At age 14 I entered into my final year of little league baseball. I worked extremely hard, spending hours each week in the batting cage and fielding ground balls. My hard work paid off. I ended the season with a .533 batting average and made the All-Star Team with a group of guys that would eventually go on to win their High School (3A) State Championship. I was excited. I started All-Star practice off by hitting the ball very well, and the coach said if I kept it up I’d be in the starting line-up.
Then things went south, in a bad way. I was an outsider, driving in from a smaller “country” town. I hadn’t grown up with these city boys, didn’t attend school with them, and now I found myself competing with one of them for the starting first base position. I was bullied, to say the least. The ring leader was a kid named Adam. For whatever reason, he despised me. During practice he would throw baseballs at me when I wasn’t looking. Sometimes I’d get drilled right in the back, and other times, near misses would whiz right over my head or just past my ear. I began to dread practice and lived in constant anxiety of when the next ball might nail me in the head. Unbeknownst to me, one of Adam’s friends had sold me an illegal bat loaded with tennis balls (Supposedly, to help you hit the ball further). One day in practice, I discovered Adam and some others banging my bat against a fence post, trying to remove the cap, in order to expose me to the coach and have me banned from the team. When that didn’t work, they tried other tactics. When it was my turn to field throws at first base, I can still remember my teammates whispering among themselves, just loud enough so I could hear, “throw it in the dirt.” And they did, time and time again. Needless to say, my shins took quite a beating, trying to scoop low throw after low throw out of the dirt. I spent that All-Star season sitting on the bench, rarely seeing the field, and I couldn’t wait to go home and never return to that “bully” pen again. Nobody stood up for me.
I’m 35 now, and I’ve come to realize that some bullies never grow up, they just get older and more sophisticated in their bullying. After trying to break into the “church planting” world for two years now, it’s been hard not to feel like I’m back in little league baseball. Three months into my first Church Planting Residency (training program) I was preaching regularly, overseeing “small group” leaders, and even asked to draft church documents. Church goers began affirming me on my leadership, and asking me when I was preaching next, and to my dismay, the pastor strangely began to view me as his competition. Things went south fast. He essentially did everything he could to push me out. He tried to cut my already meager salary package by half! When I told him I couldn’t afford this cut, his response was, “Well then I guess you’ll just have to get out there and make more money!” At the time, I was already working a second job, as a valet, (running sprints on concrete with a torn meniscus), just so I could afford to stay in the program. I couldn’t even afford health insurance. In a private meeting, which I requested, this pastor realized that a salary cut would put him in breach of contract, so he said he had simply “misspoken.” He proceeded to verbally abused me; provoking me, shaming me, and demeaning me, referring to me as a “boy.” Before the meeting ended, he told me that if I couldn’t ‘sync up” with what he was doing, then maybe I should leave. In hindsight, that’s generally a good time to leave. But I stayed on, and tried to work things out. The next three months proved to be a farce. This pastor, who was supposed to be training me, didn’t invest another second into our relationship. He effectively sat me on the bench. When I did finally resign, he announced to the church on my last Sunday that my residency had been a success, and that they looked forward to supporting me in my future ministry endeavors. The next day I borrowed gas money so I could move home to my parents’ house. I shared all of this, and more, with leaders in that church. Nobody stood up for me.
Later that year, I attended a church planting conference, hoping to regain my bearings. During a Q & A session, I raised my hand and asked one of the main speakers, “How would you approach training an unmarried pastor vs. a married pastor?” He laughed slightly, and then retorted, “I’d tell him to go get married first!” Evidently, single men are not thought very highly of in the “church planting” world. This past year, I applied for another church-planting residency here in Houston. When I inquired as to why I was not selected, the only reason mentioned was, “…our team is looking more at married guys. This has more to do with the structure and nature of the cohort as we do a lot as couples/wives,…”
Yes, I must be back in little league baseball, and because I’m not from here, and because I don’t fit the mold, there is seemingly not a place on the team for me. I meet people all the time who have been bullied, by both the church and the world. They’re still hurting and grieving from it, as I am. It might be tempting to pick up the bat and fight back, but this isn’t the way to find your place on the team.
Our solace needs to come from Christ. The scriptures tell us in John 1:11 that “He came unto his own, but his own people did not receive him.” Jesus was an outsider, too, and he didn’t fit the mold, either. Consequently, he was rejected, bullied, and eventually crucified. We learn from Christ that “turning the other cheek” is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. We realize that, because Christ defeated his enemies on the cross, we too can overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-20 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
If you’re being bullied, speak up. Reach out. But don’t return evil for evil. When we trust that God “has our back” we are free to love our enemies, and we can face our bullies without fear, anger, or retaliation, because Jesus promises to stand up for us! Have you been bullied? Have you trusted in Christ to be your Savior? He’s got a place on the team for you; a place where you’ll be safe, valued, and loved! Find a local church family that (imperfectly) emulates him, and get back in the game!