Out of Bounds
Did you hear the one about the pastor in Montana who abused his congregation because his favorite football team had an early Sunday game?
So many thoughts passed through my head; as a pastor, and a football fan, what kind of priorities must this guy have? The difficulty for him is that his 49ers had to play an early game on Sunday – their only 1:00 p.m. Eastern kickoff of the year, I believe. Being a west coast team, they typically play a late game, but with the playoff television slots, they had to play the early game on Sunday, which translates to 11 a.m. in Butte, Montana. What’s a poor pastor-fan to do when you have services at 8:30 at 11:00 a.m.?
I’m an unabashed Green Bay Packers fan, as any member of my congregation can tell you. As a child growing up in Wisconsin, my family would go to church at 7:30, 9:00, or 10:30 a.m. and be home before kickoff. That’s part of the beauty of living in the Eastern and Central time zones – these supposed moral contradictions (Early service only? Skip all together? Guest preacher?) don’t come up so often! And if there is ever any question about sports or church, I thought it was easy to say “As a pastor, I’ll always do what’s right.”
But, whether you’re a pastor, parent of the next hall-of-fame player, or into something different that infringes on your church time, how should you handle the challenges that are sure to come? I would suggest the advice of one of the greatest football coaches ever: “There are three things that are important to every man in this locker room. His God, his family, and the Green Bay Packers. In that order.” That’s the speech that Vince Lombardi gave his team before his first game, and it’s the quote that hangs in my office.
This quote from the Roman Catholic Lombardi actually plays perfectly with our Lutheran understanding of vocation. You have responsibilities in every aspect of your life – some, like sports teams and allegiance, matter little in the grand scheme of things. Sports are no more than analogies in the Bible. Others, like family, take up considerably more discussion, and do have some great consequences. “Train up a child” (Proverbs 22:6); “Teach them to your children” (Deuteronomy 11:18, 19). But your relationship to God? That is the whole reason the Bible was written! God says “you have a problem, I’m here to fix it!” He does that for us by the very means that were neglected that morning in Montana – the Word and Sacraments in which God, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, forgives our failures.
Here’s the hard question though: Even if you’ve never skipped church for a sports contest, or other trivial event, have you (especially pastors) always given your all for your congregation (insert family, God, or other vocation here!), or do you similarly abuse your congregation (responsibilities) with your hobbies that lead you away from your duties? Do you have too much other stuff going on, that your actions say “There’s bread and wine on the table, help yourself”; or “Would you all like to be forgiven for your sins? Ok, that’s great. You are.” If we as leaders don’t take God, family, and vocation (our ministry) seriously, how will we expect others to? People emulate the example of those they follow. It didn’t take long for the Packers, following Lombardi, to win three straight championships. It doesn’t take long for cultures which don’t take the Word of God seriously to not take sin seriously, and not take the love of God and Christ’s sacrificial death and the Word (and Sacraments) seriously and gratefully.
The Game of Life
As a football fan, player, and now coach, I can tell you how impactful the game is on life. But as a Christian, I can tell you how much better the life lived when following Christ for an eternal reward is than the greatest highs of winning football championships that fade. As a pastor, I will reflect upon my hobbies, and as always, repent of my sin, receive forgiveness through Christ, and as a result of the power of the Holy Spirit, amend my ways. God help us all to do so!