By Steven Norris

It’s finally here! This weekend marks the beginning of the college football season. Instead of lamenting the reality that college football may be the default religion of many southerners, let me share a few lessons that communities of faith can learn from the old gridiron.

Declare your allegiance. If you were to check the closet of any real football fan, it wouldn’t be difficult to discover a person’s true allegiance. My t-shirt drawer is conspicuously full of a certain set of collegiate colors, and I have a few jerseys hanging in the closet. Others will have artwork hanging on the wall, flags flying in the front yard, and stickers in the back windows of the car.

I am not suggesting that people of faith need to declare their allegiance through t-shirts, bracelets, flags, or bumper stickers. Rather, we should heed the words of Jesus, who said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Did you catch that? The signs of our allegiance are acts of service, love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and extending grace to others. These are the things that should clearly identify us.

Celebrate with passion. Everyone knows that tailgating is an essential part of the college football experience. It has always bothered me that people of faith seem so reluctant to throw a party. The Bible talks about joy more than 400 times, even listing it as one of the “fruits of the Spirit” (see Galatians 5:22). There are more than 80 references to the idea of celebrating. It saddens me that people of faith are often characterized as dour, curmudgeonly, kill-joys. We have so much to be joyful about and should be leading the celebration.

Be clear about your opponent. On any given Saturday afternoon, it is not hard to identify the opponent of a college football team (the uniforms alone usually give it away). However, too many Christians seem to forget who the enemy really is. Measureless energy is given to fighting with other believers over intramural issues of theology and differences in worship. We should not forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Work together as a team. No college football team wins because of individual effort. You win and lose as a team. We would do well to remember the admonition of scripture, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). In other words, we are in this together.

I’m sure that there are more lessons that we could add, but I’ll leave you this: as you celebrate this wonderful fall tradition, remember where your ultimate allegiance lies. While the church can certainly learn some things from college football, it is essential that we not leave our faith on the sideline.