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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Football Fandom Fail

SEC fans worship twice on the weekends: once at the Cathedral on Saturday, and once in Church on Sunday.[1] I grew up in the Baton Rouge area and have experienced this holy season myself - the anticipation, the singing, the offering, and the benediction. Of course, the next day at church I was usually sunburned and hoarse. Some of my friends take their fandom too seriously to the detriment of their careers, families, and sanity. I can name some pastors who do the same, though.[2]

The balance between our sports fandom and our devotion to God has gotten some necessary attention in recent years. Christianity Today made that relationship a cover story in February 2010.[3] Since then other articles in that publication have appeared addressing church attendance as it relates to sports, specifically youth sports.[4] Other Christian publications have also published thoughtful, questioning pieces on our relationship with sports as believers.[5]

The Church in America has responded to our cultural love of sports in predictable ways. Some have done nothing, forcing parishioners to make binary choices between being “faithful” in their attendance on Sunday mornings and taking their kids to practice. Some have changed their entire weekly schedule, incorporating Saturday or Thursday evening worship services to accommodate the commitments of their congregations.

I am personally conflicted when it comes to this topic. I’m a college football and basketball fan. I don’t have children old enough to participate in sports on Sunday, and because I’m a preacher’s kid I generally missed the NFL and other Sunday sports growing up because I was at church all day. I understand the pastor’s frustration of losing attendees to sports practice, but I also am not as committed to attendance as a marker of righteousness.

One pastor has gone too far.[6] has reported on an Evangelical Lutheran pastor who conducted a one-minute Sunday service because he wanted to see the kickoff of the 49ers playoff game.[7] (PLEASE go watch the entire one-minute service HERE) This priest even sported a 49ers t-shirt under his cassock which he revealed Superman-style at the conclusion of his “service.”

I hope that somewhere in the ELCA hierarchy this video causes a fuss. In my own Baptist context, though, where there is no true denominational oversight, such antics would probably go un-chastised so long as the congregation was onboard.[8]

I’m a fan of several sports teams, but to me this is unconscionable. To abandon a service because of a football game is ludicrous, especially in the age of the DVR. This pastor decided that his desires as a fan outweighed the needs of his congregation. They don’t need a perfunctory “ok, that’s great, you are” in the face of their sins being forgiven. They probably don’t “know enough about” the wine and servant hood themes of the New Testament. They certainly do not need a self-service buffet that makes a mockery of the Table. They should have gotten more than the afterthought blessing and a hasty exit.

As pastors we must understand that we are not just fans, just like we are not just members of the congregation. Even in Baptist churches where every member is a priest of the Church, the pastor must conduct his or her life with intentionality and awareness. Skipping out on one of the most visible signs of the congregation’s life to see a football kickoff demonstrates a pitiful understanding of the office of pastor and, more importantly, an unwillingness to sacrifice personal desires on the alter of God’s calling.

Let this be a negative example to us. Be a fan, cheer loudly, support your team. But in the name of Christ do your job. Fulfill your calling. Serve the people. Do not abandon them or their needs in worship and service because your team is in the playoffs. God’s calling is worth more than that, and demands our best.

[1] I think Scott Van Pelt of ESPN said this first, but I cannot find a source to attribute it to him.
[2] These pastors represent the opposite of the argument of article. They are the ones who give up their family relationships and very identities in service to their congregation.
[3] Shirl James Hoffman, “Sports Fanatics: How Christians have succumbed to the sports culture - and what might be done about it” Christianity Today 54 (2010): 20-28.
[4] Ruth Moon, “Game Changer: Pastors Blame Kids’ Sports for Attendance Dips” Christianity Today 57 (2013): 15; Megan Hill, “The Sunday Sports Dilemma”; Mark Householder, Benjamin J. Chase, and Ted Kluck, “Are Sports the Problem? Three Views” Christianity Today 54 (2010): 26-27.
[5] Benjamin J. Dueholm, “Unnecessary Roughness: the moral hazards of football” Christian Century 129 (2012): 22-25; John White, “The enduring problem of dualism: Christianity and sports” Implicit Religion 15 (2012): 225-241; Fabrice Delsahut, “Jeux sportifs et religion amerindienne” Studies in Religion 42 (2013): 3-22; Rush Otey, “Christian faith and sports” Journal for Preachers 32 (2009): 32-48.
[6] I’m sure that there are many, many pastors that take their fandom too far; this one just sent me over the edge today.
[8] Interestingly enough, the congregation in the video seems to be as excited about the short service as the priest.

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