“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
The way to tell you are keeping your love for sports in balance is that when your team wins, you do not become obnoxious and when it loses, you do not sink into great depression.
The number one way pastors know they’re keeping loyalty for their team in check is church members have no idea which is their favorite.
And the way you tell your love for your team has gotten way out of line is–pick one or more–a) your constant reference to it in conversation, b) your repeated reference to the game or the team in sermons, c) the displays on your office wall, d) the “stuff” in your home, e) the bumper stickers and other identifying items on your car, and f) the way you bob up or down emotionally depending on what your team did yesterday.
Pity the church whose pastor is in bondage to his love for a football team.
Everything in his office or home or car is all about that college or that professional team. His t-shirts and bumper stickers proclaim his great loyalty. He looks for ways to bring in references to yesterday’s game (which his team won, of course, otherwise he would not mention it) in his sermons. He invites athletes from that school for testimonies or to work with his youth.
He says it’s all in fun. And it is, to him, I suppose.
But not to two groups in his church: a) Those who do not care for sports at all and b) supporters of the other teams. Oh, and possibly one other group: Those of us who love sports but do not want a constant diet of it from the pulpit.
Watch it, preacher.
Many of my friends who will read this are going to be offended because they will think I’m talking about them.
I am indeed.
Recently, a church where I was guest-preaching held a special day that featured a picnic on the church lawn, with everyone wearing t-shirts of their favorite team. The associate minister had invited me to wear a Saints’ shirt.
I completely forgot about that and arrived at the church wearing a black blazer, tan slacks, blue dress shirt and maroon tie. The only concession I made to the emphasis of the day was I loosened the tie.
I told the minister the truth, that I had forgotten about the t-shirt thing. What I did not say is that I wouldn’t have worn a Saints shirt even if I’d remembered it. (And I own several.)
Such costumes are out of place in the pulpit. They’re fine for the membership, just not the pulpit.
Dr. Cecil Randall pastored the great First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during the Paul “Bear” Bryant days of championships. That’s as “ground zero” as it’s possible to get when it comes to sports devotion and football addiction.
And yet, no one ever heard Pastor Randall mention the Crimson Tide from the pulpit. The congregation received no inkling of their pastor’s devotion to that team. Dr. Randall explained, “In a congregation our size, there are people from all over. Some cheer for the other teams. The gospel of Jesus Christ is above all of this.”
Did I have a problem with the church encouraging everyone to wear their teams’ shirts? Not at all. Only with the preacher (that would be me) wearing one.
Bear in mind that on these pages, my concern is almost entirely for pastors and other key leadership.
I care very little what the members wear to church. But the ministers must work to be non-partisan, in both appearance and in sermons. (This is true in politics also, but that’s an article for another time.)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, Auburn and Alabama alike. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians alike. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the rich and the poor, the winners and the losers, the bosses and the employees, for union-members and scabs.
“Whosoever will, let him come.”
I’ve known pastors who serve a local sports team as chaplain. They have an entrance and acceptance into the lives of these young athletes and can influence many for Christ. Corey Olivier, a Baptist preacher employed by the Louisiana Baptist Convention as campus ministry director at Tulane University and supervisor of all the Baptist campus ministries in the New Orleans area, serves as chaplain for the Tulane Green Wave. As I write this, last night Corey had me address the team and coaches at their Friday night “dinner before the big game.” (They take on East Carolina in the Superdome later today.) I loved doing this, sketched 40 or 50 of them, spoke for 15 minutes, and had a great time with some terrific people. Afterwards, Corey did an indepth Bible study for members of the team who wished to participate. Some 20-25 responded.
Our church’s student minister, Scooter Kellum, used to be chaplain for the Livingston (Alabama) University’s football team.
It’s a great opportunity.
But you don’t bring it into the pulpit with you.
The Lord’s preacher must not become identified with one team since he represents the Lord Jesus Christ, Lord of all teams, if you will.
The Lord’s church must not become a pep rally for the home team.
Pastors (and by this we mean all ministers) must bring their sports addictions and team devotion under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, just as they urge their people to do with every facet of life.
A minister who serves in a state of great sports rivalries calls me one of his mentors. One day, a few years back, I walked into his church office and was taken aback by the large display of paraphernalia for his college football team. Wall coverings, lamps, plaques, banners, figurines, you name it.
I said, “My friend, do you think this is wise?”
He laughed and assured me that no one minds it, that they tease him about it.
I said, “What would you do if a fan of the other team (I named their rival) came into your office to be saved and got distracted by all this?”
Whatever he said, I don’t recall.
Earlier this year, when he was away and I filled in for him, I discreetly inquired of a member of his staff about the display in his office.
“It’s still there,” he laughed. “Hasn’t changed a thing.”
Well, that does show one very positive thing about him, something I greatly admire: He doesn’t take everything I say as law or do something just because “Joe said to.”
No one should ever do that.
I’ve been wrong before and may be wrong here.
But I don’t think so.
My pastor is a Texas Rangers baseball fan. No one in this part of the world has any trouble with that for the simple reason that New Orleans has no major league baseball club. A few root for the Astros, some for the Atlanta Braves, and a smattering of other teams. If anyone is a diehard, I’ve seen no evidence of it.
Football is another matter altogether. Around here it’s the New Orleans Saints. And the LSU Tigers.
I will add that after living here since 1990, if anyone worships either of these teams and lives and dies by their season, I’ve not met them. It’s actually safe to root for other teams, as far as I can tell, without anyone minding or teasing you too much.
That said, I still stand by this statement: One of the greatest compliments we can give a pastor who loves sports is not knowing which is his favorite team. There is a pastor who has learned to keep his team sports loyalties in check and subjugated to the more important cause: the Kingdom of God.