by Matt Sapp

The World Cup is in full swing, and even though the USA didn’t make it this year, I’m still watching. As teams and fan bases from all over the world pour their hearts out on the world stage, “the church” could stand to learn a few things from them.

Passion Matters
The World Cup would be nothing without the unrivaled passion of the coaches, player, and fans. They all act as if the whole world hangs in the balance. Their focused energy and attention for ninety minutes leaves no doubt that what they’re engaged in is supremely important to them.

What if we treated church that way? What if we approached worship that way? What if we believed that the whole world hung in the balance as we approached our faith together? It does.

World Cup fans understand that their participation counts. They know that their attendance matters. They know that they are more than just spectators.

What if we understood our roles in worship and church life to be every bit as participatory as World Cup fans understand their roles to be? Passion matters.

Patience is a Virtue
In a sport where a match can often be scoreless at halftime, patience is a virtue. Patience expresses itself as preparation and anticipation. At the World Cup, teams carefully prod and push, looking for weak spots, testing match-ups, and trying new strategies–and every exploratory feint is understood as integral step toward achieving the ultimate goal.

We all want immediate results. We want to see immediate improvement in our personal lives when we commit to a new routine. We want to see immediate improvement in our church when we empower new leadership or implement a new program. But the World Cup reminds us that active and preparatory patience is a virtue as we explore what works to make our visions a reality.

Persistence Pays Off
Every cross into the box doesn’t produce a goal, but the more good balls you get in front of the net, the more likely you are to succeed. The vast majority of attacking plays in soccer fail. Passes are intercepted. Shots miss their mark. Plays are well defended. Goalies make great saves.

So persistence becomes the key to success. Keep trying. Keep trying. Keep trying. And then, when the pass comes to you perfectly, the defender moves the wrong way, the goalie is off balance, and the net opens up in front of you—shoot with confidence and strike with courage.

Believe in yourself. Take the shot. Persistence pays off.

Timing is Critical
Fear is our most frequent—and worst—motivator. That’s true for individuals. And it’s true for churches. Fear can look like hesitation and indecisiveness; and it can look like hurriedness and desperation. Few things get me more antsy when watching the World Cup than a player who hesitates when an opportunity appears. Alternately, players who miss opportunities by rushing into them too quickly can be equally frustrating to watch.

Fear throws off our timing, and timing is key if we want to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way. The winning team is the team that makes the most of the chances it gets—a team that neither hesitates nor hurries.

Often that’s the only difference in a World Cup game. Often that’s the only difference in a church or in a life. Timing is critical. Trust in the wisdom of God’s timing.

If you haven’t watched the World Cup yet, it’s not too late to start. There’s a whole week left, and it’s just now getting good. So pick a team to root on to victory. And remember, there’s a lot we can learn from the passion, patience, persistence and timing of the World Cup.

See you Sunday.