What We Learn from Football (and other sports)

A team of people who share the same conviction can change the world.  Nick Fury, Marvel Comics.

Football teaches the value of being on a team. I met a new friend today. D has been a huge success in the fields of law and politics.  I asked him what he most enjoyed doing in his life, his face lit up, “Playing third base on my high school team. “ he replied.

Are there golf courses in heaven? Playing sports has helped me see that life should not be a grind. God, not the devil, invented fun. We need to build fun things into our smartphone calendars. If there aren’t golf courses in the new heaven and earth, I’m sure there will be something infinitely better, where everyone breaks par.

Sports has taught me the joys and value of teamwork—achieving important things as a part of a team. D’s career required he give up his love of fun and teamwork. His job demanded that he be serious and solitary. While he provided a valuable service to his community, it came at a personal cost. Now that he’s retired he and his wife are exploring a deeper walk with Christ and the dream of playing on a church team serving Christ in some way.

Who invented teams?  Give some credit to the Apostle Paul, who described the church as a team—a united body of Christ made up of many members. “…a body has many parts, and God has put into it each part just where he wants it (1 Cor. 12: 18).

The team that changed the world. Paul learned this from His Lord. Jesus could have been a super star. But his mission was global. It was too  big and important for him to do it all alone. He recruited specialists, molded them into a team, a body of men and women who would help him accomplish his mission. They worked in groups or pairs, never alone. He maximized his effectiveness working through them and in a few centuries they did what He could never have done alone. They changed the world.

A New Metaphor for the Church If Paul was a 21st century guy, what metaphor might he use to explain the body of Christ in action in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27? He might use football.

Now a  football team needs many positions, not just one.  If the center were to say, “Because I am not a fullback, I don’t belong to the team,” that would not keep him from being a team member, would it?  And if a safety were to say, “Because I am not a wide-out, I don’t belong to the team,” that wouldn’t hold water.  If  the whole team were a quarterback, who would protect him from the blitz? And if all the players were running backs, who would open up the holes?  As it is, however, the coach needs all kinds of different talents to win the game. In fact, there could be no game at all if all played the same position…. If one player fumbles, the whole team suffers. It could cost the game. If one player scores a touchdown, the other players meet him in the end zone, pat his helmet and they all celebrate together.” 

Can you imagine a team that sends the coach out on the field to win the game, while they cheer him on from the sidelines?  Yet isn’t that often how congregations function? We expect the pastor and staff do all the important stuff, while we applaud them from our pews. Doesn’t it make our faith easier? Or do some coaches like it that way, perhaps?

History’s Greatest Success

How does one measure success? Alexander the Great had enormous success if you condone war, bloodshed and death. Jesus Christ is called the prince of peace and by any standards is history’s greatest success. His one failure was a young man of great promise named Judas who betrayed him.

Yet he met every goal he set out to do;

overcame every threat to his mission;

founded a great world-wide movement;

gave his life as an atonement for human sin;

healed the sick and performed other great wonders;

conquered the grave and death through his resurrection;

made startling predictions that proved to true;

while millions await his promised return.

Consider also:

 His Teachings: Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of the famous psychiatric hospital, once said, “If you were to take the sum total of all the best ideas of mental health and given them to a great poet to express, you would have something like the Sermon on the Mount.”

 His Claims. He is celebrated around the world every December as the prince of peace, yet he made claims that are preposterous—the ranting of a madman if he is not God and very God. He said wild things such as, “I am this world’s light. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.“Before Abraham was I am.” John the Baptist called him, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Even the centurion who executed him had to glorify God, admitting, “Surely this was a righteous man.” For those who trust and follow Him Jesus is both relevant but present in their their daily life, promising, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

His Global Vision. His parish was not just Galilee or Judea, but the world, He testified at his trial. I have come into the world to witness to the truth. John 18:37. Remarkably, while still an unknown, he predicted “This gospel will be proclaimed in all the world…as a testimony to every nation.”  There is no nation where his gospel has not been proclaimed. Afghanistan has resisted Christianity more than any other land, yet even there his word has been proclaimed.

His Longevity. Despite great opposition from his own people and history’s greatest empire, Jesus’ prevailed. In a few centuries He displaced forever the pagan gods of Rome. While Buddhism and Hinduism predate Christianity, His movement predates Islam by 600 years For two millennia He has seen world empires and nations rise and fall.

His Vitality: While Christianity barely holds its own in North America and is fading in Europe, this movement is alive, well and expanding rapidly in Africa, Asia and South America, faster even than Islam.

What was the secret of his amazing success? Read our next post for the surprising answer.