We live in a competitive world. Sport is more than a past time, a distraction to relieve us from the daily grind of life. It has evolved into a national obsession fuelling our lust for success and winning. The media is consumed by the money attached with its promotion, determining when and what will be televised. Where once you may have had a flutter on the horses, gambling has permeated almost every aspect and moment of sport. The new heroes are sports people, whom we single out, emulate, or adore. The competitive nature deep within us finds a natural outlet in sport. And it is the sporting mindset that fuels our competitive nature in almost every other aspect of our lives.
One of the dysfunctional aspects of sport is the way we treat people. If you are successful, we want to know all about you. If you’re not, then we have no collective interest in you. Individual moral behaviour has no bearing on this, in fact it seems the more dysfunctional you are, the more the media thrusts you centre stage. Entire generations adopt this way of being, buy into the labels of a consumer exploitation, and communicate with the reinvented bastardised language of commentators. We have a desire to know people, yet our interest seems more concerned with what they can offer, their performance, or their status.
Paul gets the competitive world. He understands the pressure to preach and present the Gospel. He uses sports analogies to remind us of the discipleship journey we all undertake, as we work out how to live the Gospel. But he also knows where to draw the line. He knows that not everyone fits the same mould. We are different, with different characteristics and personalities. We like different things, and enjoy different ways of being who God has made us to be. So Paul realises that in order for him to preach the Gospel, and encourage people to run the race set before them, he needs to not assume we are all the same. He realises that he needs to find a variety of ways to share the Gospel with people, even those ways that may seem uncomfortable or difficult for him to personally do.
The way churches reach people often does more to turn them away than embrace them as welcome additions to their community. If you have a family gathering, and someone brings a stranger along, do you all sit around and ask him/her to stand up and tell everyone who they are and why they are there? Do you insist they use a paper plate, while everyone else is using ceramic plates? Do you ask them to use the outhouse, while everyone else can use internal facilities? Of course not! We allow them to feel at home, participate in the same activities everyone else does, and enjoy the same things everyone else can us. We do not make our gatherings a competitive environment, in which we determine if you’re a winner or someone of no interest to us.
As church, we are compelled to preach the Gospel. We do this in humility, not boasting how good we are at doing it, because we all know that none of us have perfected it yet. We are running a race, and need to work hard at our own discipleship journey, so the Gospel we preach doesn’t ultimately exclude us from the prize on offer. Part of that discipleship journey is our capacity, both individual, and collectively, to provide spaces in which others can hear it without any barrier or obstacle. For we do not own the Gospel, it is entrusted to us, for us to bless others as we are blessed. Whatever we do as church, must always keep this in mind, we are to be all things to all people so that by all means we might win people to Christ.