The Church Like a Football Team

This illustration comes from here.

Imagine that we are TV sportscasters standing on the sidelines of a football game to give the play-by-play.

Scene #1: The team nearest us is standing together, heads bowed in prayer, with the coach in the center. Suddenly they give a great cheer, and the coach trots out onto the field by himself. The players go sit on the bench. “What’s going on?” we ask as we stick a microphone in front of a 250 pound guard. “What’s the coach doing out there?” “Oh, he’s going to play today.” “All by himself?” “Sure, why not? He’s had a lot more experience and training than the rest of us. We’ve got a lot of rookies on this team, and we might make mistakes. Anyway, they pay the coach well. We’re all here to cheer and support him–and look at the huge crowd that’s come to watch him play!” Bewildered, we watch as the opposing team kicks off. The coach catches the ball. He valiantly charges upfield, but is buried under eleven opposing tacklers. He’s carried off half- conscious…  You think that’s ridiculous? But isn’t it the picture many of us have of the church? The members expect the minister to do the preaching, praying, witnessing, and visiting because he’s paid to do the Lord’s work and he’s better trained. But listen to God’s Game Plan. According to Ephesians 4:11, 12, Christ has given the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” God gives leaders to the church, not to do all the work, but to help all of God’s people to do it! Lay people are not there simply to pay pastors and evangelists to do the Lord’s work. Rather, pastors, evangelists, and teachers are to equip the so-called lay people to be ministers! Your pastor is meant to be a kind of playing coach. His main function is to help you as a Christian discover your spiritual gifts, develop them, and use them to build up the Body of Christ.

Now look at Scene #2: The team realizes they’ve all got to play, so they’re on the field in a huddle. They huddle…and huddle…and huddle. The referee calls a penalty for delaying the game and moves the ball back five yards. Still the team huddles, huddles, and huddles. The referee calls penalty after penalty, until finally the ball is moved all the way back to their own goal line. “Hey coach!” shouts the quarterback to the sidelines. “This is the greatest huddle I’ve ever been in. What a group of guys! We have the best fellowship…and some of these guys are amazing students of the play book. Some have memorized over a hundred plays and can analyze them precisely. We learn so much in this huddle!” “But why don’t you get up on the line and play?” “Why should we? What we want are bigger and better huddles! Besides, we might get hurt. No one ever got hurt in a huddle!” Your church and mine are in big trouble if they become a “holy huddle” a band of saints gathered Sunday after Sunday, singing, praising, enjoying each other–but never setting out on the line to apply what they learn. The church is supposed to be Christ’s body–his hands, his feet, his voice–by which he carries out his plans in the world. God intends that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known” (Eph 3:10). The church is to be God’s light in a dark, corrupt society. The Christian life was never meant to be lived only in church for 83 a couple of hours on Sunday. It’s meant to be lived in the public arena–on the firing line at school, the office, and in the neighborhood, seven days a week. Of course, we need worship and training and fellowship with other Christians–a football team needs the huddle. But it’s what happens after the huddle that the game is all about.

Here’s scene #3: the team breaks out of the huddle. But instead of lining up against the opposing squad, they break into groups of two or three, arguing with each other. Soon they start shoving, and two of them actually get into a fight. “What’s wrong now?” we ask as one of them walks off the field in disgust. “That bunch of malcontents can’t agree on anything,” he says. “Those two over there are arguing over the color of the uniforms. A couple of others are quarreling over the right way to kneel in the huddle. Those two guys are arguing because one believes in what he calls ‘personal’ football, and the other believes in ‘social’ football. They can’t agree whether the individual or the team is more important. Some of the white players say the blacks should go play on their own field, and some of the black guys don’t like the band music. A couple are fighting over whether women should be allowed to play. And I’m quitting because I can pass a lot better than that other guy, and they won’t let me be the quarterback.” The Game Plan says that Christ “is our peace…His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two [Jew and Gentile], thus making peace…to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16). Christians talk a lot about the peace of Christ. Can the world see that peace in our church relationships? Within the Body of Christ there is plenty of room for diversity of gifts, but underlying that diversity is unity. “Be completely humble and gentle,” writes Paul, “Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:2-6). Isn’t it time to show our oneness in truth and love to a watching world?

So the first half ends. The team drags off to the locker room defeated, demoralized, beaten. But when the second half begins, we see a different team. Suddenly they’re playing together with a new spirit. They huddle, slap each other on the back, and take the line. They’re off the ball with split-second timing, there is no hesitation, they know where they’re going. Each player carries out his assignment, and soon they score a touchdown, then another, and another. When the game ends, they’ve won! Afterwards in the locker room the players are exhausted, cut and bruised, but happy. “What happened at halftime to change this team?” we ask, the coach. “We were sitting here beaten,” he says, “and suddenly a kind of presence seemed to come over us. I started talking to the players, pointing out my mistakes, and theirs, and they started talking. Everyone was honest. Nobody blamed the others. We took a good look at ourselves. Then someone recalled that the Great Coach, the one who invented the game, also wrote the Master Game Plan. Wouldn’t it make sense to see what he said? “We remembered how he literally gave himself to get the game started and to teach that first team everything he knew. So we got out the original Game Plan and read about basics such as each player knowing his place and dedicating himself to it, about pulling together, being willing to sacrifice, knowing the aim of the game, and using the proper equipment he designed. “Well, we were quiet. It felt as if the Great Coach was with us, as if somehow his Spirit got inside us. Suddenly, we were up! Motivated! Ready to go! We can’t take the credit. It goes to Him!”

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