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The church and women (’s football)

What can the church learn from the cultural shift towards women’s football? asks Ali Davis

Who else has watched more women’s football in the last few weeks than ever before?

Sure, a few early adopters may have been watching the Lionesses for years, following the ins and outs of the women’s league with the same dedication as the millions who follow men’s football.

At a guess, a good number of readers are in the same boat as me. Watching the England ladies play up a storm in France this week has been a relatively new experience for me, piquing the curiosity of vaguely watching from afar over the last few years.

But this year is different. While England footballer Jill Scott had registered faint name recognition, I’m now fully engaged with fellow players Lucy Bronze and Nikkita Parris, wondering with other viewers and spectators if the team’s habit of fading in the second-half is going to be their downfall, and adding Phil Neville to the Gareth Southgate School of Leadership and Waistcoats. Something has shifted in our culture and now we really care about women’s football.

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How has this happened? How has something that has had a World Cup for fewer than 30 years suddenly become an international talking point, while the men have been competing in World Cups for almost a century since 1930? A sport which was roundly derided by football fans for being boring, low quality, and – horror of horrors – played by women, is now a water cooler moment’ in offices around the UK

The increasing popularity has got me wondering what the UK church can learn.

We can be a pretty unpopular group of people – let’s face it. We’ve got a bit of ropey reputation in some corners of society – some of it deserved but much of it not. Let’s just say that the BBC isn’t going to start rolling coverage of Spring Harvest in the ilk of this weekend’s Glastonbury coverage, and it’s unlikely anyone is concerned with where Gavin Calver gets his waistcoats. We’re probably women’s football circa 2001: the majority of people just thinking that if they ignore us for long enough we’ll slink away, never to be heard of again.

But, like women’s football, we’re not going to take that route. Instead, we’ll continue to work hard, investing in what we believe in. When no one cared about women’s football there was a whole community of unseen, unknown, unheralded people training, drilling, and playing in the rain with rubbish facilities and tiny crowds. They pressed on towards the (literal) goal, committed to the what they passionately believed in, not side-tracked by what others said, not intimidated by the scorn and disinterest. Can we be as relentless in our task?

We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to remain firm in our commitment to following Jesus in good times and bad, assured of our calling to serve each other and our communities and passionately share our belief that Jesus really is good news. Let’s not cave because the rest of society doesn’t always love what we have to say. Let’s keep humbly pointing to the outworking of our faith that society does appreciate: foodbanks, debt centres, youth clubs, care for the elderly. Let’s keep getting better at loving Jesus, following Him and sharing Him. Can we be as steadfast in the face of opposition?

Let’s invest in the future. Whether that’s time, money, gifting, prayer – whichever way we can invest, let’s do it. Let’s raise up children and young people who will take on this charge when it’s time for us to pass it on to them. Let’s reach and keep young adults in their 20s and 30s through an authentic and welcoming spirit of church. Can we be as committed to future investment?

Admittedly, this analogy falls a bit short. The church isn’t a football team, women’s or otherwise. The church is the bride of Christ, destined to be heirs with Him, reigning in victory for eternity. We don’t have to win a bunch of games to get the glory; we already are changing from glory to glory in the grace and love of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).

But, while we’re here and while we’re in a bit of a social mire, let’s fix our eyes on the goal, pressing on towards the prize which God has called us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Just like the Lionesses, let’s live with an unwavering knowledge that one day the tide will turn.

About the author

Alexandra has been at the Evangelical Alliance since 2015. Previously she worked for Evangelical Alliance member Release International. Alexandra has a masters degree in Democracy and Democratisation from University College London and spent time with the Baptist Missionary Society in Kosovo. Alexandra is part of the leadership team at her church.

See more from Alexandra Davis

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