Points to Ponder: It's How You Play the Game You're Playing

Points to Ponder
It's How You Play the Game You're Playing

I attended our church's youth group meeting on a late Sunday afternoon, wanting to get to know the kids. During some unstructured free time, two of the boys and I started throwing around a football. It had been some time since I had thrown or caught a football. When I was a kid growing up in South Baltimore, we played touch football in the street. Johnny Unitas, our hero, was the quarterback of the Baltimore Colts. I'd seen an occasional game on T.V.; and from playing in the street and playing catch with my dad, I understood the game and how it was played.
But on that recent Sunday afternoon when I was playing with the boy who's on the high school football team, he was rather amazed at me. "Who's your favorite team?" he asked. "I don't follow it", I replied. Men, boys, and football are a sort of holy trinity in some communities. He must have been thinking, "What's wrong with you?" But, he knew I'm the pastor, so one has to make allowances for weirdness. It's even scriptural. As Paul says to the Corinthians: God has chosen the foolish to confound the wise (cf I Corinthians 1:27). He's a fairly bright young man and I confounded him all right.
He, another boy, and I played a little game. The football player was throwing around football terms as he spelled out how we would improvise this little pick up game. It's been decades since I've watched a football game. I have almost completely forgotten how to play, what the various player positions are, and why guys even care about it. (I know this sounds like heresy to some readers, but there is a point to all of this.) The young man who aspires to be a college (maybe even a professional) football player was amazed that I did not know the game. It's so much a natural part of his world, how could it be so strange in mine?
It wasn't that I did not know the game or how to play. It's that I had FORGOTTEN. From not attending games, not watching them, and not playing in them I had lost the functional knowledge I once had. Other interests and priorities consumed my time and attention in my youth. Lack of practice leads to loss of mastery, then loss of familiarity, and then finally total disconnect.
Let me apply this in the opposite direction, so to speak. In my years of pastoring, I have observed a fundamentally similar type of disconnect among Christians.
During a Sunday morning drive to a Washington, D.C. area church where I was to preach, I observed ball fields filled with children and teens in uniform, ready to play. But Sunday school and worship was not so filled. Back at the church where I pastored, I often observed some families missing for weeks at a time (even months) because of ball games. One year we altered the confirmation class schedule to accommodate certain families whose sports involvement consumed many of their Sundays. How could certain children take the classes when they have practice or a game? To suggest skipping the game, dropping from the team, refusing to play on Sundays, it would be like I had two heads, which some parents would have wanted to chop off.
Here's my concern. At one time, I knew as much about football as our aspiring football player did. But lack of participation, not reading about or watching it, and not making time for it made me ignorant of even the fundamentals of football. What then happens to the Christian children who skip church, Christian education (Sunday School), and fellowship with their church family? If, as studies have reported, the adults in the pews are biblically illiterate, are the kids learning - or most importantly, maturing? How many have a working knowledge of how to play a ball game but not of how God wants us to play the game of life? On the ball field of the world, are they in the same position of functional spiritual ignorance as I was that on the ball field with the football player? Can they handle the deep things of God as well as they can handle a play on a field?
"For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:13-14)
I don't understand this addiction we have to sports and entertainment in general. Even pastors are caught up in it. One prominent, nationally known pastor whom I admire spoke in an interview about his sons going off to college. He didn't say they went to study for a particular degree; they went to play ball for a certain school.
Maybe this also is an indictment against the church. Are we serious about training up disciples for Jesus Christ, educating them in the Word, giving them such a practical walking knowledge of the faith that they won't want to miss a Sunday? Does it matter as much to pastors and parents that our kids can "perform" in their knowledge of God and His Word as it does how they perform on a ball field? A coach who strives to build a winning team isn't satisfied with "good enough". Should the King of the universe, the Lord who died that we might live, be satisfied with less?
"Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him." (Luke 8:18)

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com