On Ministry and Football (Part 4)

This past summer I began a series of articles in which I am drawing on lessons learned from playing eight years of football in two Christian schools. I am specifically applying that experience to the Christian life and, particularly, ministry.

With the end of the football season approaching, I’d like to conclude that series and make a few more specific applications.

I want to emphasize again that I do not mean to give the wrong impression with this series. I am not attempting to make myself out to be the hero. To paraphrase one of my coaches at Maranatha Baptist Bible College—football did much more for me than I did for football.

Yet, I also do not want to minimize this certainty—that playing football was absolutely a formative experience in my life. I struggle to envision exactly how I would view myself today had I not had such opportunities.

However, I’m sure that the ways in which football shaped my life would also have been vastly different had I not had the occasion to play in a Christian environment.

In particular, playing football at Maranatha for Coach Terry Price was one of the greatest spiritual blessings of my life—one that I cherish, and one that I possess in common with all of my teammates, as well as all who preceded and followed me.

One aspect of the environment that we shared which, I dare say, none of us will ever forget is the time we spent—of all things—singing together.

I had never before been on a team of any kind that sang together, but for Coach Price this element was non-negotiable.

The crescendo came when we won a game. As we gathered in a circle on the field, each one taking a knee, the triumph became official as we sang “Victory in Jesus.” That was an intense feeling, especially at home games, where students, family and friends would join around our perimeter.

But what the crowd never saw or heard was the singing we did together in our evening meetings during pre-season practice and, especially, in the meetings on game day mornings.

Before challenging us with a passage of Scripture, Coach Price would lead us through a litany of songs. They changed a little through the years, and some were choruses I had never heard anywhere else.

But there was one hymn that we sang—just one—and we sang it every time: “It Is Well with My Soul.”

Many are aware of the disaster in the life of Horatio Gates Spafford (an associate of D.L. Moody) which provided the dramatic background for the writing of this great hymn—a treasure for the entire church.1

I’m sure that hymn has held deep significance for many of God’s people through the years. But it will forever take me back to a meeting room filled with football players—singing acapella, in harmony.

That song was teeming with profound meaning in those moments. You see, quite frankly, we normally played teams that were bigger and better than us. The hymn united us spiritually and signified that … win or lose, even through adversity or injury, each one of us could enjoy “the peace of God” (Phil. 4:7).

The sensation was palpable. We understood that the risk was real. But the opportunities were significant. And our total effort was required. Yet, looking back now, I truly believe that every ounce of the investment was worth it.

As it is with football, so it is with the Christian life—and, especially, with ministry. “Athletics” (2 Tim. 2:5), I submit, serve as a wonderful preparation for serving the Lord.

Like football, ministry is never undemanding. There are tangible dangers—hazards, pitfalls, threats and wounds. Those who are less than serious would be wise to refrain. Once on the field, your teammates’ fate is in your hands. Spectating is infinitely easier.

But there is an exhilaration that one can feel only by expending an exhausting effort, as a member of a team dedicated to a cause … a cause that will demand every ounce of commitment, dedication, energy and emotion that you can muster.

All athletes reach a point where there are no more game days. But for me, ministry opportunities provoke a very similar rush of adrenaline. And there is one song that will forever connect these two pursuits. I can rarely sing it with a dry eye, and it always brings a clarity of focus to my mind and heart—a level of focus that you will never realize unless you have submitted yourself to the disciplines of physical or spiritual competition.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.2

Notes

1 To learn more about this beloved hymn and its amazing background, see “When Peace, Like a River;” Hymnary.org; https://hymnary.org/text/when_peace_like_a_river_attendeth_my_way; Internet; accessed 19 January 2022.

2 Ibid. Text is in the public domain.

Paul Scharf 2019 Bio


Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email pscharf@foi.org.

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pvawter's picture

Victory in Jesus will always be special to me. It helped put things in perspective when the game was done, win or lose. As much as football meant to all of us, Coach Price always told us to turn to what was most important, preparing to worship with our church family the next day. To this day when I sing that hymn, I imagine raising my helmet with the rest of the team.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 

Paul J. Scharf's picture

To clarify for the readers, when I played ('87-90) we only sang "Victory in Jesus" after a win. Later, when I volunteered and coached ('00-05), I think we had begun singing it after every game.

On another note, it's a pretty neat feeling to be watching the Bills-Chiefs playoff game as I write this, and seeing Bills defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier featured from time to time. His team from Trinity International University handed us one of our only two losses in my senior year. I remember that day very well.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

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