Recently, college basketball star Marcus Smart was involved in an altercation with a fan, which ended with Smart shoving the fan and receiving a technical foul. Smart was suspended for three games and made an official apology to his school, team, and the fan. The fan involved also made an apology and has vowed not to attend anymore games this year. In his apology, the fan said that he called Marcus Smart a “piece of crap.”
I’m not here to comment on who was right and who was wrong in this situation. Quite honestly, I think they both share some responsibility here. However, this story has led me to ask what it means to be a fan. What rights should fans be given? Where does fanaticism cross the line. And more importantly to the church, is being a fan of Jesus something we should aspire to? Or does that cross a dangerous line?
First, let’s look at what is means to be a fan. It is thought that the word comes from the Modern Latin word fanaticus, which means “insanely, but divinely inspired.”[A] Interestingly, this Modern Latin word is derived from an older Latin word fanum meaning “temple” or “sanctuary.”[B] Even in its etymology, there is a connection between fandom and the church. So, for the sake of discussion, I’ve decided to take a look at 5 characteristics of sports fans and apply them to churchgoers to see what that might look like.
1. Sports fans yell loudly during games. For many of us, yelling and church are an oxymoron. Church is viewed by many as a place of solitude and silence. What would it look like if congregation members cheered on the pastor during her or his sermon? I’ve actually been in churches like that, where the congregation would shout, “Amen,” all throughout the message. At first, this practice was a shock to my Dutch Reformed sensibilities. But as the worship continued, I got sucked into the enthusiasm and found myself longing to shout right along with them. But what would it be like if people shouted out questions? Or openly disputed claims made by the preacher?
2. Sports fans proudly display their affiliation. It is not unusual to see sports fans proudly wearing their team’s jersey on game day or flying a team flag outside their home. In my community, when Iowa plays Iowa State in football, my son’s school is decked out with half Hawkeyes and half Cyclones décor. As a Cubs fan, I proudly wear my Cubs tie to church during the summer (and sometimes even in the offseason). Most sports fans will even display their team colors boldly when surrounded by a sea of people who are rooting for the opposing team, sometimes even when it may pose a danger to their life. Christians do some similar things at times like wearing a cross necklace or a t-shirt with a Bible verse on it or displaying a Jesus fish on their car. But is that really the same? Does it display the same devotion that wearing your team’s jersey does?
3. Sports fans know the ins and outs of their team and its history. Most sports fans can not only tell you the names (and possibly numbers) of the players on their team currently, but they can also tell you about the history of their team: most recent championship, former superstar players, stats for current and former players, current and former coaches, etc. Christians these days seem to know less and less about their “team.” They might know some of the “players,” but quite often they can’t even connect those players to their story. Wasn’t Jesus put in a basket in the river when he was born? Didn’t Abraham lead the people out of slavery in Egypt? Moses got swallowed by a whale, right? Maybe Christians have taken their heads out of the game, so to speak.
4. Sports fans put watching games above nearly everything else. When their team is playing, sports fans make sure to watch it. If they can’t for some reason, they record it or watch highlights online or, at the very least, check the score. I know far too many Christians for whom church is not a priority. Too tired? Just skip church this week. Need new shoes? Sunday morning is a great time to go shopping. Christians often claim commitment to their church and their religion, but their lives don’t reflect it. What would church look like if they did?
5. Sports fans think about their team even when the team is not playing. As a Cubs fan, I often find myself thinking about my team…even during the offseason. I read team-related news stories, follow players and Cubs bloggers on Twitter, and wait with nervous excitement for the beginning of Spring Training. How much do Christians think about church or God or the Bible when they are not actually AT church? I asked my youth group this question a few years ago and the answer from every one of those kids was, “Not at all.” Would the adults in church answer that question differently? How would you answer?
These are just 5 characteristics of sports fans and I’m sure there are many I’ve missed. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments. And tell me if you think churches would be better off or not if Christians were truly “fans” of Jesus Christ. I think my answer is “yes” and yet some part of me balks at the term. Chime in and straighten me out. 🙂