Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Journeymen

I was pleased to get my hands on a three-week old copy of Sports Illustrated this week, courtesy of my staff colleague, Cory Jones, who subscribes and is nice enough to pass on most issues to me when he finishes with them. Hey, the Canaanite woman told Jesus that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table (Matthew 15:21-28). I’m not too proud to wait for the table scraps from our staff Sports-Master.

The October 19 issue featured a full-length article about Houston Texans interior defensive lineman, Jeff Zgonina, who has played on eight teams over a 17-year career, most of the time as a back-up or special teams player. He has been cut numerous times only to be picked up by another team, and has never made more than the NFL minimum salary. Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden notes:

“The NFL is larger than life, an unscripted weekly drama with celebrity superhero stars. You know their names. But if they are the face of the sport, Zgonina is the soul… He has never been a star, but he has left deep footprints in the locker room of every team for which he has played, providing a heavy dose of daily professionalism and demanding the same from his peers.”

When Zgonina retires this year or next, he will leave behind a legacy of steady, quiet contribution. One man who has coached him on three different teams says, “You’d like for everybody to be All-Pro and tear it up out there, but there aren’t many of those. Jeff is a true pro. He studies hard, works hard, plays hard. And on Sundays he’s still hard to move off the ball.”

As a Christ-follower for twenty-seven years and a preacher for seventeen, I have seen hundreds of Jeff Zgoninas in the local church. They aren’t the five-star talents, the ones whose name everyone knows. They are men and women who quietly and faithfully serve Christ in His church. When a ministry needs volunteers, they are there. When the church holds a special event, they show up to help. When there is a hole to fill, they don’t ask, “Does this fit with my spiritual gift inventory?” They just fill it. Some of them have moved from city to city for family or vocational reasons, and each time they move they find a local church, commit to its mission and ministry, and resume their quiet service. These kinds of folks keep the church going. They are marvelous.

I know many preachers like this too. They don’t get invited to be the keynote speaker at lectureships. They may or may not write books or blog. But they tend to stay at a congregation for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years, quietly and effectively preaching and teaching the Word, ministering to the flock, and serving in the community.

Listen, we need our Barnabases and Sauls. They inspire us and often lead the way. But for every one of them there are twenty journeymen Christians, quietly helping the local church live out God’s mission.

As the Sports Illustrated article notes, the oldest field player in the NFL is Brett Favre. He is a bonafide superstar, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The second oldest is Jeff Zgonina. He arrives at the Texans practice facility soon after 5 a.m. each workday, usually the first player there.

Thank you, Lord, for your journeymen.