Christian Role Models?

I’m not a big fan of elevating athletes to the status of
role models because many of them claim not to be. Anytime someone says, “Don’t  look to me as a role model,” you probably shouldn’t. However, I’m making this  past weekend the exception to my rule.

Tim Tebow was in Texas Sunday  for an outdoor Easter service at Celebration  Church (Georgetown, Texas).  From the looks of the news reports it was a bit of a circus. That isn’t Tebow’s  fault. He draws a big crowd right now. The church reported a crowd of 15,000 showed up. It’s not often to have an Easter service where people camp out early to get good seats. The service was held outdoors to accommodate the crowd. The church website states 1,000 people accepted Christ as Savior at the event.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, north side of Dallas, reported a little less saved at their mega-services with 797 decisions for Christ. They had an (unannounced) athlete draw in one of their weekend services – Texas Ranger David Murphy. Murphy attends Prestonwood, but wasn’t scheduled as a speaker. He was baptized at one of the Easter services by Pastor Graham. Another well-known athlete in Christian circles, Josh Hamilton, was also present at the service to see fellow teammate Murphy baptized. Both went on to hit homeruns that night as the Rangers solidly defeated the Chicago White Sox.
This caused one tweeter to post: “Murphy and Hamilton both at @Prestonwood this morning, both hit bombs tonight! @jackngraham those are for you! #EasterAtPrestonwood

A third athlete who’s been very outspoken about his faith is named Bubba. I wouldn’t typically quote someone named Bubba, but Bubba Watson is a solid guy who hasn’t had a golf lesson in his life, but went on to an amazing win at the Master’s Sunday. Prior to his win he had tweeted my favorite verses, “1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Before he went out onto the course Easter morning he tweeted to his 450,000 Twitter followers, “Happy Easter everyone! #JesusHasRisen.” After winning, he followed with, “To God
Be the Glory!!! #Masters
.” The father of a newly adopted son, at the peak of media attention he left and returned home to be with his wife and new son, Caleb. Less than 24 hours later he showed that he has it all in perspective when he tweeted, “Changed my 1st 2 diapers today!! #MastersChamp.

Tim Tebow talks with Celebration Church pastor Joe Champion at the Easter Sunday service.

Again, I’m not the first to run up the athlete “Christian celebrity” flag and push these men as role models, but I am grateful for pro sports figures who don’t shy away from making their faith public. We, the “Christian public,” are the ones who go crazy putting these athletes on pedestals. We also tend to run screaming when they fall from those pedestals because we can’t believe they’re real people with real struggles. I do, however, appreciate athletes who are Christians and don’t shy away from expressing their faith when it seems natural. Tebow pointed out that he’s been doing that “Tebowing” thing (where he takes a knee in prayer in the endzone after scoring) for a decade. He chose to do that instead of the typical endzone dance popular with other QBs. No one paid much attention or made a big deal of it until he hit the big time. It wasn’t a show for him, but an expression of gratitude he’d adapted long ago. I respect that.

Should athletes ever be role models? Yes. They’re public personas who lots of people admire for their athletic abilities. They make good money, get media attention, and are looked up to by lots of younger athletes. Pastors should also be role models, as are teachers and police officers. So is the employee working the counter at McDonald’s. Whoever you are, wherever you are – there’s always someone looking at you. You may not even know it, but they’re keeping an eye on you to see what you do. It may be a member of your family, an employee lower on the feeder chain than you, or even just a neighbor who knows you call yourself a Christian. There’s always someone looking to see how you handle life.

Tebow said he takes this issue of being a role model very seriously. “Sometimes it’s frustrating to me when athletes say, ‘I’m not a role model.’ Well, yes you are. You’re just not a good one.” This is why it’s significant to express your faith when you get the opportunity. Watson began his Master’s win press conference with, “I’d like to first thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.” He went on to talk about his game, and rightfully so. The key thing is to be yourself, not some “pretend believer” for image purposes.

Does your faith work its way out in your daily life in regular, ongoing ways? Is it clear you’re a follower of Christ without having to make a big show of it? Real faith at work allows you to keep fame, money, victories and losses in perspective. “Golf isn’t everything for me. If I would have lost today, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. To win is awesome, but I’ll go back to real life next week,” Watson said. “I still haven’t changed a diaper.” This is the statement of a man who IS influencing others; but not just because he’s on the front side of a camera lens. I don’t know him personally, but I’d guess he’s influencing the folks who are around him during his off-the-golf-course-running-errands-just-a-normal-guy daily life. That kind of role model is best because you see them experience humility in victory and sadness in failure. When you’re connected to those real role models in your life, you also get to see them look you in the face and ask for forgiveness when they do stumble. This makes them even more of a role model.

Master's 2012 winner Bubba Watson at the post-tournament press conference.

Role models are good for us. We need people to whom we can look to as patterns for life. Yes, Jesus is the ultimate model; but, we need people in our lives who walk a step, or two or two hundred, ahead of us and leave footprints we can follow on our own journey. I’m glad there were several athletes who, when placed in the spotlight over Easter weekend, were quick to point back to the One who is the Light.

The Unexamined Life and All,

By the way, not that Waterbrook can keep up with Prestonwood, but I believe Dave Burchett preached at WBF one morning and went on to broadcast one of Hamilton’s homeruns on TV that night. I’m pretty sure no one tweeted that it was in any way  for Dave’s pastor (me). I need a better agent.


Read more on these stories…

Bubba Watson and his faith at the Master’s Golf Tournament:

Bubba Watson and his faith:

A couple articles on Tim Tebow’s Easter appearance in Texas:







Posted: April 10, 2012 
Filed under: Deep Thoughts with Pastor Jeff, Jeff, Leadership, Pastor Jeff, Pictures, Spiritual, Texas
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