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February 21, 2008

Comments

Great post, Alex.

One principle for those in the church to to consider might be to stop using personal athleticism as a de facto job requirement for modern church leaders and pastors. (This sounds like it will be a personal diatribe of bitterness... it's not, I promise.)

1) When was the last time you saw a non-athletic youth leader (male or female)? If you are unfamiliar, check out some websites for large churches, or better yet, check out any "Christian youth camp recruiting day" at a major university. It seems we demand "alpha male" (or female) status in our youth leaders, and then we wonder why the ministry just doesn't connect with the kids who aren't "fit" (physically, emotionally, socially, etc.) Maybe that's at the root of the emotional crisis associated with many "overweight" or "shy" or "awkward" teens... they're not even accepted at their own church or youth group!

2) When was the last time you saw a non-athletic lead pastor? And, in this category, hair is key. It's all good and fine for the "radical youth dude" (with ripped abs and 0% bodyfat) to shave his head as a result of losing a bet to the junior high boys, but the senior pastor? Nope. Fella needs to be fit and have nice hair (and good teeth wouldn't hurt either.) I know, I know, "he's a model of good stewardship of the gifts that God has given him." True, and those crunches and laps are to be admired. But what about the pastor with diabetes (also a gift from God), or no hair (gift from God), or low personal fitness levels (perhaps as a result of all that theological training? or maybe just another gift from God).

My point: we might be growing the cult of athleticism right from within our own walls of worship. I am not saying it is intentional, but it might just be worse if it's unintentional. If we don't know we have a problem, we are less likely to change. Which overweight-shy-awkward teen is going to have the courage to speak up about what they are really feeling if it comes from their own church? If we don't see it, and those most hurt by it are the least likely to speak up, how will we ever smash these idols? Like Alex said, we can tear down some idols that we already have. And, by God's grace, we can run a different kind of race for our culture:

"Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

Alex,

Great article, as usual.

I wonder if your thoughts enable us to look at sports/athletes as a window on how our society (and our churches) value celebrity. You use the example of athletes but the same could be said for actors/actresses (like the Baldwin brother that speaks at crusades), musicians (Bono, half of the country music industry) or even authors (remember Anne Rice's conversion a few years ago). I'm certainly not arguing that these folks are undeserving of their platform or are somehow unqualified to speak on spiritual issues but I wonder if we, as evangelicals (predominantly), are using their conversions as examples of "our faith must be credible if famous, talented people believe it too." What actually determines credibility?

We even take the opposite approach and try to turn our pastors or other leaders in the church into celebrities, to reverse-engineer some of the famous-yet-spiritual ethos that Christian athletes, musicians and other public figures seem to have. I'm reminded of Clay's sermon from 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 last Sunday: Was Lance Berkman crucified for you? Have you been baptized into Bono?

I say all of this as an Astros fan who still remembers not only the Lidge/Pujols moment but also game 6 of the 1986 NLCS.

Eric

Joel - Thos are great thoughts. I have reflected on them several times since you wrote them. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Eric - Thanks for the application to Christ's death and our baptism. That puts it in a much better way than I could have. As April rolls around, I'll have to remind myself of that perspective often.

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