Back in the early days of baseball, pitchers would typically pitch all nine innings in a game, but in the late 19th century, the rules changed to allow more free player substitution. Over time, as pitchers threw harder and harder (wearing out their arms) and managers realized that different pitchers excelled in different roles, the modern day bullpen evolved (the area where these pitchers warm-up). It is unusual now for a starting pitcher to go all nine innings. Now, as part of the strategy of the game, baseball managers rotate in a team of pitchers – each with different strengths, weaknesses, and ways they excel. In Major League Baseball, a starting pitcher might go four to five innings, and then the manager calls on the bullpen to finish the game – left-handers, right-handers, middle relievers, long relievers, and of course, the closer.
I first heard this analogy at an Acts 29 conference in 2008, but this concept of a “bullpen” will always apply to Christians, for none of us should do life alone. Each of us should strongly consider having an active bullpen of relationships in our lives. It is common to desire, pray for, and seek out that “one person” – that ace pitcher that can face every batter for all nine innings – that person that you rely on for every situation, that you can call for advice about anything, that will be there to meet every need in your life. But short of God himself, this seems unrealistic for any human relationship! Rather, why not build a bullpen? A trusted network of people – each with their own gifts and roles in your life – to rely on no matter what life throws at you. Different people who meet different needs in your life. You might call one person for advice, another for prayer, another for practical help, and another just to hang out.
Here are the kinds of “pitchers” you should consider having in your bullpen:
- Friends: A true friend is someone you can trust, be yourself with, and ultimately makes you better. Yes, sometimes the “sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov. 27:9), but other times you just need someone to be with. We all need people to relax with, laugh with, and just be yourself.
- Siblings: I’m talking here about brothers and sisters in our birth family and our spiritual family. A relationship with a sibling is different than with a friend. Friends you choose, but with siblings there is a biological or spiritual bond grounded in something outside of your own desires and interests. You can certainly be friends with a brother or sister, but the relationship goes deeper. A family sibling or Christian brother or sister can speak into our lives and meet needs in ways a friend sometimes can’t. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).
- Parents: Again, I’m talking about biological and spiritual mothers and fathers. These are the people who helped raise us in life and in the Lord. Folks you honor because they have had – and maybe still do have – authority in our lives. A spiritual mother or father is someone who can nurture and counsel you in the Lord. If your birth parents are followers of Christ, what a wonderful gift! But even if not, you can still go to them for support and advice on certain things. Parents are a gift at any age!
- Spouse: Sadly, many marriages unravel into just a practical partnership rather than a thriving relationship of friendship, intimacy, and support. But this is God’s design for this “one-flesh” relationship! If you are married, your spouse should be a primary go-to in your bullpen! If you don’t have this kind of open, supportive relationship with your spouse, it will take time to develop. But if you are proactive, and rely on God’s grace, it can happen. The pattern God gives us is that “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:28-29).
- Mentor: A mentor is someone you look up to, someone who is further along in the journey and willing to help you get there. A mentor is like a coach who believes in you, strengthening you to reach your full potential. This person may serve as a counselor in your life (whether formally or not), giving you biblical wisdom and guidance. This is someone who understands the need to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1Thes. 5:14).
- Pastors/Elders: Depending on the size of your church, you may not have a close, personal connection with the lead pastor. But if there is a team of elders, you should have someone who personally cares for you. Someone who knows you, who you can look to for pastoral care. Someone who takes seriously Scripture’s call for elders to “care of the church of God” and “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” (Acts 20:28, 1Pe. 5:2).
Lifelong connections, family, and the local church are all crucial to building a solid bullpen. The church is more than just a service to attend on Sundays and a pastor to call when you have a major life crisis. Many of our bullpen relationships are best experienced within the context of the church community. We must live out our faith in the church community. Church life may be messy at times, but those relationships are still vital. The Body of Christ is not perfect, but she is still beautiful!
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”