It happened while I was in attendance at a football game of my alma mater, Auburn University. It was early in the season like now, not exactly cool fall temperatures. When the crowd roared as the team entered the field, I had an odd revelation. Football is a metaphor for the church.
In a football game, the audience focuses on the participants on the gridiron stage, and is prepared to celebrate if the team does well. If a worship service is people watching a stage performance, and congratulating the preacher with “Nice sermon!” at the end, it deserves a penalty flag. But when those on the stage lead the audience to be participants who focus on God, it is a worshipful celebration of a win that already happened. On a cross long ago, Jesus defeated sin and death for us. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). When you participate in God’s grace by faith, the celebration is daily, not just on Sundays.
As I watched that game, I thought about how unexercised I had become since high school football. Another revelation. The players and coaches on the field did all the preparation, planning, and work while the lazy audience just paid to observe. Churches are dysfunctional when they view their pastor and other staff members as the hired guns who are supposed to do the ministry. The New Testament description of the church is that leaders equip every Christian to be a minister, ambassador, and worker for Christ. Applied to football, the coaches and players would be training the rest of us how to play our own scrimmage. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). What is given to us in love, grace, and kindness, we reinvest in the people around us.
Followers of Christ are teammates that help each other. I was privileged once to meet Coach Dan Reeves during the time of his success with the Atlanta Falcons. In a private moment, I asked if I could point out something that might be a blind spot. Maybe he was amused that a pastor thought he knew about football. I said, “I just wanted to make sure you know that when a call goes against your team, they focus the camera on your face, which makes lip-reading very easy.” He chuckled and said he needed to keep that in mind. “We who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
The church already has its victory in Jesus! What’s left is for us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb 12.1). Next time someone complains that you’re too fond of football, explain that you enjoy pondering its metaphorical implications!