“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
I don’t know if this photograph is real or photoshopped, but I do know that the situation in our churches make that photograph plausible. The South is no longer the “Bible Belt.” It is the College Football Belt. But, the idolatry of sports (especially college football) pervades the Church across America. I came to this conclusion back in 2012 when we moved to Warner Robins, Georgia.
Every new Air Force assignment for me requires a move to a new location and that means we have to find a new church wherever we move. One Sunday in November 2012 we visited a church in Warner Robins. The song portion of the worship service was typical of what I had seen all over the country: people showing up late, men standing in the sanctuary with their arms crossed or with hands in pockets, women holding coffee cups, hardly anyone singing.
I tried to ignore them. I was there to worship God, but it does put a damper on your attitude of worship when your supposed brothers and sisters do not appear to be as enthusiastic about worshipping Jesus as you are. (I am not saying this in self-righteousness. I am simply describing that the outward posture of the people in that church demonstrated a lack of zeal for worship.) Anyway, I wanted to worship God. I was disappointed when the obligatory three songs were over and we were told to be seated.
Then the pastor took the stage.
That’s when the congregation appeared to be more animated. The silence from the congregation when we sang worship songs was erased by “cat calls,” jeers, whistles, and the random “Roll Tide!” from the crowd. You see, this Georgia pastor just happened to be a ‘Bama fan, and that Sunday just happened to be the day after Texas A&M defeated Alabama 29-24. The congregation was giving the pastor quite a ribbing because his team lost.
The pastor then spent 15-20 minutes of his sermon time talking about the game and college football. Whereas before, the congregation appeared bored and uninterested to be there, they now came alive.
What motivated them? The Almighty, Infinite God? No, not hardly. College football motivated them. The difference in the congregation was stark. They had more passion for Saturday afternoons than for Sunday mornings.
And this difference in passions occurred in church no less! So, perhaps you can understand why I harp on this idolatry in the Church. I see more “Roll Tides” and “War Eagles” and “Go Dawgs” from Christians in my Facebook newsfeed than I do songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs.
I do not single out anyone to tell them they have a sports idolatry. I simply speak in general terms to address the issue, hoping people will honestly evaluate themselves. I get a lot of push-back, though. No one seems to have a problem, yet nothing changes in the Church. I love my brothers and sisters. I know that most of them are sincere in their faith and do not want to worship idols. I have to trust that they are being honest with themselves and with God.
Meanwhile, my Facebook newsfeed continues to be filled with people’s sports passions.
In the Scripture above, Jesus spoke to a multitude of people about the cost of discipleship. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we are to be so devoted to Him that our passion for other things is to seem like hatred in comparison. Discipleship requires sacrifice, following Jesus, laying down our lives, our passions for the sake of the Gospel.
The disciple of Jesus demonstrates his passion by bearing his cross. As disciples of Christ, perhaps one of the things we need to nail to the cross is our passion for college football.