Monday, March 29, 2010

T-Shirt Sales

If I were in Durham today, I would have been one of the first people in line to buy a new t-shirt. I don't need a new t-shirt. Still, I would have gone to the Duke Store to pick out my favorite NCAA Men's Final Four shirt. I've stood in line at the Duke Store often on Mondays like this - eager to support the Blue Devils in a tangible way. I'm not in Durham, however, and I am still trying to figure out if $6.50 for shipping is too much for a $17.95 t-shirt.

The scene at the Duke Store today will be matched on three other college campuses across the country. Individuals will have lined up in at West Virginia, Butler, and Michigan State. I am willing to bet that all but one of the schools were prepared for the madness associated with a Final Four appearance. Most of the schools have been there before. But, this is an entirely new game for Butler.

I hope the folks at Butler are prepared for the attention that will come their way. Not only will thousands of dollars be pumped into the University in exchange for t-shirts and hats, but the admissions office will see a spike, too. Prospective students who never before considered going to Butler will call or email, requesting an application and more information. The website will get more hits than it has before. People, like myself, will now know that Butler is in Indianapolis, a fact we never knew before.

I spent four years as the Director of Admissions at Duke Divinity School. When I first arrived in this position in 2001, I quickly learned the value of a NCAA National Men's Championship. The statistics prior to my arrival showed that some of the best years in terms of applications and prospective student inquiries were in 1991 and 1992. Coincidence? I think not. These years were the years that Duke first won the NCAA Championship. I was rather fortunate to start this job in 2001, just as the men had won another championship. I came in with interest peaking and people calling the Divinity School from all over.

When I shared these statistics with my father, my dad laughed. He did not really believe me. He could not understand how the Divinity School could benefit from a men's undergraduate tournament championship. I literally had to show him the statistical report for him to believe me. And, I have not forgotten the value of such a victory. A trip to the Final Four is invaluable to a school. Schools could never afford the advertising fees it would take to get as much attention as they get with a trip to the Final Four. A championship is more priceless than Master Card could ever explain.

When a team, a team of a dozen or so students does really well, their school benefits. All it takes is for one of the many teams a university has to do exceeding well and the school sees unbelievable results.

But why am I writing about this?

I'm writing because I think the church can learn a similar lesson.

In Acts 2, we have a beautiful picture of the early church. In this picture, we see Peter preaching a powerful message. In response to his message, people ask what they are to do. Peter responds that they are to repent and live a changed life. And the people keep coming. They keep observing the life of the early believers. They see the early believers take what they have and share it with anyone who has a need. They see the early believers worship, celebrating God's presence in their midst. And, they see countless signs and wonders being done among this group. As a result, thousands of new coverts are added daily to the number of those who are being saved.

It was a small group who lived their faith exceedingly well. It was a small group who took their discipleship seriously. It was a small group that radiated the message of Jesus Christ. And as a result of this small group, countless individuals wanted to be part of the church. All it took was a small group of committed people really living out their faith, and the number of people doing the same grew.

I am convinced that if we as Christians were constantly striving to do the same, then something similar would happen to our churches. If we love like Christ, then people cannot help but to sense the wondrous love of Christ through our lives. If we forgive like Christ, not just once but seventy times seven times, then people cannot help but to be curious about the power that enables us to do this, just as many of us were completely captivated by the Amish community following the school house shooting a few years ago. If we accept others like Christ, then others will be able to see something extraordinary - something remarkable - something that is worth taking a second look at.

There have been days at the Duke Athletic Department that were not all that good. Not long ago, there was a lacrosse scandal that captured the attention of the entire country. At the time, many people looked down on Duke. Many people questioned whether it was the right school for them.

The same thing happens to the church. All it takes is for one person to claim they are a Christian and do something awful in order for ten people to be sent away. For some people, one story of hypocrisy can send a dozen people away. For other people, the way we feel about a particular group of people can send a multitude away. The church's tendency to be judgmental, hypocritical and anti-homosexual have placed a huge dent in the church. If you don't believe me, pick up a copy of the book, "UnChristian: What a New Generation Things about Christianity and Why it Matters."

What we do matters. What we do not do matters. People are watching us all the time. A small group of committed folks can bring in a hundred more. A small group of not so loving folks can send away a thousand.

What does your life say about Christ? What does our discipleship say about our church? Are others coming because of the light radiating from our lives?

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