I cry when I watch NFL films. I know it’s a strange confession… especially for an artsy alternative boy like myself. Both in high-school and college I was the “extreme-sports-only” guy. But, NFL films make everything so climactic. And, let’s be honest, NFL films aren’t necessarily about football. They’re about normal people with huge aspirations.
Any discerning viewer knows that these films are about under-dogs, about overcoming pain, and about defying the odds. And they’re not merely about “players” but about highly scrutinized leaders who choose to do battle every Sunday. (Can you see why I relate to them?) Come Monday morning, there are no two professions on earth that are more similar. Pastors and players alike feel the joy and pain, the botched plays and big gains, the triumphant headlines and scathing pushback. Of course, if you haven’t already made fun of me for crying over NFL films, then you probably agree.
And, perhaps it’s just because I’m exhausted from preaching right now. Our church has been growing so fast. And lately, I’ve been making so many tough decisions for the church that are bound to get people both inspired and mad. To add to my pressure, I regularly get indirect feedback from local pastors who love or loathe us. And, to boot, I recently shared a really vulnerable sermon.
I mean, Mondays are filled with insecurity, adrenaline, and hesitant feelings of victory… a lifestyle that’s tiring; but, man… this is also addictive. I may not be winning highly publicized games; but, Substance is filling up with totally unchurched people. And, after watching dozens of cynical 20-somethings give their lives to Christ last weekend, my heart is full.
Recently, I was watching a well-known quarterback do a press-conference after a big win one Sunday. But despite the great win, it seemed like everyone had scathing opinions about the quarterback’s lightning fast decisions. And people were trying to render the win as meaningless just because they were angry that the coach and quarterback didn’t win the game the way they wanted. I was amazed over how many “non-players” sat around spewing idealisms about what another person should do. And suddenly, in that moment, the Lord spoke to me about churches in general.
The body of Christ is full of “arm-chair quarterback-Christians” . A church could be leading people to Christ every weekend; yet, if they don’t have a specific type of worship or a certain style of sermon, these armchair quarterbacks will painfully let you know. I.e., They judge a tree by its “format” not it’s overall “fruitfulness.” Even worse, they talk about everyone else’s decisions and authority, rather than earning an authority of their own. (And if you have strong opinions about the church, then listen up!)
Quite often, arm-chair quarterback Christians look at other growing churches and scowl: “They’re probably an inch deep and mile wide” (or mutter some other “spiritualized” form of immaturity). We cloak our sin as “concern for the church.” Yet, if we were anything like the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians chapter 1, we’d be “rejoicing” in any win (even the messy ones). Sure! Every church has weaknesses. This should be a surprise to no one. Even more, every church has a slightly different strategy… a slightly different formula… a slightly different game plan. And narrow Christians elevate their formula to an idolatrous level. Yet, Paul’s one criteria was simple: “Christ is preached therefore I rejoice.”
Unfortunately, immature spiritual leaders rant about how other people should use their resources and authority. I recently heard an itinerant minister and professor spew idealisms about church methodology; yet, neither of them had the guts to actually become a pastor (forcing them to deal with their own limitations and false assumptions).
Over the years, I’ve found that these types of people are a dime a dozen. Many of them are probably well intentioned people inside of your church; but, good players and quarterbacks focus on their own game. Perhaps that’s why God gave real players the first string position in the first place and why others don’t have the same authority (Rom 13:1).
For example, some Christians think they need to rant and worry about the Joel Osteens, Mark Driscolls and Bill Hybels of the world. I, too, have many hesitancies; but unfortunately, by this very focus, we reveal that we are nothing more than pathetic sideline commentators. And quite often, we critique, not because we care about these leaders as much as it’s easier to focus on other people’s faults than work on bearing more fruit ourselves.
You see, a real player would silence their competition by winning more. And even once they’ve earned the authority to critique their foes, they instead use their insight to coach them. Do you notice a difference in approaches?
Besides, the Bible says there’s only one true commentator and coach (a.k.a., judge), Jesus Christ. So wherever you’re at: Join a team and follow a leader that actually plays the game…a leader that’s so overwhelmed by the greater mission that they don’t have time to bicker about other leaders…especially from their pulpits.
Because here’s my spin: Right now the devil is winning the battle for the U.S. With less than 1% of people under 34yrs old attending any church of any kind, the U.S. church, as we know it, has failed our generation. And when only 9.1% of all Americans go to any Evangelical church with consistency, it drives me crazy when Christians spend most of their time blustering about other Christians. It’s like we’re on a sinking ship debating about its color when we should be busy plugging the hundreds of holes. And, I’m certain this drives the Lord crazy as well.
And that’s where football comes back into the picture. The best players are those who know how to focus on their own games and pound the hell out of the football. Heaven will replay it’s own type of “films” of the ultimate heroes. And they will be people who actually fulfilled God’s call on their lives rather than the imposed callings of the cynical spectators around them.
Certainly, be open to the advice of true coaches. But we’ve got to be careful to discern the difference between critics and coaches… godly pastors vs. cynical idealists. Every pastor will lead as uniquely as the gifts God has placed inside of them. So, don’t let any commentator take your bloody knuckles off the turf just because you didn’t win the game the way they wanted.
“Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord. Because you know that your labor in the Lord will not be in vain” 1 Cor. 15:58
So Leaders: Let the cynics rant. But, you, Be a champion.