One of the major stories of this year’s National Football League season was Tim Tebow. After beginning the year with one win and five losses, the fans demanded a quarterback change. They wanted Tebow to get a chance. The coaches and management of the Denver Broncos were not so sure that would be a good idea. How could changing one player make a difference in their team’s performance? After all, Tebow was not exactly a prototype NFL quarterback. The surprise occurred when Tebow took the Broncos on a winning streak that included several dramatic comeback wins. The game between the Broncos and the New England Patriots was a much anticipated match between the reigning best quarterback in football, Tom Brady, and this surprising phenomenon of Tim Tebow. It was one of the most watched NFL games ever.
Tebow became a story because he demonstrated real leadership abilities of encouragement, inspiration, and performance in key situations. He also became a story because of his unabashed and unapologetic demonstrations of his faith. His one knee prayer posture has even produced a new word for the English lexicon – “Tebowing.” He began each press conference by acknowledging his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Fans and the media didn’t exactly know how to react to all of this. Some ridiculed him, while others copied his public display of faith. The media were more curious than anything, as they looked for chinks in his pietistic armor.
Tebow made a lot of people uncomfortable. The NFL establishment was challenged by his unconventional and effective way of playing the position of quarterback. He didn’t fit the mold, so they were suspicious of how he and a rookie quarterback, Cam Newton, might change the game itself. Going against conventional wisdom always produces a backlash of resentment and suspicion. If the NFL was uncomfortable with Tebow’s way of playing quarterback, many in the public, including many Christians, were threatened by his strong messages of faith. The conventional wisdom of our culture is that faith is something that should be private and internalized. By his words and actions, Tebow challenged that idea. He was very willing to proclaim his faith and to wear it on his sleeve or under his eyes.
To our detriment mainline Christians have been reluctant to engage each other, let alone non-believers, in conversations about our faith. I have been reluctant, even as a minister, because I don’t want to be perceived as fanatical or judgmental about others. Some in the Christian community use our faith as a wedge issue to create groups that are saved, elite, and special, while condemning others to lower class status or eternal torment. We Christians are not served well by proclamations from Christian leaders that “God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews” and messages like that. So, we in the mainline churches keep quiet about our faith for fear of being included with those who offend us with their message of exclusion, division, and judgment.
By not talking about our faith, however, we relinquish our ability to offer an alternative message. Tebow has given the Christian community a tremendous opportunity to engage people in some significant conversations about what it means to be Christian. Rather than criticize him, we should thank him and take advantage of the opportunity to show people a loving, accepting, generous, and hopeful Christian faith in word and deed.
People are suspicious of Christians these days, because they don’t see much different about us than the un-churched part of the population. We are as polarized, divided, and contentious as the Congress of the United States. This is not a good thing. It undercuts our message. Instead of people saying, “See these Christians, how they love each other,” as people said about the early Christians, people look at Christians today and say, “See these Christians, how they love to fight each other.” Until we adopt a more biblical way of relating to one another, people will not take us seriously. They will be rightly suspicious and see our faith as having no significance for their life.
Growing churches are characterized by a level of peace and contentment. People are drawn to churches that are demonstrating the love of Christ in word and deed. They build people up with encouragement and hope. They aren’t places where people are fighting about the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, whether to have guitars in worship, and which shrubs to plant in the garden. Growing churches have a sense of purpose about them. They invite people to join in the movement of respect and appreciation. They are looking for ways to relieve and eliminate human suffering. These are the new Christians who have escaped “The Fight” and live the faith in transformative ways. They are leading a new generation of believers with encouragement, inspiration and performance in key situations. Thank you, Tim Tebow.