"Sometimes the true spiritual leaders of the first generation survive the temptations of such hero worship. But the generation that follows—the generation that sees the veneration of their forbears and aspires to it themselves—becomes corrupt because their motives are corrupt from the start." - P&D
On Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, I was getting ready for an elders’ meeting to be held that evening at Grace Bible Church in Portage, Wis., where I was serving as interim pastor.
During the afternoon, I received word that Maranatha had made the decision to terminate its football program.
Having heard the news, I did two things. First, I sat down and cried. Second, I called my mom.
My mother, now in Heaven, was one day from her 82nd birthday. For most of her life, she tolerated football, at best, as she watched her two sons on the field. Amazingly, however, later in life, the sport really began to grow on her. She often said that she felt playing was less dangerous for me, being a lineman, than it had been for my brother—who had earlier played quarterback in high school—so she could enjoy it more. That seems to be where the transformation began. The Green Bay Packers’ resurgence during the 1990’s had a lot to do with it, as well. So, somehow, my mother shocked us all and lived the last quarter of her life as an ardent football fan.
As I relayed the news about Maranatha football to her, my mom told me something that I will never, ever forget. I can still hear the words, in her voice.
“Paul,” she said, “you just have to be thankful that you got to be part of it.”
In an earlier installment in this series, I shared the overarching lesson that I learned playing football in both high school and college, as drawn from the words of the Apostle Paul in Phil. 4:11-13:
Read the series.
Most former athletes acknowledge that there are few sensations that can compare with the thrill of taking the court or the field. In the lives of some—especially those that make it to the highest levels of their sport—this can become the basis of a lifelong struggle. But for others, the same passion that drove them to excel in the athletic arena also drives them to become champions in some other realm of life.
I was by no means a gifted athlete. However, I do see tremendous crossover between the physical competition inherent in the game of football, which I played for eight years, and the spiritual discipline demanded by ministry. This is where I left off in the previous column, and I would like to build upon that analogy and flesh it out with some practical lessons I’ve learned in ministry.
For me, any service where I’ll be preaching or teaching is like game time. The rush of adrenaline, as well as the butterflies, are very similar—as is the single-mindedness that is required. I desire to give my very best effort every time, and despise leaving with regrets. I understand that I will never get another chance to preach the same message to those same people, under the same circumstances. Never.
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.
"How a leader sees people will impact how a leader leads. If a leader sees people as tools for an overarching vision, you will get one approach.... If a leader sees people as potential pain in their lives, you will get a very different approach.... But there is another way, a better way." - Geiger