October 1997, Wichita, Kansas
At the start of a high school football game, the quarterback stopped barking signals, took the ball, and yelled out that he had "the wrong football." It wasn't the game ball, he said, but a practice ball. His coach called back, "Hey, I've got the right ball over here." Very calmly, the quarterback started walking over to his coach to exchange the balls. As he walked past the line of scrimmage, he took off, running full speed into the end zone. The touchdown counted. from Spanning the World by Len Berman
Very sneaky - as a long time game player, I love it when someone uses misdirection & downright trickiness while not breaking the rules to make an amazing play. (One of the pleasures of learning a new board game is watching good players stretch the game in interesting ways.)
But that "play", such as it is, works only one time. And probably just for one team - I can imagine high school coaches all over America having nightmares about it being pulled on their team... and then lecturing their defense about "keeping your eye on the ball."
So, after the celebrating was done, the scoring team still had to kick off & defend their end zone. On the next set of offensive downs, this Kansas high school team still had to do the basics: blocking, running, passing... they had to play the rest of the game.
I think that sometimes in church we want a "trick play"... whether that is changing the name of the church or 40 Days of Purpose or "going back to the good 'ol days". We want to figure out what one event (a block party? Vacation Bible School? a capital campaign?) will kick the church into gear... what one thing will shoot us squarely into "the center of God's will."
But just like the football team, these "trick plays" are only good for one score - not for an entire game. You can't build a season on trick plays - that only happens when you play straight up football. In church terms, that only happens when the church lives out the five purposes:
- evangelism (we share the truth about Jesus Christ & His incredible grace)
- discipleship (we train people to grow with God in every area of their lives)
- fellowship (we build an authentic community of Christ followers that is more than just a club for people not going to hell)
- ministry (we serve people inside and outside the church)
- worship (we point to the goodness & greatness of God 24/7 with our praise & service)
No surprise here, but that's true for individuals as well.
The main reason churches have a "trick play" mentality is that each of us secretly longs for one event (Promise Keepers? Women of Faith? Passion? a revival service? a retreat?) to "fix" everything in our hearts & minds, rather than trusting what God said in Philippians 1:6 (NLT):
I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.
No matter how long it takes - or what we have to go through to get there. He's going to CONTINUE working... which implies that "winning the game" of the Christian life is a process, not an event.
So, enjoy the trick plays - they're a hoot - but remember that you and me and the churches we're a part of have to do this thing 10 yards at a time. And we've got a Coach who won't stop until we've won.
A version of this post originally appeared in The Grapevine of NewLife Community Church back in November of 2005.