It is the time of year where baseball fans, players, and front offices can all agree on one thing, "This is going to be our year!" The fans dismiss disappointments of yesteryear. The players boast of how they are in the best shape of their lives. The front offices are smug about off-season deals. Everyone is undefeated until the beginning of April and even the most under-talented teams have hope. Anything less is almost unthinkable. Can you imagine if your team's leadership came into spring training and said, "You know, I think we are going to be terrible!"?
Sometimes it seems that our team, the mainline church, cannot help but fall into that narrative. We find every reason to moan about how bad things are and sulk about how things will never be like they were before. It would be one thing if we had this conversation with ourselves - every squad needs a team meeting from time to time - but if you step back and listen to us, it might not take long to see why our bleachers are empty. Every team has institutional question marks, it is just that we can't seem to stop talking about ours.
"Do Something Else" is a book that attempts to shift this conversation. It is not born from naivety, but from my own story of a child who fell in love with the church as it was expressed by Mission at the Eastward in rural Maine. It doesn't stop there though. The real heroes of this book are the women and men who emerge as some of the most exciting "players" the mainline has in the field. They are toppling barriers of exclusion, leveraging technology, initiating communities, rethinking worship, and designing cooperatives - among a whole host of other things. The book tells their stories and, through them, gives the reader practical coaching for their church or ministry.
In no way does the book suggest that we stick our heads in the sand about the troubles facing the mainline, but it does give us some new talking points to have at the ready. Instead of incessantly unpacking how we are missing with millennials, we can share how Jessica Winderweedle is reaching them with "The Feed Truck" in Princeton, New Jersey. Instead of magnifying how the endowments are shrinking, we can be examining how Anna Woofenden is growing things at "The Garden Church" in San Pedro, California. Instead of being overly invested by the doom of the "Nones" and "Dones", we can be enlightened by the courage of Mike Baughman, Chip Graves, Jason Chesnut, John Molina-Moore, Margaret Kelly, Edwin Estevez and a clubhouse full of other mainline batters that are swinging for the fences.
Sure, like every team to take the diamond this summer, we need a few things to break our way. But, for us, it's not the bullpen or the infield defense that we need to worry about. No, we need our most imaginative people to be more than dreamers, but leaders. We need our penchant for the regulatory to take a backseat to the presence of the revelatory. We need to be less consumed with the quarrelsome few and more encouraged by the Christ-centered many.
And even when most of that might seem doubtful, we can be encouraged to look forward to the next season for the church. We have some great "players" coming into their own and just enough daring "teams" willing to let them try. Not only that, we can take heart that the Spring brings us more than baseball. Much more. With Spring comes Easter and, with Easter, comes the reminder that God's grace has a way of bringing around a season we did not expect to get and, admittedly, have done nothing to deserve. If the empty tomb is any indication, we might just have another good run in us yet.