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March 14, 2012

Wayne Gretzky is generally considered the greatest athlete to ever lace up a pair of skates. In twenty seasons of professional hockey he dominated the league, redefined the game and tallied an astounding number of records and awards. An outstanding goal-scorer and play-maker, he was also a great sportsman. Five times in his career he was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, presented every season to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” He was a true superstar.

Sportsmanship is an interesting concept in sport and one whose meaning seems to have morphed over the years. Once held up as a virtue that emphasized respect for the game and grace toward an opponent in both victory or defeat, it now seems to speak to the misguided ethos that it doesn’t really matter who wins, as long as we all try our hardest and have fun. I prefer the original concept and have tried to instill this in my son; I want him to be a good sportsman who honors the game and respects his opponents, even while seeking victory. This kind of sportsmanship is worth recovering where it has been lost and worth maintaining where it still exists.

There is another idea, a similar one, that has been much on my mind recently. Churchmanship is a virtue that may also be fading into history. We all lead busy and multi-faceted lives. We have obligations at home and at work and we have relationships to nurture with family, extended family, neighbors, friends. Somewhere in that mix is commitment to a local church. For some people church ranks so highly that ministry always comes first, even at the expense of everything and everyone else; for some people church barely ranks at all and receives only the few moments that are left over when everything else has been taken care of.

Between these extremes is the virtue of good churchmanship. The good churchman is a Christian who truly and wholeheartedly dedicates himself to his local church, to the community of believers he loves. This is the Christian who who loves those people, who serves them, and who prioritizes them. This is a fading virtue we would do well to recover and to call one another to.

Here are some of the ways a Christian can face particular challenges in our time and in our churches and excel at churchmanship.

January 16, 2012

I have been engaged in a study of the second half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and, not surprisingly, the themes from that letter have been resonating in my mind over the past few weeks. I have been struck by Paul’s emphasis on the importance of love and unity in the local church. On the one hand it’s kind of obvious—we need to love the Christians around us—but on the other hand, the personal implications are profound. I’ve always known that God calls me to love the people I covenant with in my local church, but until now I haven’t been quite so aware of the danger of falling out of love.

Paul did not seem to have any particular concern with the unity of this church in Ephesus. As far as we can tell he wasn’t writing because the church was splintering apart or because he had heard rumors of their disunity. But perhaps this was even more reason for him to address the issue. Paul knew that Satan is the great enemy of God and his people, and one of his enduring tactics to disrupt the church and to hinder our witness to the world is to bring about disunity. How does he do this? He does it by first eroding the love between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Wherever there is disunity there will first be the absence of love and the presence of pride. Satan’s great desire for your church and for mine is to fracture the people in those churches into camps, into groups built along lines that have no business dividing us. We may know this in the abstract, but we need to make it personal. Here is what we need to see: God wants me and commands me to love the other people in my church; Satan wants me to hate them. God wants me to feel a great deal of unity with those people; Satan wants there to be an issue between us—something, anything, to drive us apart.

Have you ever paused to think about this? Do you know that Satan is actively working in your local church right now to drive a wedge between you and the other people there? He wants you to hate that other person—or at least to stop loving that other person—and he is constantly giving you opportunity to do just that. A quick survey of church history, whether on a global or local scale, will show just how successful he has been. He will split churches into factions by first making those Christians find reasons not to love one another, not to bear with one another in love.