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.