By David E. Prince
Are you ready for some football?
I grew up in Alabama where football season is a big deal. In fact, to call football a big deal in the South is probably akin to saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole.
You don’t have to love the nuances of the game to be swept up into the excitement of Friday night lights or a Saturday afternoon at the local college. Football Saturdays in the South and in many places around the country are not just games; they’re cultural events similar to massive family reunions.
Head to a football game at a local high school, college, or NFL stadium, and there will be a representation of the rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated, rural and urban.
This culturally diverse crowd gathers at a stadium sharing a common interest and passion. People who sit beside one another at football games almost always chat regardless of their cultural differences because they possess a common metanarrative as it relates to their team.
A missionary couple I know recently sent out a prayer request as they headed for a new location. The missionary couple asked, “Please pray that we would understand the culture where we are heading. Pray that we would discern the cultural events, festivals, and other aspects of culture where we can build relationships that can be leveraged as points of contact for the sake of the gospel.”
Their prayer request ought to be instructive for Christians whose primary missionary work is in their home culture. Christians who live in the U.S. don’t have to look far to find such a cultural event. One festival-type event that draws people from every walk of life is football.Many people in America naturally gather around football, so it would make sense for Christians to use football to gather around people.Many people in America naturally gather around football, so it would make sense for Christians to use football to gather around people. In Ephesians, Paul exhorts, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
For Christians like me who enjoy football and other sports, “redeeming the time” means our interest in sports must not be abstracted from our faith but rather be one of the ways we live out our faith.
Below are some suggestions for redeeming your time this football season for the glory of Christ.
Redeeming the time this football season should begin with your family. My 8-year-old daughter is the person in our household most excited for the beginning of college football season.
Why? Is it because she loves the intricacies of the Tampa 2 pattern matching coverage or the zone read? Of course not. She loves the event, the family and friends who come over, special foods and snacks, and the overall excitement of cheering for our beloved Crimson Tide. She associates football with family, friends, fun, and rootedness.
What if you prayed together as a family for those coming over for the big game? What if you talked about how football connects with your faith and the lessons that can be learned after the game?
What if you root like crazy for your favorite team thanking God for something you enjoy regardless of whether your team wins or loses? If so, football can also be a fruitful opportunity for discipleship this season. Of course, this presupposes that football is something you enjoy to the glory of God and not an idol that controls your identity and mood.
Your Friends (Believing and Unbelieving)
It’s common for corporations to purchase season tickets for local home games for corporate leaders and employees to use. What does football have to do with the mission of banks, product manufacturers, retail sales organizations, and the like?
They know people are multidimensional and have varied interests and that connecting with people around shared interests creates a helpful context for relationships. All of life, including business life, is ultimately about people and relationships.
Sometimes, business leaders seem to understand the importance of relationships and personal connectedness better than some Christians and church leaders. It makes sense to me for churches to buy some season tickets that can only be used for taking church visitors or someone being discipled to a game.
Also, church members could be challenged to purchase an extra ticket to be used to take someone to a game they are sharing the gospel with or building a discipleship relationship.
Less expensively, this same thing can happen each week in homes. Small group members can open up their homes during the football season for game watching parties. They could be encouraged to invite friends, with a small group member sharing his or her testimony at halftime. Doing so is merely a matter of taking every football thought “captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I don’t understand why some church leaders take an adversarial posture about people enjoying sports. It’s true many people treat sports as more important than their faith and seem to have more passion for their favorite team than they do the church.
But that kind of sinful response is not exclusive to sports. People make idols of countless good things; recreation, vocation, family, friends, food, and so on.
Discipleship involves teaching people how to follow Christ and how to walk in line with the gospel. Discipleship isn’t isolation from the things of life.
Many people make an idol out of money. How do churches respond? They offer classes on managing money. Why not offer courses on how to engage sports to the glory of Christ?
Congregational game watching parties are an excellent opportunity for cultivating relationships between church members. Such parties communicate that Christians can gather to watch football “to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
For many of us, sports like football touch something deep within us and provide a sense of delight, awe, and wonder. Our passion for God doesn’t make us passionless for all else. A spirituality that doesn’t meet us in the daily rootedness of workplaces, house cleaning, and ball games is woefully impoverished.
Charles Simeon got it right when he said, “There are but two lessons for Christians to learn: the one is, to enjoy God in everything: the other is, to enjoy everything in God.” Football season is an excellent opportunity to gather together and put that into practice.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some football.
DAVID PRINCE (@davideprince) is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous books, including In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship.