The illustrious sports programs of the University of North Carolina are not so illustrious anymore. For the past 18 years students playing for the university’s teams have been taking “paper” courses, courses which required little or no work and for which students received favorable grades. These were courses designed to ensure that players would not lose their academic eligibility to play sports.
For the past few years there have been investigations into the sham courses, but each time the investigations were halted and their findings not revealed. When Carol Folt was hired as the school’s new chancellor she determined to deal with the matter once and for all and hired an outside investigator who found that over 3,000 students took courses which were courses only on paper and were given A’s and B’s for little or no work. While much of the blame has been placed on one university employee, questions abound as to how many others are culpable. Someone was quoted as saying that while the employee in question thought she was doing a good thing for the school and students, she was actually hurting the students and school – consider that many of these students left school reading at an elementary-school level (which makes you wonder why they were enrolled in the first place).
The University of North Carolina looks like the American Church. We don’t require much, members need not be Biblically literate, we want to win (grow bigger and bigger congregations) whatever the cost to Biblical integrity, and we think that if we win championships (if we look good in the eyes of others) that all is well. We don’t want to engage in self-critique using the Bible as our benchmark, we don’t want the Holy Spirit to be our outside investigator, and we want to avoid sanctions (heartfelt repentance) at all cost – because we don’t want to be stripped of our titles (our reputations). Should a member or two of a congregation suggest that perhaps things are not as they should be they are asked to be a good team member and go along to get along – otherwise they can go to a lower-division school (a small congregation) to play.
Of course, people know that big-time college sports, especially the money-making sports such as football and basketball, are rife with questionable academic standards; it is all about money at the gate and money from alumni. Here again, in much of the American Church it is about money, about sustaining physical plants and large staffs and programs which often mirror the bureaucracy of government – if congregations are held spiritually accountable members might leave, large donors might be offended.
What is the difference between a stadium packed with college football fans and a church of thousands? The crowds are both assembled to witness an event – to have a good time. The football fans don’t have a personal relationship with the coach or the team members – and yet they feel a connection with them. The thousands of church attendees don’t have a personal relationship with the pastor or the staff – and yet they feel a connection with them. It’s amazing what an event will generate, such passion, such feelings, and yet there is no personal relationship. How much pastoral care can there be in a church of thousands? How much accountability? How much is actually there? (Many of these same dynamics are found in smaller churches too – but in this context I’m focused on the success syndrome – bigger at any cost).
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:5, “Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” Here is the BIG question, “Am I playing for the University of North Carolina?”
Am I living life according to the measure of God’s Word, following Jesus Christ as Lord of my life, and submitting to the Holy Spirit? Am I laying my life before God, asking Him to reveal sin in me, to cleanse me, and to keep me living in the light as Jesus is in the light? Or is my life filled with popular Christian fluff that is designed to make me feel good?
One day, when we stand before Jesus Christ, the judge of all the earth, we will know the answers to those questions. I’d rather deal with questions and answers now.
What about you? Are you playing for the University of North Carolina?