Fall is quickly approaching, but prior to the changing of the leaves on the trees will come Friday night lights.  If the Christian life is the pursuit of God— countless families are on a relentless pursuit of football.  Obsession is an understatement.  Fanaticism is normal.  The sport of American football is perhaps America’s leading false god.  Some 36.2 million children in America play organized sports.  Out of that number, approximately 1.2 million boys play organized football in America.  The game is played by young children in recreational leagues, middle and high school, college, and if you’re good enough—you can suit up and play on the Lord’s Day.

In case you’re wondering, I have no axe to grind when it comes to the game of football.  I enjoy the game itself and I’m coaching my son’s flag football team this season.  I was recently asked about this very issue in a pastoral questions and answers session, so I thought an article would enable a more full response. I am concerned with how passionate people can become over a game—far more so than they are about the gospel and their service for the Lord.  When 7 of the 10 Commandments are frequently broken on an average NFL game—we should take note.  Consider the way football changes the lives of so many people throughout America—even those within the church who profess to be children of God.

Football Determines Schedules

In many towns throughout history, athletic leagues looked to the calendar of the churches in town prior to organizing their events so that they would not overlap plans and regular worship schedules of the local church.  Today, local churches are looking to the athletic leagues as they plan their yearly schedule to avoid overlap with the local football or baseball teams.  In today’s culture—stadiums are overflowing while churches are empty.  Many families have replaced the worship of God with the worship of football.  In many ways, athletics as a whole has become an idol.  Football has emerged as perhaps the largest false god among the group.

Not only the schedule of the local church, but football drives the schedule of the family who has children who participate in the game of football.  Consider how many things are shuffled around to cater to the football schedule.  In many cases, families are brought to a crossroads decision—will “little Johnny” go to church on Wednesday with the rest of our family or will he go to football practice or a game at the local school?  Will “little Susie” attend the church’s gathering or the football game as a cheerleader?  These are real decisions that are being determined on a regular basis by professing Christians.  Such decisions are vital and will have a lasting impact on the spiritual lives of children and families.

Football is the Highlight of Sunday

After a long week of football practices, games, and maybe one church service on Sunday morning—the average evangelical family makes their way to the lunch table.  Typically, the family gathers for the meal with the roar of the first of many NFL games on Sunday as the familiar background to the conversation.  Conversation around the table is broken up as the father points out the long touchdown pass to the wide receiver.  This may not be true of all evangelical families, but in the American south—this is quite the normal Sunday for Christian families (see David Platt’s vivid description).

Following lunch, the men of the house typically gather in the living room where they binge on every possible NFL game throughout the day.  They flip back and forth through various different channels to keep up with the latest scores, the latest standings, and eventually land on ESPN late in the day before the evening games begin.  In many cases, the family is too tired from a busy week to attend church, so they agree to rest and enjoy family time which involves more games in the evening.  However, they know that Monday is coming—so they agree to get to bed before midnight in order to be rested for a long day of work followed by Monday night football.

When you view a list of the most viewed television shows from history, 19 out of the top 20 are football games.  Specifically—the Super Bowl.  What day are those games played?  Sunday.  It also happens to be one of the least attended worship gatherings for churches across the nation.

Football Confuses Priorities in Life

What is the purpose of Sunday?  Certainly the Christian and the non-Christian would give different answers to this question, but how is that question lived out in life?  Why is the Christian family more consumed with football than Jesus—especially on the Lord’s Day?  This is a cutting question that must be addressed individually.  One answer will not suffice to cover the entire population of Christian football families needless to say.  However, anytime something is out of balance in life—whatever is causing the imbalance will likely confuse the priorities of children who are watching and playing.

I was recently made aware that a local church not far from where I serve organized an entire service around the beginning of football season—complete with a football theme.  A football celebrity was invited to speak, the pulpit was draped with his jersey, and the entire service was about overcoming trials and never giving up.  The Word of God was replaced with the word of a celebrity.  Churches today are frequently inviting players, coaches, and team chaplains to speak in church services.  After all—it draws a crowd!  This is one more clear mark of a downgrade in evangelicalism.

Christian children need the gospel more than football.  No amount of physical discipline on the football field can replace the spiritual discipline of deep rooted gospel discipleship, preaching, and teaching.  No amount of physical perseverance in life can replace the need for spiritual perseverance in the gospel.

When fathers spend a large amount of time and large sums of money on football, equipment, tickets to the game, tailgating expenses, and spend very little energy in the body life of the church—such a testimony speaks volumes about the god the father worships.  Either God is perceived as boring and irrelevant or the children of the family are left to discern if their father is actually worshipping the god of football rather than the God of holy Scripture.

Israel had to be warned over and over again about bowing to the false god of Baʿal.  American Christians in our day must be warned about bowing to the false god of football.  Eric Liddell may not have been a football player, but he did run fast.  Priorities matter.  Character matters.  In short—God matters.  The gospel is essential.  It is my prayer that you will make gospel-focused decisions as you approach the upcoming football season.  Charles Spurgeon said the following in a sermon in 1863:

O ye sons of men, think not that God is blind. He can perceive the idols in your hearts; He understands what be the secret things that your souls lust after; He searches your heart, He tries your reins; beware lest He find you sacrificing to strange gods, for His anger will smoke against you, and His jealousy will be stirred. O ye that worship not God, the God of Israel, who give Him not dominion over your whole soul, and live not to His honor, repent ye of your idolatry, seek mercy through the blood of Jesus, and provoke not the Lord to jealousy any more. [1]


1. Charles Spurgeon, “A Jealous God” — Sermon 502, March 29, 1863.

 

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