Today’s Blog is part 4 of a 6-part Blog Series called “Reopening Christianity: 5 Questions Every Pastor Must Answer.” This series is intended to challenge pastors by asking five challenging questions that will help spur their churches to become greater collective expressions of Jesus Christ. Miss prior blogs or want to read the next ones in this series? Find them at this link. Questions 1-5 go live January 11-15, 2021.
Question 3: Pastor, Are you Playing Offense or Defense?
As a huge football fan, it is so easy to be an armchair quarterback, especially when your favorite football team is the Cleveland Browns. There’s just a lot to question! An armchair quarterback is someone who doesn’t participate in the action but still makes judgments about it. I’ve never played football, so the fact that I would have really strong opinions about the way in which a football team should be run is a little bit ridiculous.
But one of the things that I can’t stand as a fan is when a football team is ahead, rather than continuing with the game plan and the strategy that allowed them to get ahead in the first place, they change to a far less aggressive strategy. On defense, many teams when they are ahead will shrink back into what’s known as a “prevent defense.” The idea is to prevent the offense from making the really big play. They will allow the offense to make little plays and move the ball down the field. A major aim of the prevent defense is to let the clock run out.
The problem with this is that by allowing a lot of these little plays, the offense more easily finds themselves in scoring range.
And I don’t know if it’s just me and the games that I watch, but it feels like the prevent defense doesn’t work. Famous football coach and icon John Madden once said, “The only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” My guess is we could go back and forth on the merit of this defense strategy in football, but as we look to reopen Christianity, I believe that churches as a whole have been playing too much prevent defense.
Collectively the church has been losing ground. Not only are numbers declining in all aspects of Christianity, but we are quickly losing our voice and influence. Crisis becomes an accelerator and our collective lack or urgency, our collective taking the foot off of the pedal, was greatly exposed in 2020. How is this possible not only with the Good News of Jesus in us but also His Spirit inside of us? What can we do?
The reason we cannot simply play defense and let status quo happen is because God’s been too good to us. We don’t do things and accomplish things in this world because we have to, but because we want to.
There are two main reasons that churches struggle to play offense well:
We don’t know how to play offense.
It’s one thing to know we are called to contribute, which is what the last question reminded us of, but it’s another to know how to contribute. I have heard it said that less than 10% of the people that sit in our churches know their spiritual gifts. As pastors and church leaders, we need to continue to preach and teach on how to practically help our people discover their gifts and use their gifts.
We can get better at this from an individual expression, but also collectively as well. God has designed the church to be His expression in this world. And not all churches ought to look the same. Just as we need to help our people discover their God-given gifts, it would be wise to look at the leadership of the church and the community to which you are called to find what your collective expression, or gifts, are.
There have been many books written on what types of churches are best, but in my humble opinion, I believe that all types of churches are needed. We need house churches (especially in a world filled with online church) and we need small churches and we need megachurches. We need charismatic churches and we need traditional, liturgical churches. We need them all. God is in them all. Let’s stop spending our time fighting about what types and styles of church are needed, and realize that God has created all of us as pastors and leaders differently. The goal is to match the gifts of your church to the community in which you are called. Some communities need a different type or style of church than other communities.
But no matter what type or style or size of church you become, it is the church’s job to be the expression of Jesus in this world. Use whatever creative, innovative or old-fashioned ways that are relevant to the culture that we live in. But use them strategically and wisely, because the time is now. And truthfully, rather than finding time arguing over which type, or style of church is best, or in the future, about whether online church is “real” or not, let’s appreciate one another and our differences and admit that we need each other for God to bring His kingdom work to fruition here.
2. We lose urgency.
2020 has shown that whatever control any of us thought we’ve had has been completely bogus. The world shut down over a virus that no one could physically see. Businesses closed, jobs were lost, loved ones sick, and many of us were quarantined. Whatever semblance or thought of control we had was gone.
We are not in control. God has an ultimate plan. His desire is that all would be saved. And He reminds us in Scripture over and over again that He will be coming back for us. When? Many have tried to guess, and many have failed. But Jesus says it’s soon. There’s an urgency to which 2020 has brought. If Jesus is really God, and if He really is coming back, and if I’m truly not in control, then I cannot wait any longer. I’ve got to go now.
Hockey is a sport I know even less about than football. But I’m intrigued by the strategy of pulling the goalie. When a team is losing near the end of the game, they will pull their goalie from their own net to go on attack mode. They get an advantage with an extra player. The goalie stops playing defense and the team focuses all of their energy on offense. There’s urgency. The time is short.
We have to live with a sense of urgency. Sometimes in the name of prosperity and comfort and progress, we’ve taken our eyes off of the fact that Jesus is returning and that we are ultimately citizens in heaven. In a world filled with very impressive earthly kingdoms, it’s hard to keep our eyes on the eternal kingdom.
When we live with a sense of urgency and a Kingdom perspective, we will not sit back and just let status quo happen. We will pull the goalie and think strategically about how we can be the best offense in the time that’s left. It’s time for Christians and the church to be filled with people playing offense.
So pastor, what strategic ways are you planning to play offense this year?
Here are the wrong defensive questions that many churches are asking right now:
- When can we meet again?
- Will we meet our budget?
- How can the government get us out of this?
When the early church faced persecution in the book of Acts, N.T. Wright’s latest book God and the Pandemic shows us that rather than the church looking to their own interests, simply playing defense, they asked three questions that formed their offensive strategy:
- Who will be at risk?
- How can we help?
- Who should we send?[i]
What questions are you and your team asking? Why this is utterly important, right here, and right now is because of this simple fact: One result of 2020 is that the mission field in America and the world has never been as large as it is right now. The amount of unchurched people that we are called to reach with the Good News of Jesus just skyrocketed. This is the great opportunity that is open and available to all churches, but will be won by the churches who pull the goalie and stop playing prevent defense.
As we think about contribution and playing offense, many of us will want to just jump up and move. It’s important to remember though that our greatest offense we will play in this world is not through our actions, but God working through us. Anytime I try to play offense on my own strength, eventually I fall short.
The truth is that God can do more in one second than any of us can do in an entire lifetime.
And while we are called to use our gifts in this world, there is a spiritual battle going on in this world right now. The greatest weapons of offense that we have are God’s Word and prayer.
Many people want to change the world by the things that they do, but your greatest offense you can bring and contribution you can make is not something that you do, but someone that you can bring. His name is Jesus. Rather than putting all of our emphasis on doing great things for God, let’s place even more emphasis on simply being with Him and allowing His presence and His power to work through us.
One final point when it comes to playing offense. We have been armed and equipped with God’s power inside of us. And when God is for us, who can be against us? In the economy of God, even the weapons that have been formed to be used against us, in the hands of our God are powerful weapons of offense for us.
Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s play some offense.
Besides, offense is more fun anyway.
So pastor, are you playing offense or defense?
Question 4 goes live tomorrow, January 14th, 2021!
While these blogs are written specifically for pastors and church leaders, we have an eBook Reopening Christianity and small group resources available for individuals at your church right here. Many small groups and churches have found this to be a powerful small group or church-wide study. To inquire about using this as a sermon series and for bulk rates on the ebook, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Bannister, Andy. “N.T. Wright: The Pandemic Should Make us Humble—and Relentlessly Practical.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/god-pandemic-nt-wright-coronavirus-aftermath.html. 3 August 2020. Web. 2 January 2021.