Let’s Talk About Football in Church!

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.


5 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Football in Church!”

  1. Rob Robinson Says:

    This is an interesting subject. I’ve been wandering around in nearby-but-different territory in some of my posts this week.

    It seems like Kat is saying “enough!” when it comes to the football overload around here. I can respect that. I’m a football fan, but, let’s face it, we’re obsessed with it, right or wrong.

    I agree with your point, though, that our spiritual lives should not be separate from everything else. I really like the Ravi Zacharias quote you mentioned. It made me think of the famous quote attributed to Mother Teresa and others, “Preach the gospel to everyone. Use words if necessary.” We should try to live well by matching our words and opinions with our actions.

    I’ve been wondering whether sports is replacing religion for some of us. That’s a whole ‘nother question, even if it is in the same , ahem, ballpark.

  2. Kat Coble Says:

    I guess I should have given more detail.

    I go to First Baptist Nashville, which is definitely NOT high (liturgical) church, but does have some of the trappings.

    The “football in church” that I have a problem with is actually in Sunday School. I should have been more clear, because I don’t think our pastor has ever mentioned football. He does, however, talk about Pink Floyd and Lord of The Rings a great deal. (My kind of pastor….a geek pastor…)

    Our Sunday School is in two parts. The “Opening Assembly” which I call homeroom is a group meeting for everyone in the department. At full capacity that’s about 60 couples. After OA we break into smaller groups for the actual Bible Study portion of the morning. OA is supposed to start at 9:00 and run for 15 minutes. It is supposed to include group announcements and a short devotional thought and prayer.

    It never ACTUALLY starts until 9:15, which means that OA has already eaten into the Bible Study time. It’s usually during the announcements and devotional thought that the sports talk hijacks the room for another 5 minutes or so.

    So it isn’t so much a pulpit issue as it is a Bible study issue, I guess.

    And yes, I’ve brought it up to those concerned before. The answer I keep getting is that “I don’t have kids, so I don’t understand.”

    Presumably if I had kids I would understand why Sunday School starts 20 minutes late.

    As to incorporating life-relavent teachings in a sermon or Bible study, I’m all for that, as long as it doesn’t get way out of hand. For instance, I’m all for the pastor mentioning an anecdote from a football game or a sitcom episode. It ties the lesson in well.

    What I don’t groove on (and this is because I’m old-fashioned) is when a pastor thinks they need to show actual clips from television shows or football plays on TV screens scattered throughout the sanctuary.

    If we’re in church for worship, that comes dangerously close to worshipping television for me.

  3. Slartibartfast Says:

    Ahhh, Sunday school! Now I get it. I always joke about Methodists: we may be crawling with Universalists and heretics, but by golly, we’re punctual! My first sermon, I was told “Don’t go over 15 minutes. We can’t be responsible for what happens if you do…”

    We don’t have the homeroom concept, we have 3 services with Sunday school sandwiched in between, so beginning/ ending on time is pretty much a given. We do have the usual banter, but somebody’s usually there to get us back on point.

    So, I take it you’re not a praise n’ worship kind of person? I understand, some people respond to “Truth”, some to “Spirit”. We all need a little of both, IMHO. The arguments happen over casual vs formal dress, hymns vs p&w songs, organ vs full band, King Jesus vs Jesus my best friend. Then there’s the whole orienting toward “seeker” or “Believer”.

    There is nothing new under the sun. These kind of arguments have been going on since the first century. How much Spirit? How much Truth?

    I can tell you what’s so cool about the position I’m in. Since BMUMC kicked us (the praise band) out, we’ve become Sunday vagabonds. We’ve played in EVERY type of church, before every age, race, and political affiliation. And we always give people what they don’t expect. At traditional churches, we break out our Staxx Records, full-horn section gospel set. At P&W churches, we bring fewer instruments and tell the congregation: “These are called hymns”.

    One final thing in this rambling post: having children has given me a new insight on things like this. My kids couldn’t be more different. They have totally different ways of showing me that they love me. Trillian might draw me a colorful picture, or sing a song she wrote. Zaphod might build me a perfect replica of an F-16, or help with the lawn.

    Both bring me delight.

    Perhaps God is looking down at His children and all the different ways He is worshipped (if, indeed it is Him they are worshipping), and laughing with delight.

  4. Kat Coble Says:

    So, I take it you’re not a praise n’ worship kind of person?

    Truth be told, I can take a little of both. But I’ll be honest with you. I resent the way that “praise teams” have of taking over an entire service.

    If I had my way we’d have some each, because that’s how I grew up and I enjoy the variety. But I have yet to see a church where the contemporary worship crowd didn’t push out the traditional crowd. (Of course I’m only referencing 6 or 8 churches here.)

    I lost all interest in attending a contemporary-worship church when the “music minister” actually said If you don’t sing louder I’m going to come down there and shove this microphone in your face.

    See, that’s not conducive to worship, imho.

  5. Slartibartfast Says:

    True, true.

    It pains me to say, there are many churches who worship their style of worship.

    I’ll be totally honest with you – I believe X-Alt was kicked out of the contemporary service at Belle Meade because

    1) God had different plans for us and
    2) We had started acting like we owned the place.

    Trust me, I know exactly what you’re talking about. God had to kick us in the butt before we got our heads on straight.

    This is why I never left Belle Meade, even after getting “fired”. It’s extremely hard to admit, but we deserved it.

    Maybe there should be a rotating circuit of praise bands to prevent this problem.

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