I found my old baseball cards yesterday. I used to collect them. Not a pack here and there. Obsessively. Other than a brief venture into football and basketball cards—collecting baseball cards was my primary hobby until I went to college. I have memories of hours and hours of sorting cards to see if I had a complete set or trying to guess who the next megastar would be.

One box I opened yesterday contained collections of what I call the “would-have-hit” wonders. These guys were viewed by many as the next huge stars of Major League Baseball back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most of you have never heard of them. Guys like: Mark Lewis, Ty Griffin, and Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens. Guys who today may get a free beer in their hometown, but never reached their potential. To be fair, Meulens is a hitting coach for the Giants now and had an OK career in Japan. However, when people talk about them, they talk about what they could have been.

Some got hurt.

Some didn’t want to work harder in order to get better.

Some did it all right and it just didn’t happen for them.

There were other cards in the box, like Jerome Walton and Chris Sabo. They both won the Rookie of the Year award and played a few years after that. They were champagne bottle that erupted with a bang and fizzled shortly thereafter.

Then, there were the better players: Griffey, Maddux, Randy Johnson, McGwire, Gwynn, Boggs, Molitor, Yount, Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly (aka, “Donny Baseball”) and others that set the records for a generation of baseball and were the heroes to guys like me.

Then, there’s Cal Ripken. He played more games in a row without missing one than anyone. He’s baseball’s iron man. And, he did it playing shortstop.

All of this got me thinking about all the people who enter ministry, set to do great things for the Kingdom. Some do just that. They honor God by maximizing what God’s given them for His glory. Others do the champagne bottle thing. Some “retire” without ever realizing their potential. Some get hurt—really badly. Some don’t want to work harder in order to get better. They never run the race…they speed-walk it at best. Others are disqualified because of conduct detrimental to the Team. Some don’t just give up ministry. They give up Christianity…a grievous tragedy. Thinking about these things for very long can get you down pretty quickly. When I think of lost potential, missed opportunities and the regrets some will have down the road–it inspires me to want to “fan into flame” the gift of God in me.

When it comes to ministry, not everyone is supposed to be Ripken, Gwynn, Mattingly or Maddux. But, all who are called are called to play the game the right way, play it hard, play it joyfully, and play it as long as God gives us the ability and calling to it. This requires stellar character, but also competency, the ability to work with and love people, and the desire to earn the applause of an audience of One…above all.

When my years in vocational ministry are over, I want to have been everything I was capable of being for God’s glory. I don’t want to be the Hensley Meulens of ministry. I want to be the maximum of whatever God equips me and calls me to be.

I hope you do, too. Whether you’re a full-time pastor or a Christian trying to live out the gospel in your own workplace–don’t mail it in. Play hard, with joy. Develop what God has given you. Take the gift of God and fan it into flame. Don’t just be a prospect.