A Christian not engaged in spiritual formation and the mission of a local church is like an NFL player during a lockout.
This is the time of the year when I begin to get excited about the months ahead – at least it has been in the past. This is the time when football teams, like our Houston Texans, begin pre-season training camps. But not this year, at least not yet. The NFL owners and players are struggling to work out a contract deal, which means teams are not working out and the season is in limbo.
The players are “locked out” by the owners, unable to use the facilities to work out and train, unable to communicate with coaches to help them grow in their skills. The good news for those of us who are Houston Texans fans is that many of the players on that team are using the time to work out. They can’t use the state-of-the-art facilities they’re used to, and can’t have coaches there, but they do get together to work out and run through plays.
They may not be at the main place, but they’re making do. Trouble is, not many believe it will help very much. Oh, it’s good, it’s beneficial, but only to a point. NFL players need the facilities that have the equipment to make them stronger and more agile. They need the coaches to help them develop their skills. Unless they can properly engage in their physical and mental development, they won’t be in good condition to play the game.
As I listened to the sports-talk radio prognosticators talking about these issues it made me think about the way we can sometimes view the church. At every church I’ve served the membership roster was filled with people who rarely show up. Many are living in a self-imposed Christian lockout. The downside to their absence is much like it is for NFL players.
- Not seeking access to the facility hinders growth. Many people avoid church because it doesn’t do much for them. Some of the blame falls on the church – we can’t really say most churches are state-of-the-art in regard to spiritual growth facilities. But, avoiding the place where God’s people gather to experience God’s presence and power as a community keeps us weaker than we could be.
- Trying to “grow” on our own is not bad, but it’s not as beneficial as working with others. Spiritual growth is a team sport. Yes, we can read the Bible on our own, we can sing hymns while fishing on the lake, we can pray on our own, and we can read helpful books and blogs. But, when we have others who help us gain new insights, others who push us beyond what we think are our limits, and others who surround us and cover us with prayer we grow faster and go further.
- Without coaching our skills suffer. We need people like pastors and teachers and small group leaders. Those who can look at our life from an outside perspective help us see the places where we can improve and change. Part of my task as pastor is to help hold up the mirror of Scripture so we can examine who we are in relation to who God calls us to be. Preachers and mentors and leaders are able to do more for us than we can do on our own because they’re more objective in their analysis – much like a coach on a football team. They help us see where we can be better. They help us see where we can contribute more to the success of the team – in the case of the church, to the success of God’s Kingdom vision for the world.
Self-imposed lockouts are detrimental to our spiritual growth, and ultimately to the work of making God’s Kingdom a reality in this world. The NFL has to work through their issues so they can get back to work. Christians just need to decide to engage with other followers of Jesus. For those who are willing, it looks to be a promising season for the Kingdom of God.
Holy high-five to you,