World Cup: A Challenge to the Church


What can anyone write about in South Africa today other than the Soccer World Cup?  Next week we might be tired of it, but this week it’s everywhere.  

Colleagues, friends and family, the petrol pump attendant, the guy at the tire shop who fixed my puncture, and even a domestic worker on her way home from work; everyone watched South Africa’s opening game against Mexico on Friday; everyone is excited about  Bafana Bafana’s performance.  (By the way, would someone please tell Microsoft that Bafana is a word and it’s spellchecker should not try to change it to Banana, and that Bafana Bafana is also perfectly acceptable.)  Did I say “acceptable”.  For goodness sake, they were outstanding; they were amazing; indeed, they did us proud.  I haven’t felt this ‘connected’ to my fellow South Africans since the first democratic elections in 1994.

John van der Laar, on his website, Sacredise, agrees, but bemoans the fact that the Church seems incapable of uniting in the way that sport does.  John’s thoughts inspired me along a similar path and I found myself asking what the difference is.

Perhaps soccer, and sport generally, is ‘out there’.  It’s public knowledge (kind of hard to keep the World Cup quiet).  I might not be sure whether you are a Blue Bull fan or Stormer supporter (Sharks supporters usually have a hangdog, can-it-possibly-get-worse, look about them).  But I do know that everyone I have seen, or spoken to, or heard about, was watching the game somewhere on Friday and cheering madly for the SA team.  When my puncture was being fixed, or when I filled up with petrol, it was the most natural thing to say, “They made us proud.”  And a broad grin followed and the conversation flowed.

On another day, at another time, there would be nothing to say.  We would talk about the job at hand, get it done and, with a thanks and a wave, I’d be  gone.  There are, of course, gregarious types who will strike up a conversation anywhere, anytime; but I’m talking about people like me who need a good excuse to start talking to strangers.

r3134925534In Church (however sad it may be, or incompatible with our beliefs) we are strangers to one another.  Of course we have in common someone who is much more important than the soccer, the World Cup, or even FIFA.   We should be able to talk about Jesus, and about our faith, and about our struggles, with our Church family even more naturally than we talk about soccer.  But I wonder.

Have we perhaps learned that those who talk about Jesus the most are often those who are most judgemental and dogmatic in what they say?  Have we perhaps learned that those who ask about our faith (like those who ask after our health) don’t really want to know about our struggles?  They want to know that all is well.  Any hint of stress or brokenness is looked down on, pitied, prayed for, but not engaged—except to tell us how we ought to ‘fix it’.

Is our estrangement from one another perhaps because the only thing that we, as Christians, have to offer the world (the only thing that marks us out) is love, and we just haven’t learnt how to give love freely?   We think we know how we ought to behave, how we ought to think, what we ought to believe, and yes, how we should worship and what we should sing.  We find it just too hard to let go of all that and simply love.  Rules empower us; rules show us who’s right and who’s wrong; rules allow us to include and exclude.  Rules make us feel safe.  Love is so very different.  With love, it’s the relationship that matters, not the rules.  You don’t need me to point out your failures; you know them only too well.  And if you don’t, well, you ain’t going to listen to me.  But if I take the time and the trouble to engage with you, to listen and walk alongside you, to eschew judgement and embrace friendship?  Well, I reckon that would get your attention.  It would surely get mine.

FansWhat has drawn us together in South Africa is the positive.  The delight at being ready for the World Cup and welcoming the world; the excitement of Bafana’s preparation that made us hope again; the delight at our team’s performance against Mexico.  Yes, there were some gaps in our preparation; yes, we missed some scoring opportunities against Mexico (but thank the Lord, they did too); yes, there was some indiscipline and our defence leaked.  But, right now, we’re not talking about that.  Next week maybe but, right now, South Africans are united because we are simply enjoying the moment and delighting in the positive.

Dare I let the Spirit teach me to focus on the positive in other peoples lives?  To focus on what God is doing in them, rather than on what is still to be done?  To build them up, rather than tear them down?  Can I simply enjoy and dwell on what delights and excites them, rather than try and make them do what delights and excites me?

I will make that my prayer.



Filed under Community

6 responses to “World Cup: A Challenge to the Church

  1. Diana Coke

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for this. I’d like to pass it on if I may. (I’m thinking of Jill Burt and Stuart Fair in the UK, Liz du Preez and the Zeiners with their PMB links) But I had a huge hassle everytime my cursor picked up Sacredise while I was reading your message. It gave me a box that I couldn’t get rid of without a huge hassle. Is there any way that can be removed, as i don’t want those who I send this on to to have the same hassle. Or is there a tip to get rid of it that isn’t apparent?


    • Hi Diana,
      Please do. Not sure. On my side it’s a preview of any links I embed. I didn’t think they were available to anyone else.
      You could just send them a link to the webpage?
      Thanks for your interest.


  2. The Rugby World Cup in 1995 had a similar effect, as did the African Cup of Nations in 1996. We went to the semi-final of the latter, because if we didn’t make the final it would be the last chance to see Bafana Bafana in action, and when we beat Ghana, wasted no time in getting tickets for the final.

    But in the case of the World Cup, we couldn’t even get tickets for the Serbia-Ghana match. So obviously soccer has become a lot more popular in the mean time.


    • Those of us who grew up on rugby and cricket have taken a while to appreciate how unimportant those games are when compared with soccer here in South Africa, let alone the rest of Africa. So it’s great to enjoy the vibe and be part of it.
      Thanks Steve.


  3. Hi… Great to have another blogger of the Methodist variety 🙂


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