By Bob Hiller –
“We don’t do the wave at baseball games.” So said the guy sitting behind me at the Angels game last weekend to his son.
“Because that’s what you do when you’re bored. But there’s no reason to be bored. There is a baseball game going on. We’re here to watch the game.”
I wanted to hug him, but there was a game to watch. Justin Verlander was pitching to Mike Trout. The best was facing the best. There was no reason to be bored.
There is a myth going around that baseball is a boring game. Sure, it is slower than football or basketball. And of course, a slower game may bore you. But our lack of appreciation doesn’t mean the game is boring. It just requires concentration and understanding. It is a sport that demands more from its fans, but rising to the challenge is worth it. The skill and precision necessary to play the game are second to none. There is nothing harder in sports than hitting a 94 mph fastball, let alone pitching one consistently. If you think this is boring, go to Youtube and type in “Nolan Arenado plays.” You will not be bored.
To be sure, some parts of the game are more exciting than others. There is a good deal of downtime. But the peaks and valleys of the game create a rhythm that is both relaxing and thrilling at the same time. Baseball is beautiful.
But too many people are buying into the “baseball is boring” myth, including the people who sell Major League Baseball. Instead of working hard to educate folks on the game, the powers-that-be want to spice up your experience. So, now at every baseball game you have massive screens, fireworks, gimmicky races between innings, theme nights, cheerleader-type girls to entertain, and so on. At this particular game, there was a post-game firework display and a movie. People did the wave. A group of fans near us snuck in 25 beach balls and blew them up at the same time and threw them into the stands. OK, the last distraction was kind of awesome, but still, they brought the beachballs because they planned on being bored.
Anyhow, setting the beach balls and the wave aside for a moment, what struck me was how it’s not the “bored” fans who create distractions for themselves. It’s the folks who own the teams and the stadiums. They don’t believe that the product on the field can sell, so they add a bunch of gimmicks to make it more appealing. They don’t trust fans to learn the sport and love the game. Perhaps they don’t believe the game is that engaging. So, they give you something else to keep you entertained. But the game itself gets lost. Kids start watching the screen gimmicks and miss the excitement of a two-out full count.
(The other week, my boys were watching a game with me. It was something like the bottom of the fourth inning with nothing really happening in the game. With one out, the batter had a full count and my middle boy said, “This is where it gets exciting!” I’ve done something right.)
It strikes me that what the MLB owners are doing is analogous to what is happening in the Church. We believe that the Word of God is effective and powerful. It kills and makes alive. It opens our eyes to God’s will and accomplishes God’s work for us. When you hear the sermon, you are actually hearing what God has to say (if the pastor is doing his job)! When you receive the Lord’s Supper, God is putting the body and blood of Christ in your mouth! The liturgy actually draws you into the creative, redemptive, sanctifying work of the triune God! The Creator of heaven and earth, the crucified and risen Lord, the Spirit of life are at work there for you.
And people are bored.
The liturgy is too repetitive. The music is too slow. The preacher is too dry. So, we get bored and we want something more.
Instead of pastors doing what is necessary, that is, teaching people how the game works, instead of us instructing people on the importance of a liturgy that grows out of God’s Word and how participating in that liturgy unites you to the saints and angels around the throne of the Lamb, we decide to add gimmicks. We add more elements, more smells and bells, more smoke and screens. We create an ambiance which focuses on the activities being performed as opposed to Word being proclaimed. The temptation to such practices exists whether you are “high church” or “contemporary” or whatever label we slap on our perceived worship opponents. We build big sanctuaries, install amazing sound systems, choreograph a perfect service. And in all of it, we seem to have forgotten that the power resides in the Word.
We’re like the owners of Major League ball clubs who don’t believe baseball is entertaining. We don’t believe the Word has the power to accomplish God’s purposes. So, we add some gimmicks to keep people interested.
We would do well to remember St. Paul who came to Corinth and preached to a culture infatuated with pleasurable rhetorical performances. “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul simply preached Christ crucified with fear and trembling (2:3), and faith was born and a church was created and God worked. No strings or gimmicks, no fancy rhetoric or slick sales techniques. Just the Word. And believe it or not, the Word accomplished its purposes. Remarkably, miraculously, the Corinthians believed it.
When the worship and liturgy of our churches are drawn from and driven by the Holy Spirit’s Word, it may not be entertaining by the world’s standards. But it will create faith and accomplish God’s purposes. Pastors don’t need to seek to enhance the Word, nor do congregations need to try and start the wave in worship. Instead, both need to simply preach and hear the Word. Let the Word hold sway. When God’s Word is being proclaimed, there is no reason to be bored.