The Parable of the Winning Football Team – 6/1/2017

“Hey son, you played great tonight.  Two rushing touchdowns!  Fantastic.”

“Thanks, dad.  The main thing is, we won.”

“Winning is what really matters, isn’t it?  I mean, sure, play fair, give it your best, but in the end, winning ugly is far more satisfying that losing pretty.”

“If we had lost, that locker room would have been depressing no matter how many touchdowns I scored.”

“So would you like to hear the Parable of the Winning Football Team?  It’s based on literally thousands of true stories.”

“Sure, I’ve never heard that one.  How does it go?”
“OK, you try to figure out what the parable is really all about as we go along . . . Once upon a time there was a brilliant young football coach – we’ll call him ‘Coach’ – who wanted to build a big and powerful football program that would give him success and fame across the nation, even around the world.”

Blog 101 image - Cowboys stadium“This is a pro team he wants to start?”

“Yep.  He found it easy to raise a lot of money from wealthy donors because Coach was quite a winsome guy.”

“Winsome?”

“Smart, funny, persuasive, easy to get along with, the kind of guy who seems he’s going far and you just want to be part of what he’s doing.  With enough money Coach gets a first class stadium built and hires a big, professional staff and, of course, he works hard at recruiting the best players.”

“He’s not constrained by draft picks?”

“No, his players are all volunteers from the people in the area, especially from the big crowd that comes to the games.  But since the players are all volunteers, they insist on deciding what positions they play.  Some like to play free safety, a few are willing to try out at defensive tackle or linebacker, a good number like kicking and punting, but hardly anyone wants to play offense.  In fact, the few who do volunteer for offense insist on playing quarterback.  Nobody wants to carry the ball because you could get hurt doing that.”

“Whoa, dad, that’s crazy.  You can’t build a football team like that.”

“You don’t understand.  This is going to be a hugely successful team!  But I haven’t told you the best parts yet.  Most of the volunteers, the most talented ones,  choose cheerleader or marching band.  Others, not the ‘star’ types, volunteer for equipment manager, concessions, ticket sales, ushers, parking lot duty, trash removal, clean up, and so on.”

Blog 101 image - Coach“Look, dad, at some point they’re going to have to field a team and play a game!  What happens then?”

“Game days are terrific.  The stadium is filled with energized fans.  The band revs them up and the cheerleaders are great at getting everyone’s attention.  They’re pretty and dress the part.  There are even little activities organized for some of the fans before the game starts, with facilitators leading discussion groups on the fine points of football strategy, how football can change your life, and people even give testimonies about how much they love the game.”

“Uh, I’m starting to get the idea that this parable isn’t just about football, is it?”

“Hey, it’s a PARABLE!  So pay attention.  The activities and the food and the music keep right on going after the game starts, so there aren’t many people too concerned about what’s going on, on the field.”

“Which I’m guessing isn’t too pretty, right dad?  With hardly anyone playing offense and with nobody wanting to block or carry the ball, they’re not going to score any points.”

“Sure, but the defense isn’t quite so bad.  It slows down the other team’s offense, occasionally, so they don’t score too quickly, some of the time.”

“But the scoreboard!  Don’t the fans get depressed when the team gets further and further behind?”

“Ah, good question.  The scoreboard doesn’t record points for either team, but it does track the number of fans in the stadium, the size of the staff, the budget, the number of hot dogs eaten . . . in fact a lot of hot dogs are given away outside the stadium to people who can’t afford a ticket to get in.  The more hot dogs given away, the bigger the cheers.  At the end of the game, the team gathers up its used shoes and uniforms and gives them away, too.  That makes the crowd go wild!”

Blog 101 image - cheerleaders“What about the team’s Owner?  Isn’t there an Owner who has something to say about this madness?  Why would he even hire a guy who doesn’t know football?”

“Oh, the Owner is VERY interested, but he lives in a distant land.  He didn’t hire Coach, but the Owner is willing to let him try.  After all, there really isn’t any other team in this city.  He tries to get through to Coach . . . in fact the Owner wrote the most brilliant book on the subject ever written, How to Play Winning Football.  That book includes records of incredibly successful teams of the past.  Coach has a copy, but doesn’t pay it any attention, although he does refer to it quite often.  In his heart he knows that he’s a lot smarter and a lot more relevant than the Owner who wrote his book a long, long time ago.  After all, in this culture, you’ve got to play relevantly!”

“But the Owner tries to communicate to Coach?”

“Yeah, but Coach doesn’t pick up the phone when he sees who’s calling.  After all, he’s ‘Coach’!”

“What about the end of the game?”

“Well, when time runs out, Coach and his team congratulate the other team.  There’s nothing to get upset about, after all.  Everyone had a good time.  Coach then puts on the best part of the show.  He talks to the fans for about 30 minutes, stirring their hearts about the game, its history, its meaning.  He’s a funny guy and he often has the crowd in stitches.  He teaches the fans how they can be good little amateur football players during their busy week, when they can fit it in.  When he’s done, everyone goes home, smiling, satisfied, looking forward to next week’s game.  Seeing how it’s going, Coach feels a warm glow about all the tickets, the hot dogs, the smiles . . . even how gracious he was to the enemy team.  They’re not so bad, after all.”

“That’s it?  Ok, dad, what’s it all mean?  I can’t imagine anything in the world like what you’re talking about.”

“Really?  The team is the church, a super-successful megachurch, that is.”

“No way!”

“Way.  Coach is the Senior Pastor – he’s the star.  What he says, goes, but he’s dependent on a lot of volunteering and a lot of cash.  The actual game, where ‘real points are scored,’ is the harvest field.  The players are Christians who may try to preach the Gospel to the lost – and score eternal points, that last – or they may choose not to try.  Some small fraction of the volunteers opt for defense, for teaching the children some Biblical truth so the enemy, the Adversary, doesn’t score them for his kingdom.  But no one wants to play offense.”

Blog 101 image - hot dogs“You mean they would rather do anything, including giving away hot dogs and clothes to the poor outside the stadium, rather than engage in battle on the field.”

“Yes.  There was once a fellow who attended a game and was horrified to see the pitiful state of the offense, and so volunteered his services to Coach.  He was a running back by experience and offered to not only carry the ball, but also train any of the volunteers who would like to learn.”

“Coach must have been overjoyed, right?”

“It seemed so at first.  He seemed quite receptive, but ultimately declined the offer.  Running the ball was just so ‘offensive,’ so contrary to the team’s culture.” **

“Ok, I get it.  Maybe Coach felt that his winsome talks would be enough.”

“Maybe, but you won’t find that in the Owner’s book.”

Blog 101 image - Joel megachurch“What about the cheerleaders, and the band?”

“Entertainment is the very heart of the weekly experience.  And the entertainers, wow, do they get a rush with all those eyeballs on them!  It’s clear the thinking is that if you can put on a good enough show, then the world’s shows won’t be as attractive.  Of course this is fallacious, because the world can always outperform the church when it comes to pleasing the flesh, feeding the emotions.  When the church walks in sync with the world’s style, a young person’s flesh gets fed continually . . . he or she won’t give up the ‘real’ entertainment that the Adversary offers up.  You might recall that Lucifer (Ezekiel Ch. 28) was designed for musical brilliance.  Brilliance can be applied for good or evil.  But to call this show ‘worship’ . . . I think somebody is in trouble with God.”

“Nobody seems to notice that the team is actually losing, huh.”

“Well, the scoreboard records all the ‘positive’ stats, like money spent and seats filled and hot dogs consumed.  Nobody really cares whether any sinner actually repents, trusts Christ, and is born again, producing a changed life that stays changed . . . and holy.  There is no stat for holy.  The Owner’s book refers to such things, but Coach is selective in his quotes, staying away from ‘downer’ verses that speak to sin or judgment or the true meaning of the Cross.”

Blog 101 image - Andy Stanley“Coach is going to be in big trouble when the Owner comes back to town, isn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.  (James 3:1, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 17, Jude 11)  It’s not Coach’s team, after all, and the Owner promised to return, in power (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).”

“What if you want to ‘play the game’, but can’t find a team that will let you play?”

“Great question!  If you read the Owner’s book, you’ll find out that as soon as you walk outside your door, you’re on the playing field with the ball already in your hand.  As you carry the ball, you may find someone else who wants to join your team.  Believe it or not, you don’t need a stadium or cheerleaders or a band . . . or even hot dogs.  Now if you’ve got a hot dog in your hand, and you see someone who is hungry, by all means give him the hot dog!  And give him the Gospel, too.  No ‘points’ for the hot dog, though.  Hot dogs don’t last long, do they?  But salvation is a gift that lasts forever.  If he takes that gift, you’ve got another teammate, too.”

** This particular anecdote is based on true events, experienced several times by the author.

  • drdave@truthreallymatters.com

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