Thursday, May 7, 2015

On Fires and Football, or What Really Matters in Your Ministry?

Take a moment to examine the above photo. Do you see what's really happening?

There's a football game. And a fire. Simultaneously, and in close proximity. And it's not a fake or posed. Here's what's happening, from this post at
Spectators divide their attention as the Mount Hermon High School football team in Massachusetts hosts Deerfield Academy during a structure fire in the Mount Hermon science building on November 24, 1965. The science building was destroyed, and Mount Hermon lost the football game, ending a two-year-long winning streak.
What I find so fascinating is the spectators' willingness to ignore the clear danger and urgency of the volatile situation right next to them in order to stay focused on the game.

I wonder how often fire-and-football situations happen for our church ministries.

Are we focused on what really matters?

We can often focus on church program attendance or events. But what about underfunded local schools, racial and economic disparity, destruction and exploitation of creation, systemic abandonment of children and youth, lack of unity between church leaders, dissolving marriages, or the countless people in neighborhoods who don't know Jesus and will never attend our church programs?

In youth ministry, we may spend our time crafting the perfect game, the ideal video for our talk, or the well-crafted logo for our next summer camp flyer. But what about the teens in public schools who don't have an advocate or mentor in their life? What about the fearful youth struggling to find a place to belong due to same-sex attraction? What is being done about the homeless teens, the young women and men manipulated into sex trafficking, or the lonely emerging adults trying to find any sense of belonging and community?

It's not that programs don't matter. They have their place, just like football. But when there's an urgent situation--a fire--it can seem a bit trivial to focus on the football game in front of us. It's a question of values--what is important to us enough to draw our focus? Sometimes we need to pause the football game in order to address the fire.

We can examine our actual ministry values based on where we invest our time, attention, relationships, and money. What does your weekly schedule look like? What draws the majority of your attention? How much time is spent with actual real-life people, shepherding and discipling them in the ways of Jesus? What ministry tasks preoccupy your thoughts, conversations, and prayers? Where do your day-dreams lead? Examining our values helps us discern between the fire and the football, the life-and-death important stuff and the take-it-or-leave-it stuff.

What are the football games in your church? What are the fires in your community, your city? What do you think matters most for your church or ministry? What is taking the majority of your attention each week? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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