Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday Sports Y.A.P.: Where to fight the battles

During my first few Sundays serving a congregation, I learned the importance of the Green Bay Packers.

I discovered within the first few months in my congregation that if the service time came close to kick off, people would get up and leave to go watch the Packers. It didn't matter what was on the church schedule, Bible study, coffee hour, a fellowship event, or worship. I remember one Sunday in the middle of Holy Communion, someone said "Packer game," and about 5-10 people got up to leave. I was caught off guard, yet wanted to learn about this cultural dynamic. I came to admire that people didn't blow off church completely before a Packer game, which would have been easy to do.

Any pastor should be aware of local culture, which can include any way that people gather and invest their time in family, friends, hobbies, vocation, or in gatherings of people. Any pastor who believes they can facilitate community by attacking what people do outside church, they are fooling themselves.

I walked around Wisconsin towns and learned about the extent of Packer culture. I saw a Packer Jeep, Packer riding lawn mowers, pastors who owned Packer stoles, the Packer Pope and the coup de grace, for when a Packer fan leaves this world--the Packer casket. I shouldn't have been surprised that people would leave during Communion for a Packer game.

I've been known on occasion to elevate a sporting contest on my priority list. Who is to say where something belongs on a priority list? We all have our split allegiances. The question becomes, what is really under my control? In a congregational community I feel it's my responsibility that people get the most out of their time investment. I can control meetings starting and ending on time. My sermon can be well-prepared and get to the point. I can offer something of value for daily living when I teach. I can be thankful when people invest their time. I can offer encouragement for people in their toils. The greatest battle is often in myself. It's easier to blame split allegiances, but I have just as many as the next person.

Why do people give their allegiance to a sporting event or sports team? If you go to a sporting event, there's something liturgical about it...Go! Seahawks! Go! Huskies! Go! Packers! Each side of the stadium has their role. Sometimes the congregation at the stadium will break into song.

The brilliance of some theologians and missionaries is that they recognized that God is already at work in their communities, and it's not the preacher/missionary/theologian's responsibility to bring God to a particular location, but recognize the places where God is already at work. Sometimes that might even be in a stadium.

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