Monday, September 10, 2007

And yards to go before we sleep - worshipping God at the sports bar

After visiting a True Discernment post and receiving a comment afterwards, I revisited the True Discernment blog and ran across this more recent post - not on a Texas pastor, but on a Washington pastor.

It quotes from a newspaper article on a new kind of service:

Football, beer and Jesus.

Mike Unverzagt says the three are a perfect combination, which is why he's introducing Clark County to a new way to praise God and cheer for a favorite NFL team.

Beginning Sept. 9, Unverzagt will ­offer services through Sports Church at Cascade Bar & Grill on Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver.

His half-hour Sports Church will begin at 11 a.m., coinciding with halftime for the NFL games broadcast on the 14 television sets in the sports bar.

So far, so good, as far as I'm concerned. Jesus commands us to go out to make disciples, and that's just what Unverzagt is doing.

So much of our emphasis is on capturing people with a net and dragging them to a pew, implying that God only lives in the pew and not anywhere else. This results in heretical thinking, which leads to the conclusion that God only needs to be served when you are in the pew, and that He can safely be ignored once your car hits the road to go to the mall.

And, in the same way that our church services reflect American culture (hint: Jesus never wore a tie, and never read from a printed church bulletin), Unverzagt has adapted his church service to the culture in which he finds himself.

"The first five minutes will be the high-five huddle for getting to know each other. Then the sideline reporter will make announcements at which point an offering can be made."

He will follow with a coach's talk, a 15-minute positive message about ways to live a champion's life. The service wraps up with Unverzagt responding to questions in the final five minutes.

Provided that the Gospel is preached during the coach's talk, I have no problem with this format, although the "hallowed by Thy name" part doesn't seem to fit into the format. (Perhaps it does; it's hard to tell from a secular reporter's account.)

I'll admit, however, that I do have a quibble here:

The games on TV won't be ignored during the service. Should a big play happen, he has a plan.

A member of the audience will be a designated referee and will throw a flag, indicating to Unverzagt that it's time to pause so his flock can focus on the screen. Once the play is over, he'll go back to the message.

While I'm one to admit that life sometimes has a way of intruding on worship - we have on occasion stopped our services when we hear a passing ambulance - I suspect that the timing of the service is setting it up for failure. If there was just one game going on at the time, you could easily adjust the schedule so that there would not be any distractions, but when several games are going on, that is impossible. Since this is in Vancouver, why not have the service at 9:30?

And of course, there's the booze issue:

Unverzagt doesn't drink alcohol, but he fully expects some of those at the service to have a beer or two.

"We're at a bar," he said. "That is what people do. The message is we're not trying to change you. We accept you as you are and where you are."

On the one hand, I'm not really worried about the attitude of the modern-day Pharisee, who has added the man-made regulation of complete abstinence to God's true design for living. (Such people even do violence to the Bible, saying that when Jesus dealt with wine, He was really dealing with grape juice. Danged revisionists.)

However, there is a valid Biblical concern here, since while the Bible doesn't command abstinence, it certainly doesn't commend drunkenness. And since these services are being held at halftime, there's more than a passing chance that people may have downed more than "a beer or two" before the service began.

Yet another reason to hold the service at 9:30.

(Incidentally, I here offer my half-hearted apologies to East Coast people who can't understand why you should go to a sports bar at 9:30 on a football Sunday. Remember, however, that for us on the West Coast, sporting events are almost the only events that we can ever see live on television. So your football pastors can have their 12:30 services and enjoy them. As for us, 12:30 is the fourth quarter.)

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