Legendary Green Bay Packer football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said something like, “Winning’s not the main thing, it’s the only thing.” Many people (especially Packers fans) bought into the Lombardi philosophy: Whatever it took, be obsessed with winning. The sole purpose was to defeat the competition. Wining was the only thing that counted. If you weren’t playing to win, why play at all?

While that philosophy may seem to make sense, it’s not the last word in “play theory”. In the late 70s/early 80s, a new idea about play and competition took the field. Two books led the charge: New Games and Playfair. The idea was that everyone played hard, everyone had a great time, and most importantly, everybody won. To make it work, everybody worked to make sure everybody else succeeded.

When it comes to matters of faith, the church has acted too much like Vince Lombardi. God’s model is more like New Games.

For a lot of the church’s history, the goal has been to defeat the infidel and humiliate the heathen, forcing the “losers” (any unbeliever) to recognize the superiority of Christianity. Want to be a winner? Be a Christian. Don’t, and you’re a loser.

Of course, if you don’t know Christ as your Savior, you do lose. You have no hope, encouragement or future without Jesus.

But God’s model for winning is more like New Games. God challenges us all to run the race. He invites us all to compete for the prize. He encourages us all to do our best, to follow the rules of the race, to stretch beyond our comfort zone and to finish the course. Moreover, when we–all of us–cross the finish line, we all win. We all get the prize. In God’s race, and in Christ, there are no losers, only winners. That is competition in the finest sense.

Published August 2004