By Jay Voorhees
I have been watching Super Bowl’s for the past 51 of my 56 years, and without a doubt last night’s was the most amazing game ever. I’m sure everyone knows the story by now, but for three quarters the Atlanta Falcons played superb, even seeming to dominate the New England Patriots. But then in the fourth quarter all of Atlanta’s shine seemed to disappear, and quarterback Tom Brady took the Patriots to an overtime win. If you were a Patriot fan the final quarter was fun to watch. If you were rooting for the Falcons (as I was) it was a time of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
As a typical armchair coach/quarterback, I (of course) have my own analysis of what happened. Some people are saying that Atlanta “choked,” but I think that’s too simplistic of an assessment. What I saw was a defense that was superb for the first three quarters – aggressive, energetic, and dominating. But it was also a defense that was on the field a few too many plays so that by the 4th quarter they were simply worn out. There wasn’t the same energy and passion on the field, which gave Brady and his team an opening to take control.
The other thing that happened was that (through a couple of amazing catches and ill-timed penalties) the momentum shifted. That’s one of the interesting things about football. A team can be doing well but a turnover or penalties at the wrong time can shift the momentum, changing the energy to the point where the other team can now do no wrong. Last night the momentum shifted, and Atlanta couldn’t regain their footing to hold on to their lead.
Maybe they could of if they had been playing another team, but the Patriots, with a coach and quarterback who had won multiple championships, were not a run of the mill team. Their experience helped them draw deep in the face of difficulty to rise up, take advantage of the change in momentum, and push forward until they won.
Of course, there is a point to all this armchair analysis. As I’ve been reflecting on last night’s game it seems to me that there are similar dynamics at play at City Road.
There were quarters in our life together that were dynamic, energetic, passionate and vital. And yet, like a defense that has been on the field too long, there came a time when the team was overstretched, and simply too worn out to face the challenges of the game – a community that changed, the loss of youth and children (not just in our church but the church as a whole), and aging facilities that cost more and more to operate. Many of us are just worn out, lifeless, and just holding on until the game is over.
And, somewhere along the way, the momentum changed for our church as well. It’s hard to pinpoint when. Is it when the numerical decline in membership and worship started? Can it be tied to a particular pastor? Were there particular conflicts along the way that drove us apart? It may be none of those things – or all of those things – but in any case, the momentum changed and we’re struggling to find our way to victory.
On a smaller scale, it happened for us last year. We started the year with a successful Ready, Set, Go! campaign to pay down our debt and move us toward thinking about new ministry opportunities (allowing us to reduce our debt by almost half). But various conflicts and budget issues took the wind out of our sails and left us standing in our tracks trying to figure out what is next. The momentum shifted, and many of us are wondering what is next.
Now I am no Tom Brady or Bill Belichick (and I know there are many who agree with that assessment!). But as good at Brady and Belichick are (and they are admittedly among the best, even if you don’t like them) the Patriots could not have won without the entire team rising up as champions and drawing deep to look beyond their deficit toward the promised land of victory on the horizon. Likewise, City Road Chapel MUST draw deep into our faith and our hope if we want to triumph over the challenges we face and bring forth God’s kingdom here in Madison.
What does it mean to “draw deep?” I think it has to start with prayer – going to God and asking the “coach” what He thinks is necessary for us to succeed. Going deep means not worrying about the score (yet), but to play each play in the “here and now” with as much passion and desire as we can. It involves playing smart – seeing where we are on the field and calling a play that meets the situation before us. Going deep means believing that we CAN and WILL win if we play hard enough and never give up.
Jerry Kramer, the star guard for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers once said that the Packers never believed that they had lost a game. No, they just believed that the time had run out before they had won.
The time has not run out on us yet. The clock is still running. We may be backed up deep in our own territory, but there are more downs to go and it’s time to draw deep and move forward.
The Apostle Paul didn’t know football, but he’d been in a stadium or two. He wrote:
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
The game ain’t over folks. We may be in the fourth quarter, but there is plenty of time to play. It’s time to draw deep.
Photo by Sara at Flickr.com