12 Reasons (RJS)

12 Reasons (RJS) October 15, 2013

The following was making its way around Facebook recently. It is not new, however. There has been a similar list on the door of the bathroom (where it has a captive audience) at my parents’ summer cabin for several years.  I am not sure who wrote it, or when these lists began to be passed around.

This list raises a number of interesting issues worth some thought and some discussion.

12 Reasons Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sports Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

As I read this list I gave a laugh and saw the truth in the rather weak excuses people often give for leaving a church or the church. There is an important message and insight here. However, as I read it I began to wonder if there is, perhaps, another message as well.

Think about it. This list equates churchgoers with spectators at a sporting event. … But is this a good analogy?

Perhaps part of the problem is that we all, Christians and non-Christians, laity, clergy, and leadership tend to view church in this spectator mode.

Perhaps a better analogy would be to equate Christians with the team, not with the spectators. This turns some of the reasons in the list on their head – but strengths the foolishness of others.

Spectators watch, the team participates. The coach does not visit the spectators (except college coaches to solicit donations from the very rich). The coach invests himself in training the team, however, and any good coach knows his players. Players in general don’t know more than the coach – and a player who thinks he or she does on the basis of a book will most certainly be set straight. But a wise coach will listen to the players who have proven themselves (look coach this play will work …). Players are not there for the band (unless they “play” in the band) or for comfortable seats.

I am not a pastor, and I have not quit watching sporting events, although I do so much less often these days. Once upon a time I was deeply connected with my local sports teams, feeling a part of the group – a success when the team succeeded, and depressed, as though I had failed, when they lost.  This has changed.  I still enjoy watching skillful competition, but I have put an intentional emotional distance between myself and my favorite teams. I am, after all, a spectator, not a participant.

Perhaps it is simply wise to reserve commitment for those groups in which we are participants rather than spectators.

Shouldn’t a local gathering of the people of God should be made up primarily of participants, the team, not perpetual spectators? This doesn’t mean that it should be an insider club shunning the spectators. We should be inviting them to join the team.  But we also shouldn’t be surprised if spectators leave for what seem rather flimsy reasons.

What do you think?

Where is the original list good? Where does it fall short?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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  • Amanda B.

    I think the analogy, as stated, could be useful for illustrating how we gladly make time and endure discomfort for things that are of high priority to us. But I think pushing it too much–either as an “attend as a spectator” or “attend as the team” illustration–falls apart pretty quickly.

    But since this illustration does deal with priorities, it begs the question of why sporting events are a high priority to us, but church isn’t. Some of it, of course, can be attributed to our own spiritual immaturity. But I certainly don’t think that’s all that’s going on.

    If I show up to a football stadium, and the players, instead of actually playing the game, take turns lecturing about the physics of a well-thrown pass, I would not stay or go back. If they don’t actually play a football game (even if they talk about it a lot), I’m not about to shell out money to hang around a bunch of loud, crowded, drunk people on uncomfortable chairs. The football team would be at fault for my disappointment.

    Of course, if I go to a football game expecting to see a tame, thoughtful, artistic endeavor, with comfortable seating and people politely sampling wine and cheese, I will also be disappointed and leave. But this time, the disappointment would be my fault. I was the one who built up an idea of football that it never claimed to be, because this is what I think nice gatherings are like.

    Which, of course, when applied to church, leads to all kinds of questions. Are we, as parishioners, expecting the right things from church? And are we, as ministers, actually leading our congregations into what the church is supposed to be there for? And in either position, what are we doing to help make it better, since we at least hypothetically believe that corporate church gatherings are, or should be, important to us?

  • tsgIII

    Multivoiced worship values the narrative voices of many believers over the single narrative from few. Multivoiced worship preferences practice over presentation. That
    this is not on the radar of churches today is a good question. Anabaptists attempted to answer it in the 1530’s…”preachers presume they yield to no one….and especially (yield) not to us…..When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent,,,,,who can…regard it a spiritual congregation? Or confess according to 1Corinthians14 that God is dwelling in them through his Holy Spirit with His gifts….? (See Shem Peachey and Paul Peachy, eds. “Answer of Some Who are called (Ana)Baptists WhyThey Do Not Attend the Churches: A Swiss Brethren Tract, Mennonite Quarterly Review 45 [1971:5-32]).

  • jhurshman

    I think the church as the team obviously works better than the church as the spectators. However, I think the analogy works better if we make sure not to equate game day to the weekend worship service (what people commonly call “church”).

    It seems to me the gatherings of a local body of Christ are more analogous to a sports team at practice or in the locker room than a sports team on game day. The real task of a team is playing the game; the practice time and locker room time are preparation, training, inspiration, debriefing, and feedback, all of which are useless if the game is never played. The real task of a local body of believers is to proclaim the lordship of Jesus to their community in word and deed. The gatherings of the church are preparation, training, inspiration, debriefing, and feedback.

  • “Pastor” – noun in the Platform/Pew; Performance/Passivity Paradigm is part of the problem.

  • RJS4DQ

    Excellent. I wish I’d included this in the original post.

  • RJS (& jhurshman),

    Great post. I agree with both of you about where we should go both for participation and in terms of where we think “the game” is. BUT . . .

    But our historical Protestant definition of “church” works against both of your proposals, and it’s been programmed into all of us more than we realize. A legit “church” is supposedly where the gospel is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered (often optional), and (largely optional) people are disciplined. In our day, this has been reduced to correct doctrine being preached well, specifically in the main gathering. In my experience, even people who would intellectually agree that a church’s legitimacy ought to hang on a different, more holistic set of criteria, can’t shake this event as the center of their “felt” ecclesiology. So, essentially we legitimize ourselves as churches by how well our pastor, our surrogate and representative Christian for our community, preaches on Sunday. The analogy in the post is apt for this reason: Protestant ecclesiology makes “church” a spectator sport by definition. We need a new center for our definition of “church” with practices to match.

  • jhurshman

    I certainly agree. For almost all of us, it will take a compelling vision and a long process to redefine what “church” is about. It might be necessary to try to push the pendulum too far in the opposite direction (for a time) as a detox…

  • Rick

    I think that is true for the initial look at many churches. And I think the unchurched are often drawn because of that as well. However, I think many churches work hard at getting people beyond that initial mindset and encourages deeper, and more active, involvement- both inside and outside the church.

  • J.R.

    Don’t forget the 13th reason: the experience (including the music) was too loud.

  • Rick

    Many churches are now providing earplugs for that. :^)

  • Gary in FL

    You’ve made a good point about how our normal definition of church is partly (mainly?) responsible for our congregations perpetually remaining a gathering of spectators. In response, I’d like to make one observation and raise one question.

    My observation is I know many non-clergy Christians, in my congregation and others, who are very dedicated, genuine, and active in putting their faith into practice during the week to be a blessing to others. Some have quiet personalities, and thus may appear on Sundays to be mere spectators, but we should take care to not overlook the fruit the Spirit brings forth from them.

    My question is this:Was there ever a time in the Church’s history when the practice of the majority was different? I can’t help being skeptical about the assumption First Century Christians were a lot bolder and more active than most Christians nowadays. And although the concept of clerical “offices” took time to develop, I’m also skeptical early assemblies on the Lord’s Day were as broadly participatory as we imagine. In Act 6:7, in describing the very _early_ multiplication of disciples, it says, “and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith,” clearly meaning Jewish priests. Now if early on there were Jewish priests in the Christian meetings–and they obviously had not only automatic status among the people, but even more importantly, lots of practical experience leading liturgical worship–who do you think would be looked to lead the gatherings? Probably not brick-layer Joe if there’s a priest in the congregation. Therefore, the roots of this ecclesiology may run MUCH deeper than egalitarian biases care to admit.

  • RJS4DQ

    Thanks to a useful suggestion from a blog reader I now carry a quality pair of earplugs with me. It has improved my enjoyment of the 21st century worship experience immensely.

  • jhurshman

    It’s hard to be certain without much more research than I am capable of, but passages like 1 Corinthians 14.26 (“When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation or an interpretation.”) and Colossians 3.16 (“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”) seem to indicate a broadly participatory culture in the gathering.

  • Gary,

    Thanks. I’m not saying that jewish worship, and the Christian gatherings springing from them, lacked liturgy. But from what I understand of synagogue practice, let alone I Corinthians that jhurshman mentioned, and other NT discussions of body interactions, is that the give and take was much, much more pronounced than we seem comfortable with today.

    But more than just having more participatory gatherings, as jhurshman mentioned initially, I think the bigger problem is how we legitimize ourselves as a church of Jesus Christ. On this point, the NT, IMO, provides the sharpest contrast to our ecclesiology.

    I remember speaking to a jewish friend of mine a few years back about how jews think of their rabbis compared to how we think of our pastors/priests. Her comment was that we revere our leaders far more, often putting them on a different plane with God than everyone else. She thought this was especially obvious at weddings. We Christians, it seemed to her, thought the “power” to wed a couple lay with the pastor whereas jews, according to her, thought of the power as residing with the people, with the rabbi being necessary more as MC than as giving legitimacy to the marriage itself. I think the NT, even with apostles walking around and doing great things, manage to stay focused on the working of the Spirit (fruit and gifts) among the brethren, when it came to the legitimacy of a church, rather than doctrinal correctness of any vaulted surrogate.

  • Thursday1

    The main reason people leave the church is that they just aren’t all that religious anymore. God needs to be a pressing reality for you to make the effort.

    If you’re going to church primarily for things like “community” or entertainment or a weekly dose of cultural nostalgia, as many do, then you’re probably not long for the church. In any community, there will inevitably be jolts and jostles and personal conflict that are going to make the whole thing significantly less pleasant than you might have anticipated, and besides there are lots of other fun and interesting things you could be doing with your limited amount of time. You need a strong reason to overcome that. So, in the long run, the only good reason for going to church is that you really believe in God (or at least really, really want to believe in God) and want to come together with others for the purpose of worshiping him.

  • DMH

    Hey to a fellow Floridian. Regardless of how it was done in the early church or throughout history aren’t we free, in Christ and by the Spirit, to “do church” how ever we want? I believe we are. With a little creativity it could look very different depending on the context. Regardless, if we are to get away from the spectator aspect, the traditional one man preaching and worship model will have to fade significantly into the background. I think even the paid pastoral position will have to fade- which would make any change coming from established churches unlikely.

  • Aaron Lage

    Well said jhurshman! I concur.

    Obviously though, we still have a problem. All too many Christians are or have been treated as mere spectators. We need more people ‘in the game’ and more coaches facilitating your mindset and not simply the attendance of a gameday performance.

  • jhurshman

    And actually, I’m not sure the “coach” terminology is quite right either. Pastors, elders, etc., shouldn’t be on the sidelines not directly participating, but rather on the field with the rest of the team. So maybe more like that quarterback or linebacker or point guard who people see as “another coach on the field/court”, someone who’s got the big picture of what the goals are and what is happening, but who is in the game with the rest of the team.

  • RJS4DQ

    More like the player-managers of Major League Baseball (although it hasn’t happened in some 25 or so years).

  • Mahlon Bekedam

    It seems to me that Jesus must be seen as the coach in this analogy.

  • Mahlon Bekedam

    This post and resulting comments bring up the question of what the Church is. I think it is surprising that we are so unsure as to what the Church is, or is supposed to be.
    As to why we’re unsure, I think that we’ve been working with a wrong assumption that the Church is basically to be identified with the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel According to Matthew. I think we shouldn’t identify the two things. The Church does not contain or control the Kingdom of Heaven in any way. Rather, the Church is simply followers of Jesus working together and helping each other be disciples. I think we should see the Church as what is described in Acts 6, when 7 deacons were chosen to serve table. The Church is basically Christians helping out other Christians. On the other hand, Jesus is fully in command of the Kingdom of Heaven, inviting his followers to serve him as he sees fit.