We’re in the middle of football season, and die-hard fans find the day after game-day directly linked to what happened on the playing field. When I was a boy, I had a small transistor radio that was among my prized possessions. Practically every Saturday autumn afternoon found me captivated by the voice of Larry Munson, legendary voice of the Georgia Bulldogs. And, yes, how I felt on Sunday directly correlated to what happened on Sunday.
It’s funny about ball teams and their fans. I know a fellow I’ll call “Mark.” Mark is a Georgia Bulldog fan, a Democrat, and a Methodist, probably in that order. Every Saturday, Mark and his wife are in their special seats at Sanford Stadium. For as long as I’ve known them, they’ve had season tickets to Georgia home football games and make the eight-hour round trip to watch the Bulldogs play. It’s a long four hours back to south Georgia when the Dawgs come up short.
Mark is typical of a lot of Americans, and they carry their sports fan mentality to their local churches. It’s all about winning, and winning is all about numbers. Are more folks attending worship? Great—we’re winning. Are our offerings meeting the budget we’ve established? Great—we’re winning. Is our budget for the coming year larger than the budget was for the previous year? Great—we’re winning.
Can we honestly look into the New Testament and see that as the philosophy for the local church? I used to think this is what the church is to be about. Attending Hyles-Anderson College and being a member of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, for a couple of years in the 1970’s, I saw first-hand how size and numbers were everything. Indeed, average Sunday school attendance was some 13,000. Everyone congratulated themselves for doing a great job in seeing thousands baptized each year in the metro-Chicago area. No one seemed concerned that “conversion” amounted to getting someone to repeat a prayer, and if you could talk them into being baptized, so much the better. No one seemed too concerned that there was a great deal of turn-over in the church membership as long as the numbers kept increasing. And no one seemed too concerned that these multitudes of converts were having no effect upon life in the metro area.
We see the same thing in our own state. The August 19, 2010, issue of the Baptist Courier exulted: “South Carolina lauded for baptism growth: Palmetto State churches led SBC in increase in baptisms.” The North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recognized the state convention for leading the SBC in two baptism categories: greatest percentage increase in baptism (19%) and greatest numerical increase in baptisms (3000). For this increase in numbers, the SCBC was awarded NAMB’s Excellence in Evangelism Award.
The sports mentality is very much a part of our church life, and churches and associations and conventions give and receive all sorts of awards for numerical attainments. Frankly, such things appear to be awfully contrary to the Scriptures, not to mention church history. It’s hard to imagine our Savior standing before his disciples and pronouncing, “This year’s recipient of the Holy Land Evangelism Award is . . . .” You know, if we cannot imagine our Lord’s doing something, perhaps that may provide a clue as to whether it’s a good idea.
A better view of what we are to be about is found in these words of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel from 1939-1968: “My friends, our business, our work, our first call is to declare in a certain and unequivocal manner the sovereignty, the majesty, the holiness of God; the sinfulness and the utter depravity of man, his total inability to save and to rescue himself; and the sacrificial, expiatory, atoning death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on that Cross on Calvary’s hill, and His glorious resurrection, as the only means and the only hope of human salvation” [Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years, 1899-1939, 302]. This is no game.