England have stormed into their first ever Women’s World Cup final. And despite usually cheering for “anyone but England”, Ross Hendry will be backing the Lionesses in Sunday’s game against Spain. He believes the team are exhibiting values that Christians should be inspired by
As a proud Welshman there are two universal truths that are my yardstick in sport: rugby before football, and it’s ‘anyone but England.’ Yet for a second summer in a row, I find myself surprisingly captivated by the England women’s football team. And not just because of their sporting prowess. I think the Lionesses are good role models.
Before giving up on me at this point – either because you don’t support the England team, or because you are not into football – allow me to explain myself.
Few would argue that the state of public discourse could be much improved, and political leadership has too frequently disappointed, and frustrated us. We need a better story and more good role models in the public square. As we struggle to find this in the current context, it is natural that we look for them elsewhere. Right now, we could do worse than looking at the England women’s football team. They exhibit some values that we can admire and row in behind as Christians. Let me give you a few examples.
First, the Lionesses show us there is joy in following our calling. It’s easy to see how being a footballer is a joyful thing, and that some people’s sporting gifts give them a sense of calling. The England team and others in the World Cup clearly have a real sense of joy and thankfulness that comes across in knowing they are realising their calling in life. What is, perhaps, less clear to many of us is that those of us working jobs day in, day out are equally called to our roles. God has placed us where he has us for a purpose. He provides us with what we need – from gifts to resources, to protection and opportunities. Whilst the day-to-day responsibilities we have are serious, and often tiring, we can still be joyful in serving God.
Secondly, the Lionesses are a great lesson in resilience and hope in hard circumstances. They have suffered setbacks and adversity. Injuries, red cards, and just having an ‘off-day’ means that, like any good team, the England women have had to dig deep. It is the same for Christians called to live and serve in the society we are in. For us at CARE, and you wherever you are today. There are many places in the Bible where God tells his people to stop grumbling – that they need to persevere. Moses had to address this time and time again. Perseverance is a theme echoed right throughout scripture and into the early church. The word can teach us what perseverance and faithfulness in adversity and hardship looks like, and how to have it.
Thirdly, the Lionesses show us that overcoming adversity involves realising our ‘interdependence’. It’s almost a cliché where there is sporting success to talk about team spirit, and the team being more than the sum of its parts. But it’s true! Good teams may have a star player, but they require different gifts, talents and personalities to be successful. So it is with the Christian life. The Bible talks about the Church being a body of many parts. We have all been given different gifts and talents to use. We are mutually interdependent as the Body of Christ, and each of us has a job to do and part to play. We are wonderfully made as individuals, but also relational, and dependent on one another. Acknowledging this helps us to flourish.
Fourthly, we see that leadership is important. England’s manager Serena Wiegman has won plaudits for the way she has steered and inspired her squad to success. A documentary about her reflected on her time as the Dutch national coach. It noted that the Dutch team was in no way exceptional, but under her direction they won the European Championship and were World Cup finalists. At CARE, we believe that leadership is vitally important in politics and the public square too. We need good, virtuous, leaders who love Jesus and are skilled in their work. People with a deep love for, and understanding of, God’s word. We do not abdicate personal responsibility to political Messiahs but equally we need to pray for leaders of godly character.
Finally, the Lionesses demonstrate the benefit of building a positive legacy. Few interviews with England team members fail to mention the word legacy. The team clearly see themselves as ambassadors who are inspiring the next generation. How I pray that Christian leaders in the public square will have an equally acute and clear sense of legacy building. There’s also a lesson here for evangelists. Love of the gospel is not hereditary; it is a gift we must pass on to the next generation. We must be intentional in proclaiming the gospel, and arguing for God’s better story in the society we are living in, holding faithfully to the truth, and praying that its light will draw people in more and more, as the Spirit works.