College Football and Parallels in Church Planting

Linfield College - McMinnville, Oregon

Linfield College - McMinnville, Oregon

I am a college football fan. Always have been. My first college football game was when my family had season tickets to the Iowa Hawkeyes. I watched the Bo Schembechler-led Michigan Wolverines dismantle the Hawkeyes. For me the highlight of my sport's year is every fall when college football kicks off.

Each Saturday this fall my wife and I would visit a different college to watch football. This was a fun way to see live football every weekend, visit a new college, road trip with my wife, and explore Oregon. All of these colleges were Division II or Division III schools in smaller towns within proximity to Portland. For $10 to get in we were treated with football. I've always been partial to small colleges. Growing up in Iowa there were a couple dozen small college football programs from Division III to Division II to NAIA.

That's a far cry from major college football which pushes the limits of "amateurism" as coaches makes millions each year. In the craze of the coaching carousal we find coaches leaving smaller programs like Scott Frost leaving UCF for Nebraska. There's nothing wrong with that and kudos to him for turning around UCF from 0-12 to 12-0 in two years. That's a remarkable turnaround which means he has the coaching chops to lead a major program like Nebraska.

The trajectory of college football coaching is always to move up to bigger and better programs. Urban Meyer went from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida to now Ohio State. He's at the pinnacle of college football. In its wake smaller programs end up being merely truck stops along the way to greatness.

There's nothing wrong with greatness. We should strive for it. This past Friday during my last class of Introduction to the City I told my students that most of them upon graduation will stay in the city or move to another city. Also, if you aspire to be great in your field it means you'll be in cities. If you want to be the be neurosurgeon, educator, lawyer, or politician it most often means plying your trade in larger cities. If you're remotely ambitious it means you don't stay in smaller towns. If you're an ambitious college football coach it means you're constantly moving up to bigger and more lucrative programs.

But should that be the same in church planting? Is that how we should think of church planting? The reality is that most do which is why lower income or minority communities receive little to no emphasis in church planting compared to more prominent cities or neighborhoods and districts within those cities. Even in church planting people are shocked when you say you're going to plant in a downturned neighborhood or community on the backside of the desert. Where's your ambition? Why would you throw your talents away there?

While I find nothing wrong with climbing the coaching ladder in spite of how it keeps lesser programs in flux there shouldn't be the same parallel in church planting. Yes, we need to plant churches everywhere and among everyone. The problem though is, like college football, we seem to hone in on the alluring cities and overlook the rest. Yes, this is certainly counter-intuitive to how our culture works.

But then again the nature of the gospel is counter-intuitive.