Running Back

 Am football

I became a fan of American football back in the 1980’s, and easily my favourite player was a guy called John Riggins, who played for the Washington Redskins.

For non-fans, a quick explanation. In American football there are offensive and defensive positions, and you may have heard of the quarterback, the key player whose job it is to lead the ‘offense’. He will either throw the ball downfield (usually to one his ‘wide receivers’, who catch it and run on) or he will simply hand the ball to one of his ‘running backs’ who then try to run down the field as far as possible.

Riggins was a running back, and a very effective one. His story is interesting and I think there’s a lesson in it about church life…
Having had a promising start to his career, Riggins became disaffected as an older player when the coach at Washington pretty much side-lined him, giving him no meaningful place in the team. Riggins took it badly and decided to retire from football, devoting his time to outdoor pursuits – hunting, fishing and drinking, mostly.

After a time, he realised that he was bored and essentially wasting his life, his money and his talent. After a conversation with Washington’s new head coach (Joe Gibbs), Riggins returned to the starting line-up, and demanded the ball. A couple of years later he led the Redskins to their first Superbowl win in 40 years, scoring a touchdown and being named ‘Most Valuable Player’ (MVP) – an award that almost always goes to the winning quarterback, not a running back!

It occurs to me today that sometimes in church life, we can become disaffected, bored and uninvolved. How can that be turned around? I suggest it is by taking stock, before God, and deciding to get fully involved again. On his return to the team, Riggins didn’t just want to play, he wanted to be given the ball as often as possible, because he knew he could make a difference.
In our lives as Christians, God calls and equips each of us to do certain things well. How will we respond? It can be tempting to sit back, to complain, to remain uninvolved. It’s so much easier – and tempting – to snipe from the side-lines rather than perform on the pitch. But it’s also wasteful, lazy and draining to ourselves and to the church when we do that.

Sometimes I admit I can feel downcast, let down, uninspired, and dispirited. I often make the joke that “it’s a good job I have no feelings” because as a church leader one does tend to be on the receiving end of a lot of painful feedback. Sometimes deservedly, sometimes unfairly… but I dare not sulk on the side-lines for too long. God has work for me to do – and you too!
The church is God’s idea, Jesus instituted it and sent the Holy Spirit from His heavenly Father to help and equip us to take a full and rich part in it. Furthermore, God expects us to, for it is written: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48).

Today I want to encourage everyone at EBC to reflect on the gifts that God has given you, and spend some time asking Him to anoint you afresh, empower and enthuse you again to use them in the life of the church.

There are, of course, seasons when it is right to rest and be refreshed and renewed – and we ignore those seasons at our peril. That said, God wants us to be fruitful and He has planted us where we are. Is it time you demanded the ball? Is it time you were ‘running back’ to full involvement in church? Are you in danger of sulking and blaming others when you’re sitting on your talents and on your, well… the other thing you’re sitting on?

Forgive me, but the thing I really liked about John Riggins was his running style. Some running backs are super-fast and slippery as an eel. They can be beautiful to watch as they side-step, twist and turn, evading would-be tacklers with ease. Riggins didn’t do that – he was a ‘power back’ who tended to go at things head on rather than run around. Perhaps a little of that has rubbed off!

May God richly bless you, and may you bring Him glory in everything you do.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (New Living Translation)
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Simon Lace, 21/09/2022