Series - Football

On Ministry and Football (Part 6)

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:

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On Ministry and Football (Part 5)

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.

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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.

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On Ministry and Football (Part 3)

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

In the previous installments of this series, I described how I was blessed to be part of football programs, in both high school and college, that ascended from the depths of despair to championship seasons during my final years on each of those teams.

I don’t know how my experience in football would have affected me differently if I had played only on losing teams—where losses were predictable, or even excused. I can’t say what I would have learned from that, or even if I would have continued making the sacrifices to play this very demanding sport—especially all the way through college.

What I do know is how profoundly the opportunities that I had in football prepared me for life and ministry—all in the providence of God. As I get older and look back with the added perspective that time brings, I see all of that so much more clearly.

In each context, I was privileged to be part of teams that endured many losses early on—but under coaches who simply would not accept losing as a habit.

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On Ministry and Football (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Throughout the eight years of my high school and college football career, football was the focus for six days a week.

My high school field had no lights. But even if it had, private school football in Wisconsin back in those days was a staple of Saturday afternoons—not Friday nights. Away games could easily take up most of Saturday, and yet, come Monday afternoon—less than 48 hours after the game ended—we were back out under the sun (or rain) in full pads.

Maranatha’s field, likewise, had no lights, and every game during my college career was on a Saturday afternoon, with the exception of one non-conference Monday night game.

Road trips in college were very interesting. We would often leave before the end of the school day on Friday and return in the middle of the night after the game on Saturday—just a few hours before Sunday morning church. I remember that sickening feeling you felt waking up as the bus turned onto the campus, up past the old entrance sign at MBBC, knowing that Coach Price required us to go straight to the locker room to sort out and hang up our own equipment. I think the latest I got to bed in my dorm was 4 a.m.

In high school, we opened practice in early August with two-a-days, and my two varsity seasons both ended in November. So, my senior season took up more than three months.

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On Ministry and Football (Part 1)

With Memorial Day now past, it’s time to think about … football! At least that’s the way that I approached it when I was in college.

God gave me the wonderful opportunity to play football for eight years in two Christian schools—four at Winnebago Lutheran Academy in Fond du Lac, Wis., and four at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wis.

The lessons that I learned on the football field are innumerable, such that I cannot imagine my life without them—and they continue to impact me on a daily basis.

In my summers in college, Memorial Day was the unofficial beginning of my football season. That stretch between coming home from school and Memorial Day was sort of a bonus—time to rest and relax. But once Memorial Day was over, I knew that summer would be flying by. The weeks would disappear quickly, and I needed to prepare because, soon enough, I would be back out under the hot sun in full pads.

Memorial Day still evokes those feelings for me, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share a series of articles on some of the lessons I learned playing football that apply to the Christian life in general, and to Christian ministry in particular.

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