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Discipleship Lessons from the Patriots

Being from Europe, football is not a game we were familiar with until we moved to the US—unless you were talking about the real football: soccer. Sure, I’d seen some football games and I had tried my best to understand what was happening, but it never really captured my interest. And in Europe, that as fine as no one cares about football there anyway.Once you’re living here however, things change. My son especially was around kids who cared about football a lot. They’d watch the games with their dads or parents and come to school telling about it. So my son asked me if we could start watching games as well. Yes, he asked me and not his dad because my husband cares about many things, but watching sports is not one of them. And since I loved watching soccer with my son, he made a safe bet that we could love watching football as well.

Of course, that meant picking a team as well. And when you live in the Albany, NY area, you basically have three choices: The Giants, The Jets, or the Patriots. There’s the occasional Bills fan of course, and some other popular teams, but these three teams are the most logical choices.

Now for all you Americans, picking a team like this is weird of course. You all ‘picked’ your team(s) a long time ago, sometimes because of where you live, other times because of who your dad or parents supported or because you had some connection with a team. We came in pretty blank.

So I did what I always do when I have to make a choice: I did my research. I read up on these three teams. I watched some games—though I still had no clue of the rules other than the fact that a touch down was obviously a good thing—and also watched some interview with players and coaches. It was after watching a few interviews with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and especially coach Bill Belichick that we made our choice for the Patriots. Well, that, and the fact that my son’s best friends were Patriots friends as well.

What impressed me in these interviews was the strong sense of identity as a team, not as individual players. Belichick’s speech after winning the Superbowl in 2015 especially struck me, how he kept deflecting the ‘honor’ on the team and the players and not on himself.

patriots logo

I realize all Patriot-haters (and from what I understand, there’s quite a few of you out there) must be fuming by now, so let me get to my point. This whole process has taught me so much about discipleship.

You see, once we picked our team, we started to watch every game they played in. But it frustrated us that we didn’t really understand what was happening. I mean, a field goal and a touch down were obvious ways to score points, but when soccer is your game of reference, football doesn’t make much sense. So I bought Football for Dummies and studied it, educating my son about what I had learned.

But even though the book was for ‘dummies’, it still required way more knowledge than I had. Terms like ‘the line of scrimmage’ were considered known—though I had to deduce the meaning from the pictures. I had assumed the book would start by listing all the positions and the role they play, but even after reading the book I still didn’t know what a tight end did exactly.

So we kept on searching and studying, turning to our friend Google. We watched YouTube videos together where specific plays were analyzed. My son would watch old game highlights as well, enthusiastically reporting back to me about epic saves, big fumbles, and the worst plays of all times. I read up on Tom Brady, learned about his background and his character—and the same with some of the other players and the coach.

Through this all, we both fell in love with the game. The more we understood it, the more enthusiastic we became. We bought Patriots jerseys and hats. We went from passive fans, to actively seeking out news about the Patriots and watching pre- and post-game interviews.

Do you see the link with discipleship yet?

We had no interest in football until it became relevant to us.

The reason is became relevant, was first and foremost because my son’s friends were fans and told him about the game.

We showed up every Sunday, but we didn’t understand what we were seeing.

We wanted to learn more about the game, but it was hard.

We wanted to learn the rules, but even the book for dummies was way too complicated.

We wanted to watch videos on football and especially on the Patriots, but we had a hard time understanding and analyzing what we were seeing.

And still, through it all, the more we learned, the more we fell in love, both with the game and with our team.

My point is this: when you don’t know anything about football, a lot of the information out there is way too complicated. And it’s the exact same way with discipleship. We don’t always grasp fully how difficult Christianity is to understand, but after my experiences with football I can imagine this in a whole new way.

Church is not relevant for many teens, until their friends make it relevant. Honest, authentic Jesus-fans can spread the Gospel faster than the best event we can organize.

(Unchurched) teens don’t understand the Bible, church language, rituals, songs, habits, and many other things that for us as Christians are completely normal. And we may think that an easier translation (for dummies) will do the job, but it still assumes a basic knowledge many do not possess.

My son and I were intrinsically motivated to persevere, but that’s not the case with many teens. If it’s this hard to understand, they’ll quit. So make it easy for them, accessible. Help them find good, understandable resources, for instance books, but online as well.

And most of all: make them fall in love with Jesus…He’s the one you should be talking about most of all. He’s at the center of it all, He’s the most important ‘player’ to understand.

Do you see what I mean about discipleship (even if you strongly dislike the Patriots!)? How can you make your discipling more accessible and simpler?

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