If you’ve been in the UK over the last few weeks, it’s very likely you’ll have heard (or have at least seen on Facebook) the words “It’s coming home”. Football fever and the World Cup have well and truly taken over. I wouldn’t call myself a football fan (I’m not even really a sports fan), and I never thought sports would feature on my blog, but the buzz and excitement surrounding this year’s World Cup tournament has been unavoidable.
My family and I have been lucky enough to have just returned home from a much-needed vacation in Portugal. We spent a couple of nights in a local restaurant that was showing the football matches live on TV. The restaurant was packed full of holidaying Brits, cheering on their team and, as my Mum would put it, “there was a lovely atmosphere”.
Everyone, it seems, has been swept up in the excitement. People have changed plans, taken time off work, businesses have made arrangements to close early, and churches have cancelled meetings…doesn’t sound right, does it? I heard of a local church group, some of who wanted to watch the game on Wednesday night, in place of their regular Bible study. Instead of opting to reschedule their weekly meeting to another time or another night, they completely replaced and cancelled their Bible study, because “well, we have Bible study every week, but the last time England reached the World Cup semi final was 1990”. I dread to think how many others have taken such a decision too lightly (maybe not even thinking about it at all), and how many churches might have cancelled their Sunday services had England made the World Cup final?
But this isn’t an issue solely in England. I’m sure some American churches view the Super Bowl in the same light, and other countries have their own equivalents for which some churches would opt to cancel church services in favour of watching the game. I wonder what the persecuted church would say and do, if given the opportunity?
I came across some observations, noting the contrasts between the average football fan and the average churchgoer:
- Football fans often pay a hefty sum to park their cars and walk a long distance to the stadium. The churchgoer expects free and convenient parking close to the building or they won’t attend.
- Football games are noisy with loud cheering and the enthusiasm of the fans. The churchgoer sits in grim silence, showing no emotion. He objects to loud organ music and extra volume from the choir and complains after the service.
- Football stadium seats are narrow, backless, and assigned. The churchgoer hates a hard pew and insists on a particular seat.
- Football games always last for at least ninety minutes, and if they go into extra time, fans consider it a bonus. The churchgoer expects worship to take an hour, and if a pastor does not confine himself to that limit, he may come under pointed rebuke from the faithful.
- Football fans fail to let any climate influence their attendance at games. The churchgoer needs only a few drops of inclement weather to provide an excuse for her absence at worship.
- Football tickets for professional team games are expensive. Many fans think nothing of this. Added to that is the cost of merchandise and refreshments. The churchgoer objects to the mere mention of money, and an appeal for extra offerings evokes inward and frequently outward groaning.
These observations close with the question “are those who worship at the shrine of [the football field] more devoted to their ‘religion’ than those who profess to follow Jesus Christ? It causes one to pause and ponder”.
Now, I’m not suggesting that supporting a sports team, or being passionate about a sport, is wrong. Not for a second. I think such a thing is great. (Though, I would add at this point that drunken, loutish, and aggressive or violent behaviour displayed in the name of “passion” is not!) However, is there not something seriously amiss as to bear scrutiny when, as a follower of Jesus, the love I may have for a team or sport takes over to the point that I would willingly and eagerly cancel an entire church event for said team, sport, or hobby.
I take part in and am passionate about theatre, and on the rare occasion that last minute rehearsals have been scheduled for a Sunday, I have always still made it to at least one church service. I tell you this, not as a brag, but so you don’t think my opinion and the challenge of it is coming from an unreasonable and untested place.
My main issue with this whole thing lies with the churches that will cancel meetings all together. If you, as an individual, have decided not to attend church, that’s your choice. But by calling for the cancellation of an entire church event, you are taking the choice away for everyone else and making that decision for them. Not everyone in your congregation or Bible study group is so bothered about sport that they would thank you for cancelling to accommodate the sporting calendar. Some people might really need and benefit from your Bible study or church service.
This might be the week that they need it more than most weeks – we can’t possibly know what others are going through and dismiss it in favour of things which are not necessarily wrong in their place. This might be the week that another person comes to Jesus, another soul saved, another person helped. This might be the week God would truly move among us, the week we have a breakthrough, and we missed it because we prioritised the football (or whatever else) over the God we love. With the modern technology of today, we really have no excuse. Shame on us.
I don’t think that passion is wrong. I don’t think that supporting something is wrong. But I can’t help but imagine what our churches would be like if we had the same passion and enthusiasm for the things of God than we do for our other hobbies and pursuits. If the kind of loyal support for a team, player or manager was shown to our pastors and their families. If the encouragement and celebration felt over each goal scored and each match won was felt over every “win” in the church, over every answered prayer, and every soul won for Jesus. If the sorrow and disappointment felt when our team loses was also felt when our church faces a setback. And if we look forward to worshipping God on a Sunday with the same anticipation that we look forward to a game.
If the church took that passion and channelled it toward God, I don’t think we would recognise ourselves. Surely Jesus, Who sacrificed His life for our sins, promising us eternal life with Him in a Heavenly home if only we accept His salvation, deserves nothing less. It’s not an argument about right and wrong, but about what is best, wisest, and needful. The Bible says:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19-25, ESV).