine professional baseball players rarely all work together to produce a perfect game. It has happened only 20 times in the history of baseball. Do we expect a congregation of hundreds to play a perfect game? When one adds the complexity of Baptist polity to the mix, it is a wonder we do as well as we do. Ministry takes place in a messy world.

·  Never lay blame.

If the minister plays the blame game, the church is headed down the wrong road, and the minister’s heart is in the wrong place. If the minister whines about social demographics, a declining neighborhood, people who leave the church and hard-headed members, there is no chance the congregation will grasp a new dream.

This can become painfully personal for the minister. Over 35 years of ministry, I have had some terribly bad calls. In anger, a church member said something about me that was not true. And after all the gossip in the community, the church member did not have the nerve to take it back and set the record straight.

In congregational settings of high stress, church members will unfairly point fingers at staff members. It goes with the territory. Though others may blame you, never play the blame game.

·  Never keep score.

God calls ministers to faithfulness, which may or may not qualify as success by the community’s standards. While it is critical to have clearly identified congregational goals and objectives for ministry, the minister’s personal goals are always related to the congregation’s goals. The minister is successful when the congregation is successful.

·  Never withhold an apology.

To his credit, Joyce apologized for his bad call. This almost never happens in baseball. When a minister makes a bad call, a mistake or misspeaks, an apology should quickly follow. It should be an honest and straightforward “I am sorry.”

·  Never expect an apology.

In a fair world, we could expect clergy and laity to offer apologies when appropriate. I go to bed every night praying to wake up in a parallel universe, “a fair world.” Unfortunately, I keep waking up in this unfair world.

Years ago, I adopted a personal philosophy of ministry borrowed from an old movie: “Your fault, my fault, everybody’s fault, nobody’s fault, sometimes it just doesn’t matter.” When wronged by others, forgive and move on whether an apology is offered or not.

·  And lastly, do your best and trust the rest to God.

Contrary to popular opinion, purgatory is designed for ministers who do less than their best. High standards are a burden of a sacred calling. Ministers offer their best to God and trust the Holy One to use their gift effectively.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared in a longer version on his blog.

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