I have always enjoyed sports and in this post I want to draw on some of the 'sports'-type metaphors that are in the New Testament teaching on how Christians and the Church should live. I understand that the Bible isn't really about sports, but I think in Scripture it is clear that we are to be active participants rather than enthusiastic supporters. I am concerned that the local church seems to primarily be concerned with promoting and developing a great Cheer Squad, rather than athletes who will compete in the game!
Hebrews 12: 1-3 (NIV)
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Now, as a lay person I notice a few things about this passage. First, we are called to run a race – to participate in the 'competition' or 'game'. Also, this game is hard work and requires perseverance and a sense of discipline, but the goal or reward is supreme. Second, if it is a race, competition, or game, then there must be an opposition, and in verse 3 this is noted. Finally, there is a Cheer Squad or team of supporters – it is those who have gone before and have finished the "race that was marked out for them" (i.e., not us who are still alive and in the game).
Considering these things, there appears to be some clear implications for individual Christians, and the church. In short, we are to be 'athletes' in God's team, not an enthusiastic Cheer Squad. As such, as I have discussed in a previous post (The Main Game), the local church and its services and programs should be consumed with training people to 'compete'. Church services (and other internal activities) are not the main game – they are where Christians are equipped to 'play the main game' in their homes and communities throughout the week. Indeed, activities like quiet times, Bible study and church-based activities are about preparing ourselves – about ridding ourselves of all that hinders, so we can engage and compete well. As Christians, the focus is not on the training (e.g., Sunday morning service), the focus is on our lives where we engage with the opposition 'in the game'. Who trains and then does not compete – this is a non-sense, and yet this is what we seem to be doing!
Local churches are focussing on and becoming a Cheer Squad. Like a good cheer squad they spend a lot of time practicing their team chants, singing the team songs, and talking to other squad members about the game. Indeed, they spend some of their meeting times studying and listening to coaching about the game. The only problem is that they never play – they only like going to cheer squad events. Furthermore, they don't go and watch at the game venue and cheer, they only want to be cheer leaders in the Clubhouse where they only have to meet and engage with other cheer squad members. Sad. Occasionally the Cheer Squad has a recruitment drive, but this involves trying to entice non-members into the Clubhouse.
Is it any wonder that the church is dying in the West. The church has chosen to be a Cheer Squad, safe and sound in their Clubhouses, and too few are actually in the game. Of course, the opposition is having a field day because they are hardly challenged because so many are consumed by Clubhouse life, and this now sucks-up all the church resources. To illustrate, last Sunday at the local church I heard them proudly announce that 10% of all tithes go to missions, but all I heard was "90% of all money we spend on ourselves and our Cheer Squad activities in the Clubhouse!"
Does God really need us to be a Cheer Squad? If we are a good Sunday Fan Club and know all the club songs and sing with gusto, are we doing what we really wants us to do? As I have noted before, I think we are far more enamoured with 'worship' than God is, and I think He would rather have us get in the game. The real game is not in the Clubhouse, and the real game requires actually doing and being a Christian at home and in the community. Once our days here are over, we can hopefully enjoy sitting in the stands and cheer to our hearts content, because we will have nothing else to do, and it will be glorious. Until then, "fix your eyes on Jesus" and persevere IN THE GAME.