Playing Church on different teams – Pastor Thoughts

When I was in grade school there were three things that filled my extra-curricular hours: church, music and sports. I never felt like I an odd kid, in fact I moved pretty easily through social groups from the band geeks, to the video game nerds, to the Young Life group (evangelical club at school), to the jocks. But I knew that I lived an odd extra-curricular life. I don’t recall anyone else playing in the band and playing varsity sports. 

It isn’t just that music and sports attract different sorts of people, they demand teamwork in very different ways. It can be challenging to go from after-school basketball practice to evening orchestra rehearsal.

I started playing in an orchestra in grade 4 and continued through to grade 12. I played in school band from grade 7 to grade 12, then found a semi-professional community band to join through my university years. I also played in a variety of church groups during that time. There is something incredible about playing music in ensembles like that, when all the parts fit seamlessly together to make a unified and beautiful sound, there is nothing like it.

In Junior High, I played basketball and then switched to football in Senior High. (I am sure no one is surprised I played football.)

As I said, sports and music teach teamwork in important ways. There is a similar beauty of a perfectly executed pass and goal to that perfectly in tune chord.

And though I managed to become a fairly accomplished cellist and euphonium player while also being a good basketball and football player, I didn’t really fit either mould. But on some level I usually played the part of musician better than that of athlete. In fact, I kind of played sports like I played music. Playing in orchestra and band teaches you how to intensely focus on what you are doing in the moment and how that fits in with every other part, all while staying in time and following the director.

It was a skill I could bring to sports. When the whistle blew, I could summon an intense focus and awareness of what I was doing and what my teammates were doing. I think that is what allowed me to play on the top basketball and football teams at my school. But it was also something that infuriated my coaches, because they didn’t get what I was doing.

During an orchestra rehearsal, if you play your part correctly, you might be able to get in a few minutes of cracking jokes with your seatmate while the director rehearses the 2nd violins again. As long as we were quiet enough, the director didn’t care. But goofing off between repetitions on the football field infuriates coaches to no end. There is a culture and expectation of being constantly engaged. And in football, there is an expectation of acting like an angry meathead; I mean bringing emotional intensity, during games.

“Angry meathead” was not my style. So while it was a very difficult decision, I choose to turn down a number of offers to play university football after high school. I think a part of me knew that I just didn’t have the temperament to keep playing football.

Besides, even while I dreamed of one day playing in the CFL during those years, it was usually in the context of being a football-playing pastor.

Now, what does this all have to do with church?

Well, coming together as a community of faith is also a kind of teamwork. There are times where a certain emotional intensity is required, as we care for and grieve with those who are suffering or mourning, as we rejoice and celebrate with those who are happy and joyous. There are other times when we need to be in tune with one another, all playing the same song–in worship, in serving our community and in discerning God’s call for us.

There are times when we are working toward a common goal over the long-term, like winning a championship or undertaking a large project.

There are other times when we are simply joining together to make a beautiful sound of praise in the moment, which disappears as quickly as it arrives, but transforms us forever.

And there are times when being together in community creates moments of beauty and awe, allowing us to see something more incredible than we could ever have imagined.

It is clear that there are many challenges in front of us, probably more challenges needing to be dealt with imminently than the Church has faced in a long time.

But as we move into the future, there is also hope to be found in working together. Recognizing that as we come together and strive for the common purpose of following God’s call, the things we can do are by no means small. Instead, the work has already begun and, despite all we have been through these past few years, God has been working through us. The ministry we have already been doing shows that, together and with God’s leading, we will make it through.

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