Over the years, I have been known, on occasion, to use the New England Patriots to illustrate important church lessons. Almost every time, I’ve ended up regretting it. While I’m a long-time fan of the Pats, I also recognize that they are far from perfect. I don’t put much stock in the Deflategate ridiculousness, but the cheating claims certainly make me squirm.
After their stunning victory at this year’s Super Bowl, though, I can’t help it: there are lessons to be learned and the Patriots provide something of an object lesson that is good for football, as well as the church.
The first lesson: When the Patriots found themselves in a very big hole, in a place that would require a never-before-seen comeback, one might expect to see some fraying of tempers on the sidelines. For most teams, we would likely see finger pointing and anger—frustration taken out teammate against teammate. Grounds for some finger pointing existed, after all—Brady threw not only a pick but a pick-6, LeGarrette Blount fumbled, Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point.
For the Patriots, there was no finger pointing, no anger directed from one team member to another. Instead, they were a team, working together, struggling together and then winning together.
Churches, especially struggling churches, could use a little more of this sort of team spirit. It’s easy to point fingers and to lay blame on others for the challenges and difficulties. As seen on other football teams, finger pointing ends up with something more serious than a loss. Finger pointing is like a cancer in the community, eroding trust, wounding relationship.
It’s much harder to refrain from the pointing of fingers, laying blame on specific individuals. Yet, this is the way not only to “victory,” but to good, healthy, inviting community.
The other lesson is the now familiar Patriots mantra: Do your job.
For churches, this is also a critical lesson. Although our jobs are very different than the jobs on a football team, it’s important that we stay focused on our jobs and on the job of the church: the sharing of the love of God, and the living out of the Gospel.
As Paul so eloquently articulates in his words of encouragement for the early church, there are a variety of gifts and talents. All of them, working together, make up the body of Christ. The “job” of the follower of Christ is to offer one’s own gifts, understanding that others have different gifts. We are called to appreciate the variety of gifts and to work together that each gift may be put to good use and that all are valued.
On the football field, we learn that these lessons are hard lessons and cannot be accomplished without focus and determination. Churches often fall into the habit of thinking that somehow the presence of God will make their work together easy, or at least easier, that somehow it will all become intuitive. But, it does not—not in football, and not in the church. We are called to be intentional, conscientious and thoughtful in being the church, and doing the hard work of living as a community of faith.
In the church that I serve, it often feels like we are behind 28-3, as the Patriots were in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, and it can feel like the game is all over and that it’s time to figure out whose fault it is. But, as those who watched on Sunday learned, the game isn’t over in the third quarter. There’s still more to play, and how it is played matters.
The small struggling church may not “win” by the standards of a sports team, but so long as we are here and worshiping every Sunday, we must embrace the notion that there’s more game to be played, there’s more of God’s love to be shared, and how we “play the game,” how we do the work of the Gospel, matters.