What I Learned About Ministry Came From Football (Part I)

Football is BACK! I love this time of year. In some ways no better time exists: the soon-coming cooler temps, the excitement of a new school year, and the many new faces both in my classes at SEBTS and at our Young Pros ministry at Richland Creek Community Church, to name only a few. (Note: we had over 100 in young pros on a recent Sunday for the first time!) But something else happens to me (and to many more) this time of year. The marching bands, the pom poms, and the endless discussions have arrived concerning the great American sport: football. No sport turns my crank more than football. Around here we hope the Carolina Panthers will continue to win. I would be okay with the Crimson Tide winning another national title, and would like the Tar Heels to win another bowl game.

I know, for too many in America sports in general and football in particular has become idolatry. I’m pretty sure if you are a believer and you talk more about your sports team than Jesus in a week you are an idolator, in fact. Still, sports are not all bad (Paul talked of them). For me, football in particular takes me back to my own youth and the days of playing football.

Football has had an enduring affect on my life. Maybe it stems from the matching scars I have on both knees from surgical repairs brought about from my gridiron days. No doubt it comes in no small way from my having grown up in Alabama in the heyday of Bear Bryant-led Alabama football. My brief stint coaching our son Josh in football back in his freshman year in high school brought a lot of joy, although I think I will stick to teaching. One thing is certain: every fall I experience a strange phenomenon. About the time school begins, if I hear a marching band practice or see football players sweating in their two-a-days, I begin to twitch, and I feel an adrenaline rush. I find myself looking for someone to tackle, or at least find the urge to watch Remember the Titans one more time! Something about football has never left me.

Football stands as the ultimate team sport. It is, as one former NFL coach put it, one of the last places in America where men can be men and be praised for it. Few realms offer the opportunity to risk, sacrifice, sweat, hurt, push, think, and react. If you play the game as intended, it pushes your mind, your emotions, your body, all of you to excellence. No, playing football does not make you a man, but it provides a wonderful venue for the God-given attributes of a man to be developed.

Football gave me a lot. I was far from the all-star player on my team. But I have observed that being on a football team over four years taught me practical lessons about life that have helped me ever since. And, many of these same lessons have been especially helpful to me in ministry. Ministry is to team sports (like football) as painted lines are to a highway — not the same, but a pretty good parallel.

Alvin Reid Contributor
Senior Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry , SEBTS

Alvin L. “Doc” Reid serves as Senior Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two married children: Joshua and his wife Jacqueline, and Hannah and her husband Corey. Hannah and Corey recently welcomed Doc’s first grandchild, Lincoln James. He also serves as Pastor to Young Professionals at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin travels extensively speaking and has authored a number of books. His most recent is Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (B&H Academic).

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