This past Saturday, afternoon, much of Louisiana (and the nation) watched in collective, jaw-dropping amazement as LSU running back Leonard Fournette launched his Heisman Trophy campaign in style with a thorough and relentless drubbing of the Auburn Tiger defense. Sprinting, cutting, and outright barreling his way to 228 yards and 3 touchdowns, Fournette introduced himself to a nation of college football fans with resounding effect.
Chances are, you already knew that. But what you may not know is that I have something in common with the LSU star. Several years ago, when I was still in high school, I too made my way around the celebrated turf of Tiger Stadium, performing for thousands (okay, more like hundreds, or perhaps dozens) of adoring fans- as a part of the Louisiana All Star Marching Band. Yep, I marched right in step for all to see and blasted trumpet notes to the heavens for all to hear. Had you been there, you would have been hard pressed to determine which was the more awe-inspiring performance- Fournette’s against Auburn, or mine against, well, no one in particular.
Please, please…resist the urge to jump through your screen right now and ask for an autograph. I know it’s impressive, but still, I’ve been working really hard to remain humble all these years, and I’d appreciate your help in that.
Now obviously I’m being ridiculous here. No one will ever mistake me for Leonard Fournette- or for the last, least skilled player sitting on LSU’s bench on Saturday. I will never, ever touch the turf of Tiger Stadium in the context of SEC football competition. If I’m in the building, it will only be to cheer on our Tigers as a spectator. And unless you’re a budding high school football star who has stumbled across this article, I’m fairly certain the same is true of you.
Here’s why I bring this up- Because I’m convinced that too often, we conceive of Christian ministry- of the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our world- much like we do high level college football, or to be honest, high level anything. We understand that God, for whatever reason, uses people to accomplish His work in the world; most of us just don’t of those people as us.
Instead, we look for the next Christian “superstar”- the Jesus-following equivalent of Leonard Fournette- and remain content to sit in the “stands” and supportively (or at times, critically) spectate while others (pastors, missionaries, small group leaders, and the like) get it done. We read their books and blogs, listen to their sermons, and “follow” their exploits on social media- all the while remain idle in the face of our own God given gifts and opportunities.
The problem with this is that it isn’t the New Testament model for Christian ministry- not even close! In God’s family, there are no “superstars” and spectators; there are only men and women miraculously rescued by the grace of God in Jesus and now called and commissioned to join His work in the world. To draw on our football analogy, we are all invited- indeed, commanded by God- to suit up and get on the field. Everyone gets to play, and everyone is important in the process of advancing the Gospel in a high impact way. Even a quick rundown of Jesus’ original “inner circle”- a motley crew if there ever was one- reveals this to be true. God, through the Apostle Paul, speaks at length about this in Ephesians 4…
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (4:11-16, ESV)
I could pull numerous other New Testament texts to drive home this point, but I think at this point, it’s pretty clear- In the “stadium” of this world, there are no stands; there is only a “playing field,” which in reality is much more like a battlefield, in which all of us are called to stand and contend for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the souls of men and women.
It is certainly true that God has wired each of us uniquely to play a unique role in that process, and has even given some, like myself, the responsibilities of a “player-coach” who leads others in a recognized way in the process. But even for these special assignments, the primary purpose in view is the multiplication of ministry in the entirety of God’s church, and ultimately the multiplication of followers of Jesus Christ.
My question for you today is simple and straightforward- Are you “in the game” to which God has called all of His people, or have you been content to “sit in the stands” and cheer on your favorite Christian “superstars”? My hope and prayer for you is that you will see and seize the massive potential which God has embedded in you in Jesus Christ, and charge forward in faith and obedience into the opportunities He has placed before you to help people follow Him. That’s how the “game” of God’s Gospel advance- which is really no “game at all, right?- is won.