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A call to the American Church

A call to the American Church

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might,
led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
From Verse 3 of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (1900)

God of our weary years.

For nearly all of us, 2020 was the weariest of years. With more than 20 children between our two families, at times, it seems that weariness has no bounds. It is also not lost on us that our tiredness pales compared to the fatigue of our two wives, Lauren and Kirsten, who shoulder the burden of responsibility that only moms truly know, no matter how much we men try to help.

Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy gives his acceptance speech during the 2016 NFL Hall of Fame enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, on August 6, 2016. | (Photo: USA TODAY Sports/Aaron Doster)

The year 2020 has brought school conducted behind screens, schedules that change not week-to-week, day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour, but minute-to-minute. Fewer trips to restaurants and no escapes to the movie theater or ball game. For many, the weekly routine of sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning is gone. How can we not be weary?

Having both worked and played in the National Football League, we are creatures of routine. For us, a previous disruption to our routine might have been playing on a Monday rather than Sunday. In many ways, our daily habits and the structure they create provide us with steadiness in a crazy world. In 2020, creating a routine was more challenging than seeing the sun in Boston in late December. Two weeks to stop the spread of COVID-19 has turned into months of uncertainty. We would probably handle this better if we knew with certainty when this pandemic would end. But, like life, we do not know what tomorrow holds.

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God of our silent tears.

Retired NFL star Benjamin Watson at the 'Alive From New York' event hosted by Focus on the Family in Times Square New York City on Saturday May 4, 2019. | The Christian Post/Leonardo Blair

Our weariness, however, goes far beyond disruptions to our schedules. The violence in our American cities, a seemingly never-ending election cycle that saw even the best of friends become enemies, diminishing trust in government, media, and even the Church, drained our collective spirit, heightened our anger, and left us searching for answers. Both of us can say that not all of our tears were silent.

For both of us, the racial injustice and division in this country weighs heavily. We both acknowledge the progress made, yet we are not blind to the long road ahead. We are, however, buoyed by so many who now seem more willing than ever to have the difficult discussions, learn about our remarkable country’s past and present, and acknowledge that for all of us to move forward, we need to listen more than we talk. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Our frontline workers — doctors, nurses, military, police, and fire — were stretched beyond capacity in 2020. Many friends and family have lost jobs and even lives. The communal grief shared at funerals, and memorial services, was often shared alone, and celebrations of life were diminished or absent.

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way.

But God has a plan in all that He does, and it’s a good plan. There were many blessings in 2020 amid the hardships. Many of us spent more time with our immediate families than we ever had before. We lost ourselves in books after we exhausted every last Netflix viewing option. We now have a greater appreciation for our children’s teachers, and our country’s love for sports was put in proper perspective. We were reminded that athletics is more about community than what happens between the white lines.

Many of us spent more time outside taking hikes, riding bikes, and watching sunsets than staring at screens and spreadsheets. Our highways were less busy, and lines to just about everything were shorter. There were blessings if we were willing to look.

Thou who has by Thy might, led us into the light.

As difficult as 2020 has been, God does not guarantee 2021 will be better. This new year will be worse for some of us. But, as Christians, we have to be better. The impact that 2020 has had on our churches and their pastors is immeasurable. Our church leaders are exhausted, with no end in sight to this fatigue. Many in-person services are now held online, which is not likely to change when America returns to business. Giving has diminished, and church budgets are stretched to their limits, with fewer congregants in pews. Many consistent church attendees may never return. Viewing church online was booming when it was novel, but viewership at many churches has fallen dramatically in recent months.

Too many churches are afraid of having challenging discussions and reluctant to point to Biblical truth out of fear of pushback from secular culture. Others would prefer people in the seats and money in giving baskets, so they refrain from doing anything that would offend or challenge. Some pastors, who are doing everything they can to keep their churches thriving, spend far more time building platforms on Instagram than saving souls.

Where do we go from here? We need to challenge one another in love and support each other when facing strong headwinds. While it won’t be simple, it is necessary. We need to clean up our doorstep for us as Christians to witness to non-believers. If we live like the world, why should non-Christians listen to us, and more importantly, to God? Our charge to the body of Christ is as follows:

1) Read the entire Bible from cover-to-cover in 2021. While such an undertaking may seem daunting, it’s not. It equates to about 15 minutes a day. There are online reading plans and even resources like The One Year Bible to help with this blessing — and it is a blessing, not a task. Encourage others to join you. We even have an option for you to engage with the Bible and a journal to equip yourself in reading the Bible available at TheIncrease.com/Bible. How can we expect to share God’s Word passionately and accurately if we Christians are not Bible-literate?

2) Prayer. Pray for our pastors, teachers, politicians, family, and friends. Many of us tell one another that we will pray for them, but do we do it? Instead of telling someone that you will pray for him or her, say, “I am going to stop now and pray WITH you.” Then, stop, and pray.

3) Repent. Repentance is a word we have lost sight of, but it means to turn away from the direction we have been headed. Repentance not only applies to salvation but everyday life. If 2020 has exposed worry, jealousy, racism, pride, greed, or anger in our hearts, we must repent before we can expect to share God’s Word passionately and accurately.

4) Return to our home churches, whether it be virtually or in-person. The relationships built in our local churches are critical for our personal growth and the church’s growth as a whole.

5) Give tithes and offerings. The Bible requires Christians to give to the Church. We can debate whether tithing is Old Covenant or New Covenant, but we all know God calls us to give, and give generously. Tithing is challenging, especially during uncertain times, but our churches are in dire need to survive. If you are in a position to dig deeper, now is the time to do so.

To close, we are co-hosting “Football Sunday — A Sports Spectrum Production” in early February. The theme of the event is “Unshaken,” which is taken from Psalm 16:8: “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Please encourage your local church to participate. It will be a practical and encouraging way to reengage our church families either in-person or online. More information is available at FootballSunday.com.

We don’t know what the future holds, but God called us to follow Him. It’s long past time for a Christian revival in this country, and following the steps above is a call to action that will impact our country in ways that we can’t even imagine.

This article was originally published on SportsSpectrum.com. Visit Sports Spectrum for daily sports and faith content, including magazines, podcasts, devotionals, videos and more.

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Tony Dungy is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and an NBC Sports analyst and studio host. Benjamin Watson is a former NFL tight end and Director of NFL Programs for Pro Athletes Outreach. Dungy and Watson are hosting “Football Sunday: A Sports Spectrum Production” on Sunday, February 7.

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