It remains one of the best illustrations I know of the Peter Principle (that one rises to the level of one’s highest incompetency); certainly, it is a great picture of that section at the bottom of the job description of every church position I have ever seen: “and other duties as assigned.”
As a 19-year-old college student in the mid-sixties, I was the “associate pastor” of First Baptist Church of Florence, Miss. Despite minimal talent in music and never having been confused for an athlete, I not only was the music director of the church, but in the summers, I coached the boys’ softball team. We played other churches’ teams and tried to remain Christian while doing it. Sometimes, we even succeeded at that.
On the day of the “big game,” we were short several of our best players and I was worried. After the pregame warm-ups, I collected the bats and balls, called the boys to my side and announced the starting nine. With only one position remaining to be filled, I looked down at the “least-likely to ever play” boys who remained, looking hopefully, yet fearfully, in my direction. After serious soul-searching and no small amount of adolescent prayerful, but profound, intercession, I called up a snotty-nosed kid in a too-small cap and said, “Johnson, you take right field!” (I’m not using his actual surname, since some of his peers may be reading this.)
With a look of authentic shock and reverential awe, Johnson grabbed his glove, smacked it a time or two, spat, rubbed his britches with his free hand, and turned to run in the direction of the diamond. About the time Johnson reached the first base chalk-line, he stopped, turned on his tennis-shoes, and raced back to me, invading my personal space with a sincere, whispered question. He said, “Coach Bobby, where is right field?” I tried not to laugh and sent that little lamb to what I hoped would not be his softball slaughter.
I often remember the child I am now publicly calling Johnson, because his honest question is one that is universal, especially when one senses God is calling him or her off the bench and into the game of life. The Almighty Coach senses that there is a place for us, a specific position for us to play, and we somehow, despite the many distractions, understand that God wants us in the game. If we are on God’s team, eventually we will hear the Coach sending us into the game.
Even though it shocks us, even though we feel mostly grossly inadequate, even though we acknowledge we are the last of the least to be called — still, most of us screw up our courage, strap on all the bravery we can muster, turn from lesser pursuits and head out. Somewhere before we get to wherever it is that we are going, it dawns on us that we don’t even know where the right field is, much less how to play it adequately.
“Somewhere before we get to wherever it is that we are going, it dawns on us that we don’t even know where the right field is, much less how to play it adequately.”
And so, in deference, we turn to the Coach and ask, “Where is right field?” It is a question of authentic humility, genuine fear and faithful obedience. It is our version of the question one asked Jesus, our Lord, when he said, “And who is my neighbor?” Finding the courage to serve God in this world, to play on God’s team in the most important game — the Game of Life — that is our first challenge. But second unto that is the question of location.
I can assure you that before 1999, if God had said to me, “Bobby, I want you to serve in Albania!” my most honest response would have been, “Pardon me, but where is Albania?” But do you know what? God always shows us where our “right field” is when calling us to serve there.
While I am not much of an athlete or a softball coach, I remain eternally grateful that I was able to put Johnson in right field that day, even if he had no idea where it was or how to play it.
Bob Newell has served as a university professor and administrator, a local church pastor and a cross-cultural missionary. He and his wife, Janice, now live in Georgetown, Texas, and he serves churches as transition coach and intentional interim pastor. They were the founders and remain advocates of PORTA, the Albania House in Athens, Greece.
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