As we approach the middle of the Major League Baseball season and the All-Star game (don’t get me started on the length of seasons — baseball’s is no more ridiculously long than hockey’s or basketball’s), here are some thoughts. . . .
29 home runs in 1919 — it was more than twice the number that anyone else hit. But Babe Ruth was not only a home run hitter. He also hit for average. This guy was multi-talented, and it’s almost galling (not unlike the case of Pete Rose, the all-time MLB hits leader who holds many records and squandered his reputation in more than one way. Why was so much talent given to guys like these?). Moreover, Babe Ruth was originally actually a pitcher for the Red Sox before being traded to the (deprecatory cough) Yankees in perhaps the most celebrated trade of the century. Stan Musial was another record-setter with multiple talents: 17 seasons > .300, record #s of triples, runs scored, total bases, 24 All-Star games, and more (source here … also see picture and the superimposed quote by a former MLB commissioner). Musial, unlike Ruth and Rose, was known until his death earlier this year as a gentleman, above reproach, and a “class act.” All these were players with multiple talents.
Very oddly (or maybe not so oddly, given my background), thoughts of multi-talented baseball greats lead me to thoughts of church and preachers.
Have you ever known a preacher who was active in leading worship? A small group minister who was also the youth minister? In the scores of a cappella churches in my experience, the preachers tend not to do too much at once — which I think is good. The staff ministers who can sing OK acceptably may lead worship in song occasionally, but almost always on Wednesdays nights, when they aren’t otherwise in the public eye. Rarely do they lead in congregational prayer. (Therefore, the pastoral “benediction” is virtually unheard of in RM CofC congregations.) This pattern, I think, is better than that in many other churches: it avoids at least some sense of leadership monopoly, whether or not the leader has multiple talents.
I once drove 20 miles to congregate with others before a guitar-playing Lutheran cleric in Elkton, MD. (That was back in the days that I was more influenced by new styles, so I sought them out regularly.) He was multi-talented and was leading “contemporary worship.” I suppose he was a decent guy, too, because I see that he’s still at the same church — presumably no burnout and no scandal. But I wouldn’t likely go there today — too much power (even if innocently placed) in one person.
In these latter days, whenever I encounter a “pastor” who leads communion and plans the mission effort and articulates a vision for the rest of the church and does most of the public praying and makes a bunch of announcements . . . I’m not overly impressed. Well, actually, I am — but not positively so, as I am when a baseball player can run, hit, and play the outfield like a puma. Multi-talented churchmen who monopolize public roles produce blights in the spiritual crop; churches that are more mutually based tend to produce a better harvest.
Perhaps if salaries weren’t involved, church members wouldn’t feel it was warranted to “get their money’s worth” out of their staff by having them do everything. Really, we need an altogether new model. I am drawn to one that doesn’t have anyone at the mic or behind the lectern or on the stage . . . a simpler, more mutual, communal model.
This paradigm, if it can be called that, is not well developed, nor is it time-tested, per se. Yet I think what I have in mind and heart makes more sense than anything I’ve read about (occurring in recent centuries, that is), and it gets closer to God’s original intent than anything I’ve seen in decades. Simple and pure and sans clutter — many are drawn to these ideas. I think this appeal is related to the draw that a friend my age (i.e., not old enough to have “lived” through them personally) recently felt toward a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert on PBS. That was simple music — easily accessed. Why not simple in Christian matters, as well as in pop music?
Adding to this perspective is Roger Thoman, who states here that it is insufficient “to get rid of the priest/laity divide. Rather, we must internalize, each of us, that we are ‘royal priests’ and expect to function in all that this implies.”