An Empty Slot in the Lineup

ClementeBy the time I was ten years old, Roberto Clemente had established himself as one of the premier players in all of baseball. There were a few players around with more talent, but none played with a greater flair than The Great One (the nickname given to him by then Pirate broadcaster Bob Prince). When I was twenty-one, he was still playing at a high level, but by the time I was twenty-two, he was dead. There are moments I still can’t believe he’s gone.

The Pirates have since inserted many other players into his slot in the batting order. He pretty much always batted third. They’ve found other guys to bat there, and the game goes on. Such is the way of major league baseball. There’s always a guy on deck.

It’s not always that way in the lower levels of the sport, however. I remember once, when I was playing in a boys’ league, only seven guys showed up for one of our games. For some reason, the opposing coach let us play with no penalties. I actually was positioned to play the first and second base positions as well as right field. Unbelievably, we won that day. We won because we had a really good team, and we were playing a really bad one.

Another big factor in our victory, however, was we didn’t play by the rules. The rules stated that if there was a player missing from the batting order, an automatic out would be recorded each time that slot came up. If the opposing coach had insisted, we would have had to endure two automatic outs during each rotation of the batting order. That would have meant we would have had some innings in which we only were allowed one out. That, my friends, is a big handicap.

In later years, I umpired a lot of baseball games and saw this rule enforced several times. It was often devastating to the shorthanded team as you may imagine. It was never much fun for anyone. It never seemed like a real game when that happened.

This phenomenon is one of the devastating things that has happened to the church over the years. Too often we have played with empty slots in the lineup. Those who show up have the weight of the team on their shoulders, and the imbalanced lineup spells out failure and frustration for everyone. It’s not pretty, and it sure isn’t any fun.

If you’re one of the no-shows, I would encourage you to get in the game. I know that’s a trite, old cliché, but it really fits. Not only do we need you, I suspect you’ll enjoy yourself a whole lot more at the center of the action than you would by watching from the bench. In fact, I don’t think there is a bench in ministry. Don’t you get tired just standing there?

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