I first shared the little list that appears in the latter part of this article with you several years ago. But the start of football season—I have been talking with my brother this week about them putting the pads on, and NFL preseason games have begun—combined with the general malaise that seems to afflict many in our society in the aftermath of COVID, impacting churches among other organizations, has me thinking a good deal about this again lately. So I thought it was worth revisiting the topic in this space.
You won’t find many bigger football fans than me. I remember Marshall High School games as far back as when I was 2 or 3 years old. I remember watching some pretty mediocre Texas teams on TV led by Peter Gardere, the only quarterback to beat Oklahoma 4 times (for you Aggies, I remember Bucky Richardson, too). I played football in high school, like many of you. I attended every Texas home game from the time I moved to Austin as a student until last year. My brother is a football coach with a state championship as an assistant.
But sometimes I think about what the sportswriter John Tunis wrote way back in 1928, declaring that football was “at present a religion—sometimes it seems to be almost our national religion.” If anything, that statement is more accurate today than when it was first written: the sport has exploded to a degree unimaginable to Tunis, and religion often seems to be on the decline. We assemble together in one place, often on a Sunday, to participate in the rituals: chanting, singing, shouting in unison. Stadiums are modern day temples, where we gather to worship the gods in the center of the sanctuary. We have a fellowship meal. We often make this the centerpiece of our week, devoting our time and our money to it, and we place our hope and faith in it to bring meaning to our existence. Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina even has a 1 hour course they offer: “Religion of SEC Football.”
You could substitute many things for football here. The question is: where do our priorities lie? The word “fan” is short for “fanatic.” We think that is perfectly fine in the realm of sports. But no one wants to be thought a religious fanatic. Yet that is precisely what God asks of us. There is nothing wrong with football or many other recreational pursuits in life. The problem is when we elevate those things to become idols – we essentially let them take the place of God. Instead, let’s endeavor to seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33).
On a lighter note, I thought you might enjoy this old list of terminology that shows the further parallels between football and church:
Benchwarmer – Those who do not sing, pray, work, or apparently do anything but sit.
Quarterback Sneak – Church members quietly leaving during the invitation.
Draw Play – What many children do with the bulletin during worship.
Halftime – The period between Sunday 5chool and worship when many choose to leave
Backfield-in-Motion – Making a trip to the back (restroom or water fountain) repeatedly during the service.
Staying in the Pocket – What happens to a lot of money that should be given to the Lord’s work.
Instant Replay – The preacher loses his notes and falls back on last week’s illustrations.
Trap – You’re called on to pray and are asleep.
End Run – Getting out of church quick, without speaking to any guest or fellow member.
Flex Defense – The ability to allow absolutely nothing said during the sermon to affect your life.
Blitz – The rush for the restaurants following the closing prayer.
Two-minute Warning – The point at which you realize the sermon is almost over and begin to gather up your children and belongings.
Halfback Option – The decision of 75% of the congregation not to return for the evening service.
Sudden Death – What happens to the attention span of the congregation if the preacher goes “overtime.”
It’s something to think about.