The eighth grade book report. We all had to do it. I’m sure the routine was relatively standard across all eighth grades everywhere: 3″X5″ notecards, 3 pages, 3-5 minute presentation, rough draft, final draft, two grades—one for presentation and one for content. The only wild card was whether you got to choose your own book or were forced to choose from a list. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that my options were limited to a list of pre-selected options. Given my love of baseball and the Big Red Machine I did what anybody would have done: I chose a biography on Pete Rose.

The grade I received in exchange for my work I don’t remember. And I’m sure Charlie Hustle was no more interesting then than he is now. The biography was your typical born here-went to high school here-did some cool things here structure. Regardless of your baseball IQ, surely everyone can appreciate the notion of The Slump. Among all professional sports baseball (no, golf is not a sport) is the most mentally challenging game. The proverbial “game of inches,” baseball players tend to be most superstitious and the most vulnerable to The Slump: the period a hitter periodically enters into during which he gets no breaks, constantly guesses wrong, forsakes mechanics, loses confidence, and can’t recapture what made him successful in the first place. There’s no obvious reason The Slump begins. And often there’s no clear reason The Slump ends. We all have slumps.

Baseball players have various methods for getting themselves out of a slump. Some burn bats. Some just swing themselves out of it. Some get rid of uniforms, batting gloves, helmets. Others seek professional counsel from clinical psychologists, old coaches, new coaches, and the specially trained. But Pete had a different manner for getting himself out of a hitting slump. When Pete found himself an ineffective hitter he would, during every at bat, just focus on hitting the ball directly back to the pitcher as hard as he could. Regardless of the circumstance or situation, he would zero in on the pitcher, seeing the ball, putting the bat on the ball, and hitting it straight back to the mound. See the ball, hit the ball. See the ball, hit the ball. Consequently, this discipline allowed him to block everything out but the pitcher and the ball—the basic elements of his craft.

Rose would employ this strategy until the fundamental element of seeing the ball/hitting the ball became a matter of muscle memory. Once his mind had become re-acquainted with the basic science of making contact, he could again begin taking into consideration the count, game situation, and how the pitcher was pitching to him. With everything going on during a baseball game, the tendency for Rose and maybe any other hitter in a slump would be to forget the original design and mission. In other words, a hitter begins to “think too much.”

I’ve always felt like the spiritual disciplines work the same way. Our tendency is to begin losing sight of our design and mission over time. We slip. With everything going on around us—all the decisions and distractions and obligations—we start to “think too much.” We lose our mechanics. We guess more than we think. What the spiritual disciplines ultimately do is (1) help us avoid The Slump (2) help us swing out of our slumps (3) help us gain clarity. The spiritual disciplines not only remind us of our mission, but afford us greater clarity in the “see the ball–hit the ball” structure for our days, weeks, and months. Ultimately the art of hitting isn’t, at its core, all that difficult.

Just last week we sent Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith by Kerry Shook to the printer. This small-group resource takes the spiritual disciplines of meditation, fasting, and silence and leads groups on a 6-week Bible study experience that will help them apply these basic principles to a disciple’s life. Among the disciplines, meditation, fasting, and silence are particularly suited for helping us avoid slumps as well as providing biblical tools for pulling out of them. Through these disciplines you and your group will gain see the ball–hit the ball clarity needed in order to become the most creative hitter you can be. Check it out by clicking here. We can never have too much discipline and clarity in our lives. I can’t help but think that this is even more true in the world we live in today.

The manuscript for Episode 4 of Small Group Life Barbarians: A Call into Unchartered Faith is making its way into production. (Boy do we work ahead. Would you believe that this doesn’t release until next fall!) Because there’s the sense that maybe we as a culture have become somewhat soft—or perhaps better put, tame—in our faith of late, and because there’s a least a chord of applicable truth in Mick’s words to Rocky in Rocky III, the Small Group Life staff has undertaken production of Barbarians as a means for challenging believers to be more willing to confront life’s messes, challenges, and even opportunities in the spirit of Deborah, David, John the Baptist, Moses, and, yes, Jesus. And so we can address potential blind spots of a barbaric spirituality, we’ll also take up the story of Jephthah and his rash vow. I love this topic.

“But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized.” Mickey to Rocky in Rocky III

One of the challenges of creating a small-group experience of this sort was just how to break this notion of a Christian barbarian into individual study topics—all able to stand-alone in an open group environment yet maintaining some sense of progression. I was planning to include a list with short descriptions, but decided that it might be best to leave that open for the time being. Regardless of where we land, you can expect Episode 4 to be streamlined, missional, and spiritually provocative in that the experience we create is expected to take you and your groups on a journey.

“A barbarian invasion is taking place even right now. They are coming from the four corners of the earth and they are numbered among the unlikely. From the moment Jesus walked among us the invasion began. And just as with those who crossed paths with Him here on earth, those who are most religious will be most offended and indignant.” Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way

Episode 3: FREEDOM is in production, Episode 2: MISSION is being printed, and Episode 1: FORMATION is now available. This is a brand new series created to be affordable, flexible, and easy-to-use yet uncompromising in the biblical content and small-group experience you would expect. Got any ideas about Christian barbarianism or any of the topics, you can comment here, DM IAmAgonistes through Twitter (brand new), or go to our Facebook fan page.

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure.” from Jane Austen’s Emma

First, do you agree or disagree? Is it possible for any of us to be completely honest—taking the taint of the fall into sin, our emotions, the messages of the enemy and of our own woundedness, and the many false selves into account?

Second, how do you think this applies to the redemptive journey God is calling us into? How do you think the notion of complete truth fits into your small-group ministry?