The late football strategist Vince Lombardi was a fanatic about fundamentals. Those who played under his leadership often spoke of his intensity, his drive, his endless enthusiasm for the guts of the game. Time and again he would come back to the basic techniques of blocking and tackling. On one occasion his team, the Green Bay Packers, lost to an inferior squad. It was bad enough to lose . . . but to lose to that team was absolutely inexcusable. Coach Lombardi called a practice the very next morning. The men sat silently, looking more like whipped puppies than a team of champions. They had no idea what to expect from the man they feared the most.
Gritting his teeth and staring holes through one athlete after another, Lombardi began:
“Okay, we go back to the basics this morning. . . .”
Holding a football high enough for all to see, he continued to yell:
“Gentlemen, this is a football!”
How basic can you get? He’s got guys sitting there who have been playing on gridirons for 15 to 20 years . . . who know offensive and defensive plays better than they know their kids’ names . . . and he introduces them to a football! That’s like saying, “Maestro, this is a baton.” Or, “Librarian, this is a book.” Or, “Marine, this is a rifle.” Or, “Mother, this is a skillet.” Talk about the obvious!
Why in the world would a seasoned coach talk to professional athletes like that? Apparently, it worked, for coaches don’t lead their teams to three consecutive world championships all the time. But—how? Lombardi operated on a simple philosophy. He believed that excellence could be best achieved by perfecting the basics of the sport. Razzle-dazzle, crowd-pleasing, risk-taking plays would fill a stadium (for a while) and even win some games (occasionally), but in the final analysis, the consistent winners would be the teams that played smart, heads-up, hard-nosed football. His strategy? Know your position. Learn how to do it right. Then do it with all your might! That simple plan put Green Bay, Wisconsin, on the map. Before Lombardi’s advent, it was a frozen whistle-stop between Oshkosh and Iceland.
What works in the game of football works in the church as well. But in the ranks of Christendom, it’s easy to get a little confused. Change that: a lot confused. When you say “church” today, it’s like ordering a malt . . . you’ve got 31 flavors to choose from. You can select wheeler-dealers, snake handlers, prima donnas, positive thinkers, or self realizers. Rock bands with colored lights, hooded “priests” with bloody knives, shaved heads with pretty flowers, and flashy showmen with healing lines are also available. If that doesn’t satisfy, search for your favorite ism and it’s sure to turn up: humanism, liberalism, extreme Calvinism, political activism, anti-communism, supernatural spiritism, or fighting fundamentalism.
But wait! What are the absolute basics of the church? What is the foundational task of a biblically oriented local assembly? Filtering out everything that isn’t essential, what’s left?
Let’s listen to the Coach. God tells us we have four major priorities if we’re going to call ourselves a church:
Teaching . . . fellowship . . . breaking of bread . . . prayer. (Acts 2:42)
To these four we are to continually devote ourselves. Solid, balanced, “winning” churches keep at the task of perfecting those basics. These form the what aspect of the church.
The how is equally important. Again, the Coach addresses the team. He declares that the church that gets the job done is engaged in:
Equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12)
“Hey, that’s easy,” you say. “How simple can you get?” you ask. Are you ready for a shocker? The toughest job you can imagine is maintaining these basic assignments. Most people have no idea how easy it is to leave the essentials and get involved in other activities.
Believe me; there is a steady stream of requests from good, wholesome, helpful sources to use the pulpit as a platform for their cause. I repeat—good and wholesome things but not essential . . . not directly related to our basic purpose: the interpretation, the exposition, the application of Holy Scripture with relevance, enthusiasm, clarity, and conviction. First and foremost, that is what a pulpit ministry is all about.
But churches like that are so rare across our land; it makes you want to stand up and say:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Bible!”