In the major professional sports, there is a magical phenomenon call “free agency.” This appeared on the scene when I was a young man. Up to that point, players were basically tied to their team for life (unless the team traded them).
That kind of servitude doesn’t fly in our modern world. Some say it’s akin to slavery. While that’s probably a bit exaggerated, it is nevertheless on point.
Now, when a player’s contract is up, he gets to offer his services to the highest bidder—advantage; large market teams. But that’s the way the ball bounces (excuse the pun). Now (unlike the old days when a player often played for one team his entire career), it’s not uncommon for an athlete to play for half a dozen teams or more. Some guys change teams so often I can’t keep up.
“I was baptized Presbyterian.”
During the same time free agency began to take root in sports, it started to emerge in the life of the church. In the old days, it was not uncommon for someone to say, “I was baptized Presbyterian.” You don’t hear stuff like that much anymore because folks just don’t care where they were baptized, married, went to Sunday School, or took their first communion.
People nowadays flit from congregation to congregation on a whim—they’re free agents. The name on the sign seldom matters anymore. If you were raised Baptist, no problem… That was then, this is now. It’s a new day, and this group over here has something to offer that I happen to want at this moment–period.
A lot of the old timers decry this sort of behavior. They used to call these kinds of folks all sorts of names like “lone ranger Christians” and “charismatic butterflies.” Let’s face it. They’re just free agents.
I always hated free agency in baseball. I hated it because my favorite team is from a small market and can’t afford to compete with the big boys. I can usually count on my favorite players leaving for greener pastures sooner or later.
There’s probably a similar sentiment underlying our disdain of spiritual free agency. If we don’t have what the congregation down the street has, we’re going to lose some of our best people sooner or later.
So let’s face it, folks. That’s just the way it is in twenty-first century America. We can either go with the flow or hang on to the old school way of doing things and get plowed under. Frankly, things like membership vows are now an exercise in futility (if you can even get people to take them).
“The Spirit is doing something new…”
I’m not whining about this overwhelming wave of spiritual free agents. That’s just how it is these days. Still, I’m at a loss to know exactly how to relate to people who are parishioners one day, gone the next, and back again a year later for another short stint with us.
The Spirit is doing something new. We’ve just got to figure out what it is.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]