In addition to the beautiful leaves and crisp air that accompany a Maryland fall, one of the things I love most about this time of year is the inauguration of football season. This season, however, hasn't started off very well. I find myself typing these words the morning after my team's humiliating opening game loss to Alabama. A 4 point favorite going in, the Clemson Tigers looked more like the Clemson Cub Scouts. For the next several weeks I am sure I will be frequently reminded of this sad example of a football game by Crimson Tide friends of mine with whom I shared a vibrant back-and-forth "whos gonna beat who" conversation before the game. Turns out, "trash talk" isn't such a great idea after all.
Anyone who watched this game would conclude that the majority of the blame for this loss is to be placed on an inexperienced offensive line. Clemson is currently picked to win their conference, have a strong defense, and the best quarterback in the ACC, but none of that mattered last night. And as I continue to think about this loss, I see a sharp and clear parallel to what is happening in many churches.
The offensive line simply failed last night, and when that happens, the effects eventually trickle over to every other area of the team. Although offensive lineman get little attention when things are going well in a game, their role is crucial. If they don't block for the QB and other ball carriers, it cripples the ability of the offense to move the chains. Consequently, their lack of blocking becomes the cause of short "3 and out" drives that move all the playing time to the defense. Over time, this wears down the defense, thereby further weakening their ablity to stop the opposing team. This is precisely the scenario that occurred last night.
As I consult with churches, particularly when they are in the pastor search phase, it becomes apparent that most feel all that ails them will be solved if they can only find "the right man to lead us." I think I've found a new term for this sentiment: "Star Quarterback syndrome." It's what Clemson had going into last night's game, and it cost them a humiliating defeat. Churches that don't wake up from this deluson will face similar and more serious defeat at the hands of the enemy.
The answer to this dillemma is for churches to realize that Billy Graham himself can't make a difference in a church where, as Paul would put it, all the parts of the body aren't working together. (1 Corinthians 12:11-13) Having a "star quarterback" in the pulpit will not help the church if the linemen, defensive ends, special teams, and even the managers and trainers are not functioning within their roles in the way God intended. Such is the reason we encourage churches to utilize the interim period to shore up in weak areas before they install a new pastor.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do with a game such as that played last night is simply forget about it. Other times, its good to learn from it. Cullen Harper can't win a football game without the rest of his team, and a "star" pastor can't fix a dysfunctional church all by himself. The members of the body have to take responsibility for their own dysfuncation, repent, and begin to function as the body Christ has called them to be.
I hope Clemson can pull themselves together and have a good season. But more than this, I pray that our churches will truly be the local body of Christ so that others will see Jesus in them.