Monday, July 8, 2019

Huddles Are Good, But They Shouldn’t Be Home

Summer has barely begun, but I’m ready for football. The period between the last bowl games and the start of the next season sometimes seems interminable. March Madness is already a distant memory, baseball’s claim to “national pastime” status has passed, NASCAR’s heyday is also history, and even though soccer’s popularity is on the rise, I’m not among its advocates. So if you ask, “Are you ready for some football?” my answer is, “Uh-huh. Absolutely.”

Which brings me to the subject at hand. For many years, a central element of football has been the huddle. The quarterback gathers his offensive teammates around him and…tells guy jokes. No, that’s not right. And they’re not gossiping about the players on the opposite side of the ball. The huddle is where the next play is called, whether it’s a run, pass, or option.

One distinctive about the huddle is the team doesn’t stay there. They listen intently to the signal caller’s instructions, then “break the huddle” and go to their respective positions on the line of scrimmage, ready to carry out their responsibilities. Hopefully the result will be moving the football down the field, ultimately into the end zone.

And that’s important – the breaking of the huddle. I’ve never heard of football players, even during road games in front of hostile crowds, pleading, “Please, guys, let’s just stay here in the huddle! The fans out there are mean, they’re saying nasty things, and the other team doesn’t look too friendly either. So let’s just stay in the huddle.”

Huddles are good. But that’s not where the game is played.

There’s an interesting parallel for those of us who attend church services every week. Years ago, someone referred to worship assemblies as “holy huddles,” where believers gather, sacred songs are sung, prayers are uplifted, and inspiring messages are presented. Often these activities get us fired up, convinced about what a great team we are – God as the Coach, and the rest of us as faithful teammates, eager to carry out His instructions.

But then it happens. The service ends, the music is over, and we have to go out the doors into the real, sometimes hostile world. “Let’s get back in the huddle!” we’re tempted to cry out. It seems so safe, non-threatening there. We’re pretty much in one accord, unlike the strife-riddled world outside the sanctuary. But God didn’t make us for the huddle.

Jesus gave the first hint of this when He assigned His disciples their initial training mission. And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7). In effect the Lord was saying, “You know that stuff I’ve been teaching you? Well, I want you to go out and start putting it into practice. Teach others what you have been learning.”

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus clearly stated what He expected His followers to do. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey what I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). “Out there,” far beyond the walls of what author Joe Aldrich called “the stained-glass aquarium.” If the disciples had been football players, Jesus would have commanded, “It’s time for you to leave the huddle.”

But where were they to go? The Lord explained that, too. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In a word, Everywhere. Which means we can’t just hang out at the church, no matter how warm and comfy it seems. God’s mission for us is out there – our homes, neighborhoods, towns and cities, across the country, even around the world, if given that opportunity.

During a football game, good things can happen in the huddle, especially when the winning play is called. But to execute the play, players have to break the huddle. For us, worship services should be where the quarterback (the pastor) calls the plays from the playbook (the Bible) that the Coach (God) has so meticulously assembled. Then we have to break the holy huddle and execute the plays. Just as no touchdowns are scored in the huddle, most of God’s work isn’t accomplished in the worship center.

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