It was the big leagues -- the Super Bowl of preaching.
For the first time ever, I spoke to adults in a church service. It was Wednesday, June 13, 2012, and despite the fact that there were only 30 adults in the building, it was a big deal.
As I prayed and labored over my message, I decided to skip over the fun topics about God's love, grace and purpose and instead go right for idolatry -- putting things above our relationship with God.
If you read my last blog (The Story Behind the Frame) you'll infer a reference to my perspective at this point. It was during this time of life that I was in the middle of my 'remove everything journalism' related stage along with my 'quit watching football forever' stage.
I stopped watching football for two full years because I felt it was an idol in my life. I sensed it was keeping me from being close to Jesus. The reality is that my self-imposed barrier to Jesus was still there regardless of if I spent three hours watching the New England Patriots or not. (Yes, hindsight is 20/20)
Still, as I got ready to speak on idolatry I had a compelling idea. I spoke in a Patriots jersey and talked about my own personal idolatry hoping to connect with those listening. (Don't mind the cheesy Instagram filter. It was 2012)
There I stood bashing old Matt and declaring the Patriots as the great cause for the wedge between myself and Jesus.
Little did I know that I was becoming spiritually reckless. I rebuked football in my life, I tried removing all my memories of the past, and I began to form a strong dislike for people. A great path to go down, right?
My perspective shifted a couple of years after I preached in that Wes Welker jersey. When I started to become a healthy Christian and a healthier leader, I realized that my "idol" could become my biggest asset.
With that said, football -- a simple game -- played a part in saving my ministry. Football helped me become a healthy church leader who now loves other people.
Here are a few ways football provides itself as a useful tool of ministry for me:
1. It is a wonderful ice breaker.
I'm introverted by nature with extroverted tendencies. To avoid the conversational bulkiness of small talk, I decided football would be my ice breaker. This is why everyone in our church knows I'm a Patriots fan, and it's why I openly talk trash people I barely know about their favorite sports teams.
It breaks the bumbling communication barrier that exists when you first meet someone. Before, with football removed, I was awkward. It wasn't natural for me to start a conversation. For three years I found myself having these types of conversations:
Me: Hey brother.
Brother A: Hey brother.
Me: How's everything going?
Brother A: Good. You?
Brother A: Well, God bless you brother.
For three years I had no friends because I failed to connect and establish my own personal identity. Trying to fit into some Christian/Pastor box, I thought I had to act a certain way -- I thought surely I couldn't love the old things I used to love.
It made me socially awkward, but football changed that.
2. It has created friendships.
I hated people. Now, I really enjoy them. After using football as my ice breaker, I've been able to create long-lasting friendships. As a matter of fact, three of my closest friends were all were discovered in a football context.
We didn't know each other, but we started playing fantasy football together. After 15 fun weeks of trash talking, we became friends. That trash talking turned into casual conversation. The casual conversation turned into dinner, which then led to hanging out.
I became friends with others who shared the same interests as me. I wasn't hiding my hobbies or identity anymore, like I had previously done. I found freedom knowing others shared my similar experiences.
3. It has led others to connect with Jesus.
Do you know how many people got connected with Jesus from me going door-to-door? Zero. Do you know how many people got connected with Jesus when I played or talked football with them? A bunch.
Evangelism in it's purest form is organic and not forced.
People today desire relationship. Relationships give us the ability to build influence to then speak truth into their lives. Football has provided this avenue. It's remarkable to say that more people have come to our church and have given their hearts to Jesus after playing flag football for an hour versus any deep theological one-on-one conversation.
Those three friends didn't serve Jesus when we became friends. Guess what? Now they do. It's all because someone with similar interests, who genuinely loved them, built relationship and spoke life into them.
Last week I spoke to adults on a Wednesday night -- four and a half years after that good ole' idolatry sermon.
This time around it was a little different, but my appearance looked similar. There I stood donning Patriots blue. No, I wasn't harping on my idol that was the New England Patriots. Instead, I was openly rooting them to victory.
So, what's your 'football' in this story?
What's the thing you have erased in your life because you categorized it as an idol? What if instead of an idol it became the most valuable ministry aspect in your life?
Everything at our disposal is a tool. The use of those tools is built by the one using them. Football isn't inherently bad. Cars aren't inherently bad. Money isn't inherently bad. How we use the tool gives it full context.
I wonder how many people need to hear your song, but you stopped learning and playing music because you thought the tool was bad. I wonder how many people need a an encouraging word, but you stopped using parts of social media because you thought the tool was bad. I wonder how many people need to read or listen to what encouragement you may share, but you stopped communicating because you thought the tool was bad.
My love for sports wasn't placed as a distraction from the devil to keep me away from Jesus. It was a love uniquely developed by God so I could share with others. It is a tool for others, a tool that you may also have buried on the inside.