Football & ministry
FENTON, MI – Much of what I learned about teamwork I learned from the Bible and playing football.
Ephesians 4:3-4 "Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future," (NLT).
1) Effort: overcome fear & work hard
When I was in 7th grade, I informed my parents that I was going out for football. When I approached the gym to sign up, there was an excitement. The gym was filled with guys who were more athletic than me. Many could do more push ups and more sit ups than me. I saw that in gym class. Guys were gathered into groups boasting about being on the same team. They were claiming positions. All of that seemed intimidating to a guy like me who didn't know the names of more than 3 positions on the field. So, I chickened out. I went to the pay phone and called my mom to come get me early. She did so.
The next year, when I was a 8th grader, a similar invitation to join the football team was offered. This time I entered the gym, just as frightened, but I stayed and joined anyways. To this very day, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I overcame a fear and joined one of the most rewarding brotherhoods. I knew that I was behind in strength, agility, and knowledge, but I worked hard in order to become part of the team. From that day forward, the brotherhood I shared with my teammates increased my confidence and connections at school.
In ministry, we need to overcome our fears and accept that meaningful ministry is challenging. Routines that get us no where become comfortable patterns. Routes that lead us to achieve will be difficult, but rewarding. Are we putting out effort?
2) United: squash envy & celebrate each person's achievement
I played next to guys who surpassed me in strength and talent, but I never allowed myself to become jealous. Instead, I admired them. I learned from watching their style of play. Running practice sprints against Hicks improved my speed. Sharing the outside linebacker position with Gibson increased my reaction time and improved my instincts. Sprinting downfield on kickoffs and punts increased my confidence as I mowed opponents over who were in my lane.
I wasn't the best player on the team. I wasn't the weakest. The thing I remember most is simply being part of the team. Our victories, our losses, our shared history, and our common mission welded us together. We celebrated each person's achievements: tackles, fumble recoveries, sacks, interceptions, extra points, field goals, and touchdowns. When one of us caused the fans to stand to their feet all of us slapped that guy on the back or on his helmet.
In ministry, we must see ourselves as one team. It’s not existing churches versus new churches. It’s not the association versus the state. It’s not the congregation versus the pastor. It’s not about rural versus urban. It’s not about the pastor in a suit versus the pastor in skinny jeans. Our natural tendency is envy when the Spirit requires unity. Are we celebrating the achievement of each person on the team?
3) One Spirit: ignore the crowd & listen to the coach
While we practiced football, our coaches practiced screaming at us. I understand their motive now that I've played on the gridiron. Imagine standing in a field of green with two to three thousand students and family members screaming. Now add the cheerleaders cheering and the marching band playing. Then somehow in the midst of all that random noise the coach calls an audible to the captain on the field, followed by the captain echoing the audible to the team. Assignments change. Formations adjust.
How is it that players can hear the distinctive voices of the coaches and captains yell out new directions? The answer is: practice, conditioning, and reaction. The coaches are orchestrating a victory. The coaches know each player’s strengths and weaknesses. The coaches see opportunities and dangers. Players pay attention because they are convinced the coaches never lose sight of the team’s mission.
In ministry, we need to quiet the roar of the crowd and listen to God’s voice. The most important conversation we will have each day is with God. The wisest person striving to influence our lives is the Lord. Others will offer opinions whereas God offers the perfect response to every circumstance. Are we listening to the Lord as often and as deeply as we should?
4) One glorious hope: get into the end zone
I love football more than any other sport. A large team with approximately 60 players. A four quarter game with a series of plays. Plays that last seconds. Within each play, twenty-two men colliding and attempting to control an entire field to advance a ball downfield. A game measured in yards and inches. Yet at the end of the game the only thing that really matters is who moved the ball into or through the end zone more than his opponent. It is all about touchdowns, field goals, two-point conversions, safeties, and extra points. It's all about teamwork. Each player completing his particular assignment in concert with every other player in order to score.
In ministry, each one of us regardless of our respective role on the team must remember our common goal is to see people become followers of Christ, who in turn, share Christ with others. It’s about salvation. It’s about being set apart. It’s about service. It’s about surrender. It’s about sharing that one glorious hope with every individual. Are we striving for the goal God set before us?
Effort: overcome fear & work hard
United: squash envy & celebrate each person’s achievement
One Spirit: ignore the crowd & listen to the coach
One glorious hope: get into the end zone
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.