Pastor’s Perspective – September 2014
I have always loved this time of the year. I love autumn. I love it when the weather begins to cool. I love the smell of the autumn air. I love the colors that paint beauty onto a tree lined landscape. But mostly I love football season.
The fall is the single best time for the sports fan. You can see a baseball game on Friday night, a College football game on Saturday and strap in for the NFL on Sunday. By October, the NHL and the NBA join the party, giving you access to even more games to watch and teams to follow. But to the average everyday mid-western sports fan, it is football that gets their motor running.
Football is a team sport drawn on the largest possible canvas. It is intricate in detail and demands multiple levels of personnel and individual understanding in order to play the game. A basketball team has an average of 12 players on the team. A college football team can have over a hundred students walking the sidelines in shoulder pads. In baseball you have to be able to catch the ball, throw the ball, and hit the ball. In football, you have specialists who might spend every moment practicing a long snap from center, or lining up to kick an extra point. A hockey team can rise and fall on the play of one goal keeper; but a football team needs every player on the field doing their job well or the whole team fails.
Football is a comprehensive team sport in which every player must understand and play his part for the good of the team. If one defender gets trapped out of position it can result in a touchdown for the other team. The slightest timing error from an offensive lineman is a penalized infraction of the rules and can put his team back five yards in a heartbeat. When you are on the field in a football game, every player matters.
A good team has to be able to focus on multiple aspects of the game. In football there are 3 units that play the game; the offense, the defense and the special teams. In the early days of the game, these three units were populated by the same people. In fact in small schools, elite athletes might still play on all three units, but in large (successful) programs the players focus on one aspect of the game, allowing each person to do their job to the best of their ability.
As I have grown older I have also enjoyed watching football as a primary example of how the Church works. Churches are very much like football teams. While occasionally Churches can grow with a superstar pastor, it is more common for Churches to thrive due to the day to day activities of the lesser known members of the team. The greeters, ushers, and Sunday school teachers play a much greater role in growing the Church than most people can ever imagine. The greatest sermon preached by the best pastor will be forgotten in an instant when you are cut off in the Church parking lot by a rude Church member. The penalty flag flies and its back 15 yards for interference. Months of congregational loving kindness can be destroyed in one flash of anger by a rouge member of the local church. Like any other team, we are indeed all in this together.
Since I arrived at First Baptist Church I have shared my concept for Church health. It was a simple concept that what we do on Sunday mornings and in the Church building was not the work of the Church. You have likely grown accustomed to hear me call the Church building “the locker room.” The locker room is where we received our instructions and where we learn our strategies. The locker room is where we encourage each other and lick our wounds. The locker room is where we are inspired and prepared for the often difficult task that is the game of life.
The locker room is not where the game is played, though most Churches are correct in assuming that if you get things right in the locker room, then the team has a much greater chance to win. Churches that have locker room problems usually have conflict within members, strategies are fought against, and team members frankly work against each other. Teams that have locker room problems will very rarely win many games because when they take to the field they undermine their coaches and teammates. Games must be won on the field, but they can be lost in the locker room.
In case you haven’t figure it out yet, worship services, Christian education, small groups, bible studies, prayer meetings and music rehearsals are all locker room activities. A Church that has a unified and prepared locker room is ready to take the field and minister in this great and terrible world that we live in.
No team can win without scoring. The act of scoring is accomplished (by definition) by the offense. In football you are the offense when you have control of the ball (so even a defensive player can score if they intercept the football – thus becoming the offense). Much of the problem that the Church has experienced over the past decades has been the inability to remain on offense. The first problem is that we have so separated faith from life, that many people (even and especially in the mega-Churches) use the Church as a defensive wall against the encroachment of the world. In other words the Church hides in the building and uses our locations not to prepare strategies and go on offense, but to protect our children and families from the world. Unfortunately, this defensive strategy results in our children never seeing or experiencing the real joys and purpose of the Church: to win the world for Christ.
This is why some Churches have played for years but have never scored a single adult baptism or conversion.
If you wonder why new people never come to your Church, ask this question, have you been on offense recently? Have you approached someone and invited them? Have you asked or answered the tough questions? Have you risked being “offensive” lately?
Usually polite Christians do not want to play offense in today’s world. In the past it was easy, because our culture favored our viewpoint. In other words we didn’t have to offend people because they already agreed with us. Playing offense today is a much more difficult proposal. Now we are up against a culture that is ready and prepared to push back. And the first thing that we will hear when we share Jesus, is “Ow, that hurts! How dare you be so pushy! That was so offensive!”
Remember what it means to be on offense. Your job is to score on the other team. The opposition will not like it when you score. They will complain and cry foul. Some will stomp their feet, throw a fit, and yell at the officials. You can’t worry about that. Just play fair, be a good sport, and remember how the demons howled whenever they saw Jesus coming. They begged to be taken out of the game, rather than face Jesus on a fair field. When the Church of Jesus Christ takes the field, the demonic will react in the same way.
As we embark on this new season, I have one thing to ask of you. Work with your team. Join us in the locker room every chance you can. Pray with us, study with us, worship with us, and then serve with us in the fields of this world. Don’t let the enemy distract you with silly conflicts or old grudges. Don’t think that getting your way is more important than God being glorified. And finally don’t listen to those who are offended by your invitations and ideas. You have every right to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be creative, be persuasive, be tenacious, and remember that the only victories that matter in this world are the ones that create victory in the world to come.
Now let’s bring it in for an Amen on three…