Full Court Press: Play to Win!
My final encouragement is this: play to win! The drumbeat of the celestial pep band is playing Paul’s Romans 8:31-39 victory song, as we play (do ministry) in this conflicted season. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (8:37) The Epistle to the Hebrews says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” No championship team goes into a game to lose. We are in a season where losses are happening. Conflicted times can cause us to move into survival mode, but that can never be the place we remain. Never forget the difference God is making and is yet to make by the Spirit through us. We refuse to be victims in our own future, but rather are victors in a Christ-guided one. Never has the world needed an approach to the gospel that brings differing people together for transformative good like the present moment.
What does winning look like? This is where our strategy is decidedly counter-cultural. We do not keep a scorecard of individuals and churches we have gained from someone else and use that as our winning indicator. Winning looks instead like renewed pastors and lay leaders who have determined to resist the national trend of division and polarization and better become the body of Christ, freshly empowered by the Spirit, living witnesses of God’s ever-widening embrace of grace. Winning looks like choosing greater valuing and willingness to collaborate over dividing and demonizing those with whom we differ. As United Methodists, it’s not that “anything goes,” it’s that the love and power of God go everywhere and uses everyone God chooses. Winning looks like intentionally and innovatively inviting the next generation to a hopeful combination of evangelistic zeal (unapologetically the people of the Great Commission) and daring hope-filled dreams of a more just and holy alternative on the earth (the kingdom of God – of which we are called to be God’s demonstration speech to the world). Winning looks like a church unafraid to engage the world in its hurts and questions until redemptive relationships are built in Jesus Christ. Winning looks like a church that will learn from the hurt and divisiveness, examine ourselves and repent where needed and grow and change so that we might hear God's voice again.
One of the things I appreciate about Bishop Saenz is that he plays to win. I mentioned to him how much I appreciated that. He stepped closer to me with daring eyes and said, “I expect you to do the same.” He has communicated that to all of us. There is still time on the game clock, and the temporal and eternal lives, souls, and welfare of God’s people here and around the world are at stake.
I close this article with the hymn I began, “And Are We Yet Alive.” It was a hymn composed in the midst of struggle as an exclamation of victory and strength. Verse 5 sings,
“Let us take up the cross Till we the crown obtain, And gladly reckon all things loss, So we may Jesus gain.
And so, in the midst of the full-court press, we bring our “A” game, knowing that this all is not, never was, and never will be about us. It’s all about God in Christ through the power of the Spirit, redeeming lives and changing the world. Game on!
Will Cotton Lamar Smith Center for Evangelism, Mission, and Church Growth Central Texas Conference