The Cincinnati Bengals . . . and Discipleship

I realize this post is an unusual one for me, but I trust it makes sense at the end. I started writing this post on a plane going from Atlanta to Cincinnati to speak in a church meeting Sunday and Monday. As a native of Cincinnati and a life-long fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, I was excited to see Bengals fans all around me as they made their way to the city for Sunday night’s football game between the Bengals and the Buffalo Bills. It seemed like everyone on this flight was a Bengals fan.

How do I know? By the clothes they were wearing and the conversations they were having. Black and orange jerseys and jackets abounded—particularly #9, the number for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. I also cannot remember how many people I saw wearing Bengals caps. Seems Bengals fans really want people to know their team. 

Then, even the most inattentive ear could not have missed so many ongoing conversations about the game to come. The conversation was somewhat natural for fans who remember the almost-tragic collapse of Buffalo Bills player, Damar Hamlin, in last year’s game at this time. At the same time, though, the conversations were more about a surging Bengals team led by a healthy Joe Burrow. Seems Bengals fans also really like to talk about their team. 

At the risk of overapplying these images in my mind, I couldn’t help but think about some applications to my life and my church: 

    • Would others look at the lives of our church members and know quickly they are Christ followers? We may not wear a Christian “jersey,” but we are to live in such a way that others recognize a difference. It ought to be that we really want people to know what it means to be a member of the family of God.
    • Does my church teach believers what it means to put on the new man (Eph 4:24, Col 3:10)? We should want them to give evidence of who they are internally by the way they live—to show others who they are in Christ. Do we ever, though, in my Baptist terminology, just “dunk ‘em and drop ‘em,”—and then wonder why they lose their fire and stop talking about Him?
    • Are my church members so excited about their faith that they almost can’t help but talk about Jesus? That is, they talk about grace and forgiveness and peace and joy in Christ no matter who’s listening simply because they really want others to know Him? Would you hear something about Jesus in almost every conversation?
    • Do we have a strategy in place to keep the fire burning in believers? Do we continually encourage believers to grow in Christ so they walk more like Him and talk more about Him? I’ve described “discipleship” in my book, Disciple, as “the process of intentionally fueling the fire of Christ in a believer’s life so that the fire doesn’t go out” (p. 31). If we don’t have a strategy for this kind of discipleship, we can’t expect our members to be light in the darkness.
    • Do we really celebrate victory in Jesus? Sports fans celebrate with abandon when their team wins (and, by the way, the Bengals did win the game . . .), but our response when someone is saved from hell and separation with God is often a weak handshake, at best. Perhaps—just maybe—our folks would live for Jesus and talk more about Him if we celebrated more the victory He’s already given us! 

Just some thoughts of a sports fan who also believes that discipleship matters for believers. What are your thoughts?

Posted on November 7, 2023

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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