Tis the season to begin the play-offs…fa, la, la, la, la, la, la…football! This may not be the best known Holiday song…okay, it is not a holiday song at all, but I really like it. I am a football fan. I have my favorite teams. But I am pretty much about all things football. For me, the Holiday Season does not officially end until the last tick of the Super Bowl clock. To borrow a phrase from George Costanza’s (Seinfeld Show) father, this is my “festivus for the rest of us.”
Football has its own terminology. Commentators and coaches employ phrases that communicate key ideas. One such phrase is “catching the ball in space.” This refers to the receiver getting the ball with room to run and maneuver. The quarterback’s ability to do this allows the receiver to increase their YAC (yards after catch). The offensive team will design plays that will result in this hoped for space.
How do we get the church into space? Is there a way for a church to carve out room to maneuver in culture? Can the church find room to advance the ball (gospel)? In the twenty-first century there are many dynamics crushing in on the church much like defenders crash in our a receiver once the catch is made. What might we do to create space for the church?
Know the primary purpose. The primary purpose of passing the ball is to advance it closer to the goal line. The catch contributes to this but it does not end it. This drives the offensive coordinator to devise plans that will not only get the receiver in position to catch the ball, but also to advance it. The primary purpose for the church is not to have received the gospel message passed through generations, but to advance the cause of the gospel. The mandate is to “go and make” (Matt. 28:19). We receive power not for ourselves, but to tell people everywhere the good news (Acts 1:8).
Understand the environment in which the game is played. The environment of the defensive will dictate the plays that are run. An offensive coordinator may not like the defensive that is being run, but he will do all that is necessary to exploit what is there. The culture in which the church currently resides is not all that church friendly. It is, however, open to spirituality. Church leaders can invest their time complaining how much things have changed. We can bemoan that people don’t seem to be all that interested in Christianity. We can rail against the tolerance so many have for a diversity of religions. Or we can do a better job of understanding the current climate and leverage the heightened interest in spirituality for the Kingdom.
Prepare correctly. It has been said that the will to prepare is more important than the will to win. Preparation is difficult. We need to put in the time to prepare ourselves, our people and our hearts for effective ministry.
Take advantage of unexpected changes. Things change in the course of a game. A defensive back slips; a linebacker gets pitted against a speedier receiver, the weather conditions change. Offensive coordinators are willing to adjust plans to maximize the changes. Churches quickly settle in. They continue to try something that worked previously, but don’t notice the unexpected changes. A church organizational structure becomes more important than the mission. Concentrating on not losing ground takes precedent over gaining ground. Church leaders must pay attention to changes. They must be willing to adjust. They need to overcome the mentality that perceives an adjustment in methods is a compromise of the message.
The church can create space for itself in culture. It will take effort, energy, enthusiasm and engagement. But as we create space the advancement of the ball (gospel) will be increased. We can then track our own stat of TIC (transformation in Christ).