I have been knocking around ideas on ways to explain what Christianity is in a very practical sense. Is it a religion? Is it a relationship? Is it a way of life? There are many ways to explain and describe what Christianity is, and one way is with an analogy to football. Christianity is just like football, but there are many different types of football. There is street ball with the neighborhood kids, peewee league, middle school and high school, college, and then the most prestigious form of football, the NFL.
So what kind of football is Christianity like? Of all the options, the best way to understand Christianity in a practical sense is neighborhood street football. likewise, the worst way to understand Christianity is the NFL model.
When a pick up game of football is being formed, it takes a few neighborhood kids going around and rounding up other neighborhood kids to come out and play. The kids come together, form teams based on skills and abilities and then start playing. And with street ball, it doesn’t really matter if you aren’t all that good yet, you still get to play and hopefully improve with the more you play.
The benefits of street ball are tremendous for the kids, even if they are unaware of it. They are getting physical exercise as well as gaining skills in organization, social interaction, planning, and most of all getting better at the sport of football.
Street ball has no spectators, no coaches, no uniforms, no budgets, no salaries, no stadiums, and no contracts. Yet the game of football is organized and played at a local level and everyone involved is playing, forming friendships, and getting better at the sport.
How is this like Christianity?
Christianity, at its core, is a way of life that is based completely on faith in one person, Jesus Christ. It is a way of living, loving, and serving others that is based on the conclusion that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was raised back to life three days later, appeared to hundreds, and is promised to return to earth one day.
When a person puts their faith and trust in Jesus by believing that he was truly raised from the dead and declaring him as Lord (in modern terms, as CEO), they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are forever equipped with gifts and abilities meant to serve other people.
So back to street ball. Just like street ball is about people in a local area getting together to all play the sport of football, Christianity is all about believers in a local area getting together to use their gifts and abilities to serve other people. And like street ball, every single person has a role to play, nobody is left on the sidelines to be a spectator.
And just like street ball, the role you have as a Christian is based on your unique gifts and abilities. God has equipped all of us with specific gifts so that Christians function as one team, or as the New Testament puts it, one body. And the great thing is, you don’t have to be an expert or a professional to use your gift to serve people, there is room to grow and learn as you serve others.
Why not the NFL?
Whereas street ball is a locally organized game of football where every person plays the sport and nobody is left to be a spectator, the NFL is 99% spectators and only 1% actually playing the sport. And the 1% are professionals who are leaps and bounds better at football than the 99% who just watch.
Don’t get me wrong, the 99% who just watch love the sport of football. They discuss it with their friends and coworkers, watch the games as often as they can, listen to commentary from critics, and study the teams that they follow to know all the details of what is happening with their favorite players. There is just one thing lacking…they never actually play the sport of football for themselves.
Does this sound familiar to some forms of Christianity that you have witnessed? Much of Christianity is organized like the NFL, not like street ball. We have our 1% professional Christians who are the only ones really “playing the game” while the 99% sit back and watch, study, critique, and praise the 1% and how good (or bad) they are at what they do.
And just like the 99% who love football, the 99% who are spectator Christians love Jesus in the same way. They just don’t know that they are suppose to jump out of the stands, throw on some pads and a helmet, and get in the game.
They are similar in their approach to getting people involved as well. They both invite people to come with them to watch the 1% who are doing the work. Compare this with the street ball method of inviting people to actively be a part of the game.
So the NFL model tries to get more spectators whereas the street ball model tries to get more players.
What to do?
It simply takes a little introspection. Ask the question, is my form of Christianity more like the NFL model? Am I just a spectator who loves to break down and analyze the work that the “professionals” are doing? Am I just a consumer going to the “games” trying to get something from watching the professionals?
Or am I actively using my gifts and abilities to serve and love others. Am I engaging in conversations that will lift others up and help lead them to Christ? Basically, am I in the game or on the sidelines?
If we are going to really impact our communities and reach them with the gospel, the only effective way this will be accomplished is the street ball model of Christianity. So stop inviting people to watch the NFL with you and start playing some street ball with the other neighborhood kids.