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What the Church Can Learn from Chad Powers

Recently, Eli Manning did a segment on his ESPN show, “Eli’s Places,” where he wanted to see what it’s like to be a walk-on for a college football powerhouse.

He chose Penn State, the home of the Nittany Lions. However, Manning was too well known to show up on a college campus unrecognized. Wanting to have the actual feel of being an unrecruited player trying to win a spot on the team, he had to change things up. Through the use of prosthetics, the former New York Giant quarterback dramatically altered his appearance and became Chad Powers.

In order to blend in with the other recruits trying out for Penn State, Manning hired a team of makeup artists to alter his appearance. Donning long, brown hair, a mustache and a mole on his nose, Chad Powers, was ready for tryouts.

Coaching himself to “think fast, run fast,” Powers ran a measly 5.49 40-yard dash. Explaining to the coaches that he was homeschooled and coached by his mom, Powers seemed an unlikely candidate to make the team. However, the coaches soon developed an interest in Chad Powers’ arm strength and accuracy. When the tryouts were over, the two-time Super Bowl champ revealed his true identity, and everyone got a good laugh.

From this opportunity, Manning got to experience something his privilege never afforded him — the chance to learn what it was like to be a walk-on. Some will not make the team, while others will suit up and never play. A few will end up being awarded a scholarship, and far fewer will see their professional football dreams come true.

Eli Manning never experienced life as a walk-on, but Chad Powers did.

What if the church cared enough about people to want to know what life is like in their world?

Far too many of us get up on Sunday mornings, don our best clothes, and hop into the car. Upon arrival at church, we slip into our Sunday morning rhetoric, talking the churchy lingo, shaking hands and giving out hugs in the hallway. We file into our regular pew in full anticipation of what to expect.

The associate pastor will welcome everyone and rattle off a few announcements. The worship leader will guide everyone in singing the first, second and last stanza of old hymns. The praise band will lead us in the newest song they learned. There will be an offering and a pleading prayer for God to bless it. The pastor will preach on how Jesus died on the Cross for the sins of everyone in the room (but not those evildoers out there in the world). An invitation will be given, while everyone stands and stares to see who will come forward. And, after the benediction, it is a race to the nearest restaurant for lunch or to the sofa to watch football.

All the while in our privilege, we have no clue what it is like to be homeless, a single mom trying to make ends meet, a young man strung out on meth, a gay couple being spitefully degraded, a battered wife, a grieving widow, an orphan without a home or family. Sure, we pray for them, and we hope they find Jesus somehow, someway, but we do not truly know what they are experiencing.

That would be messy. That would be uncomfortable. That would be, well, sinful.

So, we excuse our elitism by going to church and mumbling an “amen” as the pastor preaches against the heretical ways of the world and the need for America to return to our Christian roots. We separate ourselves from “those” people by living in our upper-middle class neighborhoods and protecting our kids from being around those who are a bad influence. We build a wall between the church and the world that is so high no one can get in or out.

Yet, Jesus lived quite differently and revolutionary. Instead of separating himself from “sinners,” he hung out with them. He sat with them. He went to their house. He listened to their stories. He ate with them. He laughed with them. He cried with them. He touched them. He got to know them — by name.

Like Eli Manning, Jesus so wanted to know what it was like to be a human in this broken world that he came and pitched his tent here, taking on flesh and walking among us. He became a “walk-on” human. He did this because he truly cared about the least accepted and the most marginalized of society. He did not just pray for the hurting; he healed them. He did not just talk about the needy; he met their needs.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, that was Jesus. I’m not him.” True, you are not Jesus, but you are the image bearer of Jesus. What people see in you will determine what they believe about the Savior you proclaim.

In the Upper Room, Jesus gave his disciples a final point of instruction before his ensuing death. His mic drop came in the form of a visual depiction of the kingdom. He washed their feet. Taking on the role of a lowly servant, Jesus washed the dirty, grimy feet of the guests. Included among them was a group of 11 who would flee for their lives, the future leader of the church who would deny to three separate people that very night that he even knew who Jesus was, and the betrayer who would turn him over to a mob. Yet, Jesus washed all their feet.

Then, Jesus said to them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus instructed his initial disciples and all of us to do what he did. We are to take the role of the servant. We are to care for the dirty, grimy needs of others around us. We are to be the presence of Jesus in the world today.

So, churchgoer, it is time to hang up the suit and go sit in your grungies on the curb with a homeless man and just listen to his life story. It is time for you to go to lunch with that person of color in the office and ask them whether they think our society says they matter. It is time to stand with the LGBTQ in your community. It is time to visit a prison and befriend the incarcerated. It is time to give a ride to the drunk stumbling out of the bar. It is time for us to do what Jesus did.

The best way for Eli Manning to know what it was like to be a walk-on at Penn State was for him to become Chad Powers and to experience it firsthand. The best way for you to know what it is like to go through the struggles of others around you is to walk a mile in their shoes.

Jesus spent his life building relationships with the outcasts of society, and he calls us to do as he has done for us. If Jesus has called you friend, then it is time for you to broaden your friendships to include those who are different than you — as different as you are to the Savior.

Let us walk on.  

Patrick Wilson has served as a pastor for 25 years in Dallas and Austin, Texas, and most recently in in Rolla, Mo., where he currently is starting a new community of faith, CrossRoads. He is a graduate of Baylor University, earned two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Logsdon Seminary.