Lessons from the Gridiron: What Sports Teach Us About Scripture

I absolutely love college football. The crisp, fall weather. The tailgating. The sense of pride that comes from supporting your favorite team every weekend. It’s glorious! Yet, there’s a side to college football that most Americans don’t see. A side that, quite frankly, isn’t so glorious. That side, of course, is the countless hours of preparation that every team endures making sure they’re ready for each week’s opponent. And as someone who’s played college football, I can tell you it’s a ton of work, primarily because of the fundamental nature of the preparation. What I mean by that is this; in most areas of life, the better you become at a skill, the easier it is to leave the fundamentals behind. In football, however, the opposite is true. Teams who neglect the fundamentals usually struggle the most, and those who prioritize the practice of fundamentals typically have the most success. In other words, blocking, tackling, and ball control are a must. If you can’t do those things well, you’re not going to win many games, no matter the talent of your players, or the salaries enjoyed by your coaching staff.

Surprisingly, biblical study isn’t all that different from college football in that focusing on the fundamentals is highly insightful and, in many ways, more effective at fostering growth than perhaps a deep dive into something more advanced, like Systematic Theology for example. Spoken Worldwide’s emphasis on this simplicity is one of the many reasons I’ve fallen so in love with our ministry philosophy since working here. Our goal is straightforward. We aim to provide God’s Truth in such a way that those who cannot or do not read will be able to engage with it and grow in their ability to know and love Jesus as a result. Simplicity is also at Spoken’s focus – our ministry is set exclusively on reaching these Oral Learners. Every project we pursue requires excellent levels of engagement to be a success. In other words, simply translating and recording is not enough. We hope to see Oral Learners engage with God’s Truth through the content created across all our initiatives. Like blocking and tackling drills, this approach is straightforward in form, yet highly effective at revealing Truth and fostering growth in the communities where we work.

Simplicity is at the Core of Our Approach

Using Spoken’s methodology, God’s Truth is shared with a group through oral methods (i.e., stories, songs, dramas, proverbs, poetry, and/or direct Bible translation). Then, that Truth is re-told multiple times back and forth in community so that it can be remembered and shared again by those in attendance without hesitation, when necessary. After this, simple questions are asked to help understand what the passage is communicating. For example, when discussing a narrative, you might ask, “Who are the people mentioned in this story? What happens in this story? Where did this story take place geographically? When does this story take place throughout the day? Are there any parts to this story that are difficult to understand? Is there any part of this story that is particularly shocking to you? What can this story tell us about the nature of God? What can this story tell us about the nature of mankind?” None of these questions are mind-blowing. Many of them probably feel simple and even mundane for a well-seasoned Christian. You’d be surprised, though, how much wisdom can come from slowing down and paying attention to these details as you engage God’s Word with others. This is undoubtedly true for those who’ve never heard before. It’s also true for those who are biblically literate. I, for one, continue to be amazed by the things I’m learning through this simple process.

One such example was shared with me recently by Spoken’s South Egypt Project Manager while we were there visiting one of our program teams. Miriam, whose name I’ve changed to protect her identity, is the newest member of our international team. No stranger to ministry, her 30+ years of evangelical work in Egypt make her an ideal candidate for the position she now holds. Still, like all of us, she occasionally needs help to overcome challenges. A few months ago, while trying to establish a Bible study with an unreached people group in Southern Egypt, Miriam noticed that her efforts failed because she attempted to employ Western, text-based methods within a community that – at the time – she didn’t realize could not read. Unsure of how to proceed, Miriam reached out to a friend, who put her in touch with Spoken. Spoken then equipped her to share Scripture with this community by using a practice called Orality, which uses spoken rather than written methods to share God’s Truth. The following story has been edited mildly for English clarity.

“When I started using Orality, it helped!” Miriam shared. “I asked the group to listen to me as I told them a story, then we would all tell it together and discuss the characters. When we came to the part about God – what this story, the creation story about Adam & Eve, tells us about God – they said, ‘I saw God like a groom who, in our culture, prepares everything before the bride comes into his house. It seems like God is this groom who has invited Adam & Eve into his new house. His decorated house.'” Miriam continued, “I was surprised because they understood this deep theological image from the New Testament about how Jesus, or God, is the groom, and the church is the bridegroom. They got it by themselves from the first story without having to go all the way through the Bible until they reached this Truth from the New Testament.”

God’s Word and the Holy Spirit: Our Best Teachers

I was surprised, too! But why? After reflecting on Miriam’s interaction with this group, it occurred to me that I underestimated the ability of God to work through the simple engagement of His Word. At some level, my Western conditioning has implicitly taught me that God’s Word needs to be accompanied by something else to be understood and applied. This line of thinking is flawed for a few reasons:

  1. It perpetuates an implicit bias of Western thought that says, “our way of learning is best.”
  2. It fails to recognize that the early church primarily engaged God’s Word through simple oral methods and, in many ways, understood and reflected His Truth better than we do.
  3. Discovery almost always teaches better than instruction.

Don’t get me wrong, skilled teachers and extra-biblical resources can be helpful. But there is no better teacher than the Holy Spirit and no more significant source of Truth than God’s Word. In the story Miriam shared, the group discovered Truth together in a deep and meaningful way that I doubt they’ll soon forget.

As we circle back to the original illustration for a second, it’s not hard to see how fundamentals play a vital role in the overall performance of a college football team. Teams that can block, tackle, and control the ball will likely do well against their opponents every week. I believe the same level of intentionality around fundamentals will also prove valuable for Gospel-centered communities. Those of us who desire to multiply disciples for Christ would do well to learn from Miriam, whose simple and straightforward approach was highly effective.

Simple biblical exploration in community is significant because it unlocks the power of God through Scripture by focusing on the fundamentals. No smokescreens. No mirrors. Just God’s Truth, working to strengthen the hearts of those engaging with it through the Holy Spirit in discovery.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear!” Matthew 11:15

Ted Crump
Spoken Worldwide Development Director

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