I have been a die hard Cleveland Browns fan since I was a kid growing up in Ohio in the 1960s. I have lived through The Drive, The Fumble, and the moving of the franchise. One year my oldest son Mike gave me a book titled, Why is Daddy Sad on Sunday? - A coloring book chronicling all the heartaches in Cleveland sports history for the past 40 years.
Two weeks ago the Cleveland Browns made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. This past Sunday, they finally won a playoff game. This was something they had not done since 1994. They won on the road, something they had not done since I was a kid in 1969. They did this against their bitterest rivals. In a game in which Covid had sidelined their best lineman, their two best pass defenders, their head coach, and four other coaches. In a season in which Covid had restricted time for practice, let alone time to know teammates and come together. The Browns have talented players, but somehow they have not been able to get the most out of their talent. How did this team which had become synonymous with losing, turn things around?
It was mentioned by the sportscasters during the game that first year head coach Kevin Stefanski, had begun the season by bringing coaches, players, and even the owners together in a Zoom call. The call lasted for hours as Stefanski asked each individual to share their 4 H’s: History, Heroes, Heartbreak, and Hope.
The Zoom meeting focused little on football. It was about getting to know one another. One of the first players to speak was newly acquired fullback Andy Janovich, a tough guy in a tough sport who is more comfortable cracking pads with a linebacker than public speaking. Janovich decided that he needed to be as open and honest as possible. He reasoned, “If you don't really like the people you're working with, you'll just want to collect a paycheck and go home and say, 'It’s just a business’.” Janovich spoke about the joys of his large family, growing up as one of nine siblings. He spoke of his walking on at the University of Nebraska, and not becoming a starter till his senior season. He then spoke of the death of his mother, due to thyroid cancer, when he was only three. He spoke of his hero, his father, who worked from sunup to sundown and then came home to raise his kids. “He was the glue who kept us together.” He spoke optimistically of what he believed the Browns could accomplish in 2020 and beyond. It was an emotional story and tough guy Janovich was very emotional as he related it. "You get to realize it's bigger than football," DT Larry Ogunjobi said. "Everybody's story, everybody's journey is just amazing how we can all go inside together and bring us together. So many different races and backgrounds and stories. For us to all be a team, it just goes to show how special this game really is.”
I relate all this to say that maybe what is needed in the Church today is team building. Especially in this year, when Covid has disconnected us all to some extent. We come from different backgrounds and cultures. We have talented preachers, knowledgeable teachers, gifted song leaders. Our people are more educated than ever. We have more technology available for sharing the gospel message. Yet, do we come together for worship, then just go home and never interact with one another until next week in the pew? Do we get close to a few people, our little clique, and fail to relate to the rest of the Church? I realize we will be closer to some people than we are to others. I also realize that even Jesus had the inner circle to which He was closer. But until we actually become family, not just talking about it, we might have a lot of losing seasons.
We all have amazing stories of how we have come to Jesus. They need to be shared. We all have suffered heartbreak either before our life in Jesus, or even after. If we’re willing to be vulnerable, they can be shared too. We share a common hero, Christ. He’s the One Who died for us. He’s the One Who intercedes for us. And we share a common goal, Heaven. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” – Romans 12:5.
P.S. Congratulations to all my friends who are Alabama fans. The Tide rolled over my Buckeyes. They had better coaches, better players, and better schemes. It was a complete victory to celebrate a complete team.