First off, this is Knuckleball Youth Ministry, not knucklehead youth ministry. That would be a whole other posting I am sure someone else is willing to write. This is what the culture of throwing the knuckleball can teach us in youth ministry.
Was listening to a NPR interview a while back with R.A. Dickey on his new book, a Cy Young candidate year, and the knuckleball. It was a fascinating listen which I encourage everyone to sit with. You might even want to check out “Knuckleball” the movie.
So what can youth ministry can learn from the oddest thing in baseball?
- You Just Never Know: One of the unique parts to throwing a knuckleball and the greatest advantage for the pitcher is that no one really knows where this ball is going to end up. A skilled and seasoned knuckleball pitcher has an idea and some concept of where it might go, but that does not mean it will. In youth work, we have an idea of where we what we want youth to learn. In youth ministry we have an idea of what people we want them to grow into. But in reality, we have no control over that. God is the master of their souls and they control their decisions. We might influence, but really, we just never know.
- Learn in a minute, Lifetime to Master: The knuckleball is not a difficult pitch to learn. But to take the pitch onto the mound.. Well, it takes years of practice to feel comfortable that you have an idea where the ball might be going. You & I only need an idea of what youth ministry can be like and we can run with it. But it takes a lifetime of learning, practice, and perfecting. I have been in youth work since ’94 and this path has required a constant practice of the craft. Some day I hope to reach a point where I have this perfected. Will keep you posted.
- Okay Being Odd: Currently R.A. Dickey is the only knuckleball pitcher in MLB today. He and Tim Wakefield were the only two for the best part of this modern baseball era (Tim retired in 2012). At best there is one or two knuckleballers in the big leagues at a time. They are odd balls in a culture of fast and furious. Todays premium is on speed of a fastball. Where as the knuckleball is slow (can be difference of 35mph between the two pitches) and erratic. How odd is your youth ministry? Doing the same fastball pitch ministry will get you a job and maybe even some notoriety, but can it sustain? A knuckleballer can hang around the big leagues well into their 40’s. Fastball throwers have significantly shorter shelf life. Is that standard cultural pitch really who you are as well?
- Respect the Tradition: Those who throw the knuckleball are a unique club of baseball players. And they know & respect their tradition and the people who made that up. When a knuckleball pitcher speaks about what they do it never comes across as something they do, but a craft and a legacy that they are the caretakers for. Why? They know the tradition and the people that make it. It is my observation that we forget so much what came before us. We forget reasons for doing the important foundational groundings of the craft. We need to know where we came from.
- Revere Our Legends: In listening to Dickey talk about his journey through the knuckleball it struck me how important not only knowing who the legends were, but actually knowing them. There is a tight friendship and fraternity within the knuckleball community. Might just be because they are so few. But mostly it is because they all know what it is to stand on an island. They respect and seek guidance from their eldest members of the fraternity. Not to mention coaching. I will stand first in line with saying that often I dismiss the ministry legends in my life. “They don’t know what it is like to do ministry today” has come out of my mouth often. We could do well to be mentored by our legends and learn from them with similar reverence.