Katherine Coble is wondering why we have to talk about football in church. Great question! Let me give it a shot, from a lay-preacher point of view. Just from small clues I’ve picked up here and there, I’m guessing that you (Katherine) attend some kind of “high” church. We Methodists haven’t been “high church” in quite a while, so hopefully we won’t be talking past one another. I might also add that I’m only speaking for me, I represent no one.
I think, Kat, that you may be complaining about football banter that is outside of the sermon (probably in the announcements). I’m not too crazy about using this time for good natured ribbing either (leave more time for the SERMON, dude!), but even with that I think it serves a purpose: letting visitors know that the congregants are real human beings with real lives, who don’t go around saying “thee” and “Thou” all the time. But, I could go either way on the subject. I’ll let others speak to that. But I can tell you why I believe referencing football in the middle of a sermon is not only allowable, but a good idea.
One of my favorite “great thinkers” of all time is Ravi Zacharias. I learned from him that there are three levels of philosophical discourse:
1) High-level, theoretical, the kind they talk about in graduate courses in ivy league universities.
2) The Arts and popular culture.
3) “Kitchen Table” talk, or daily life.
According to Zacharias, the most effective way of driving home a point is to argue at level 1, illustrate at level 2, and apply at level 3. Conversations that stay at level 1 may be interesting to eggheads, but you’ll lose the masses quickly. For the Christian, level 1 is theology, and all those “isms” that they talk about in divinity school. Levels 2 and three are extremely important (especially 3), but they need to be grounded in “higher principles” before they are useful. So, I have adopted this three-tiered model in all of my sermons. It is important to note that scripture is used in all three levels.
Now, back to football. In the south, football is very much part of the popular culture. It is perfect for level 2 (illustrating through popular culture). I once preached a sermon based simultaneously on Psalm 116 and The Music City Miracle, and I’m told it went over quite well. It also brought Psalm 116 to life.
We must be able to apply the “high thoughts” and concepts to things we know. Jesus gave the woman at the well the New model for worship: spirit and truth. Art and science. Hearts and Minds. Scriptural discourse becomes quite dry when left by itself. The heart must be stirred as well.
There is no better way to make scripture apply to our daily lives than by illustrating the underlying concept through movies, sports, television – things people know and interact with every day. More importantly, things that stir hearts. Plus, it’s quite easy to slip into having seperate “church life” and “Life life”. Many people only think spiritually in church. Pop culture references help us see God in everything we do and see. I’ve lately been exploring the theological allegories in Charlotte’s Web. It’s not very “churchy”, but God lives beyond the walls of the Sunday Meeting House.
Now, football illustrations would not work with you, because football isn’t your thing. But in the south, a preacher can pretty much connect with 90% of the congregation with a football reference. Movies and television references would work with you most likely. My latest sermon was called “Extreme Makeover, Soul Edition”, on the subject of Sanctification. That one was fun, and it really seemed to connect with women in the congregation.
In short, I guess what I’m trying to say is that a good preacher sees God in everything, and tries to guide the congregation to see God in everything, too. Because football is so big a part of daily life around here, it’s an obvious choice to accomplish this.
I do feel like I’ve missed the mark on the original question,and I’m sorry for that. But I can only speak of what I know.