Basketball referee

Officiating the Officiating: Hold the Comments…

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Bill Fowler, YTI Church Relations and Professor of New Testament and Practical Theology

March 15, 2018


Just Trying to Be Helpful

Basketball is my game and I enjoy watching it at every level. My colleague, David, was going to be watching his (eighth-grade) son’s last game of the season (starting point guard for the varsity team) and I went to cheer Luke on. Throughout the game I felt it necessary to make comments on the officiating, sometimes with my “big room” voice. If one of the referees actually heard me…maybe my comments could be helpful for them to improve on their skills. I am always willing to be of assistance!

Don’t Ask Me to Do the Job

As I thought about what it would be like to actually be on the floor, making calls in real time, it struck me that I’d rather comment on officiating than actually do it. No amount of money could coax me onto the court to listen to guys like me offer suggestions from the stands. And that doesn’t consider the constant critique of coaches from the bench as well. Why is it so much easier to criticize the work of others than it is to actually accomplish something worthwhile ourselves?

Teddy Roosevelt once said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Criticism Seems Easy

Prior to teaching fulltime in theological education, I was a pastor for over thirty years. Sadly, the church is one of the places where folks feel free to express their opinions of how things ought to be run, while remaining uninvolved, non-participatory, inactive, and without commitment. It may not be with their “big room” voices, but that voice is still heard, loud and clear, by leadership working hard at moving the church from “where it is” to “where it needs to be.” How easy it appears to criticize the smallest mishap, error, oversight, or weakness, and miss the profoundly positive contributions that church leadership are making, usually at great sacrifice, in order for the congregation to be faithful to the call of God’s Kingdom.

Not Trying to Silence the Critics

By bringing this up, I am not seeking to silence the critics. I always learned something important from the critics, even when they were completely wrong (and a couple of them were). God used their voices to help me examine my motivations, commitment, and efforts toward excellence. He showed me areas of neglect, alerted me to blind spots, and challenged me when I tended toward laziness. Actually, I am calling on the critics to be more sympathetic, not silent; to be more understanding, instead of unloading; and maybe even become one of the pastor/leader’s biggest supporters, or to at least agree to pray for them regularly and to acknowledge them when they do well.

Let’s Be a Blessing

I would not dare take up officiating basketball, and while I miss a good deal of what it meant to be a pastor, I do not miss the “background noise” that often went with it. Being on the “sidelines” now I need to “watch my tongue.” The Epistle of James reminds me that my mouth can be a source of blessing and cursing, and that some things “ought not to be so” (3:10). Can we agree to be blessings to those who “officiate” in our presence? Until one has carried the burden of responsibility for a flock of God, one has no idea of the daily weight that is carried. Please help lift the burden, not add to it.