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Musings from Match of the Day on Mute

It seems that one particular football related story has dominated many of our newsfeeds over the last week or two. It’s not surrounded another wonderful victory for Newcastle United (even though that’s a more regular occurrence these days), neither has it been about the latest sacking amidst the merry-go-round that is the premier league management. This time it’s been all about the ex-footballer and BBC Match of the Day (MOTD) presenter, Gary Lineker.

Lineker spoke out via Twitter and shared his opinion regarding the Government’s new asylum bill, which in turn was deemed to be in breach of the BBC’s impartiality policy. Here is not the forum for me to dissect Lineker’s comments or indeed the Government’s bill, others* have made for more concise statements than me. However, as I reflected on this story it somehow left me thinking about its relevance to the church, and particularly some of our models of preaching and teaching; bear with me as I try to explain.

After Lineker stepped back from presenting MOTD last weekend, his fellow presenters and many others involved in the media world (and beyond), stood in solidarity with him, backing his stance. This led to MOTD being aired with no presenters, no pundits and no commentary on the games. All slightly odd; and after watching the programme myself, I was struck by a comment that a minister friend of mine made on social media after viewing a presenter-less MOTD. He said that it actually felt more like he was at the game “this is the way forward” he wrote, and jovially went on to comment, “bring in the Bovril and a pie!” In short, my pal quite enjoyed MOTD without the endless commentary, analysis, stats and many opinions being shared; the football was allowed to speak for itself. “Maybe I can learn from this”, my friend went on “read the Bible, leave out the preaching… and let the congregation just burst into spontaneous singing or chanting!”

Although obviously written in a jovial manner, perhaps my friend has a worthy point as we consider ways in which we seek to delve into, reflect on, and learn together from Scripture. Maybe preaching, with what can sometimes similarly feel like endless commentary, analysis, stats and one particular opinion being shared, isn’t the only way. How often do we (like a silent MOTD) allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves? Sometimes within the RM network we come across small congregations who are faithfully seeking to fill their preaching rotas Sunday by Sunday, it’s all admirable stuff; yet there are many other relevant Bible study resources, Dwelling in the Word** and other Lectio Divina type practices that allow God to speak through more than one voice, they are interpreted in the context of the wider church community through collective discernment, conversation and prayer.

The ‘chalk and talk’ educational model of years past has all but left the classroom, as learning now happens in many different ways, appealing to different learning styles. Much of Jesus teaching surrounded asking relevant questions and allowing his disciples and others whom he encountered to work out, and apply, His teaching in their wider community. Indeed the four Gospels include 339 questions that Jesus asked of his listeners. Yet often, the only style we employ is a presentational monologue seeking to provide answers instead of asking relevant questions. I think we need to do better, be more creative, and trust in the power of God’s word even if we’re concerned that people may come up with what we perceive to be the ‘wrong’ answer! (Isaiah 55:11, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12).

I’m aware that I run the risk being totally misunderstood here, and I have been deliberately provocative, so let me offer this caveat as I conclude. I wholeheartedly believe that relevant, engaging preaching from Scripture is still a really helpful method for us to learn together and grow deeper into the things of God. Listening as the Holy Spirit guides and fashions the words of an anointed preacher is a wonderful thing, as hearts and minds are challenged and changed, yet it’s not the only way.

Might I leave you with the suggestion that as we seek to reflect on Scripture it should be seen as part of a three-legged approach, namely; preaching, collective community discernment and personal reflection, all working together as we seek to know God more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day.

Finally, as I write it looks like Gary Lineker will have been back on MOTD this Weekend, you may seek to benefit from his insights, or indeed you may wish to mute the TV, and allow the footie to speak for itself! .

Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England

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