Are you a defender, attacker or a spectator?

Author: Martin Brown

Are you a defender, attacker or a spectator?

The roles on (and off) the football pitch aren’t dissimilar to the roles we play in our lives and in the church, says Martin Brown.

Picture it: A cold, winter fog in the air, thirty or so boys shivering in their shorts and T-shirts following a ball around a pitch like iron filings around a moving magnet.

At my school there were three types of player: defenders, attackers and those who did whatever they could not to be passed the ball – in-game spectators.

Whenever I play football people always shout things. Most of them are helpful.

Our teacher Mr Nicholson’s favourite was “Get involved!” and I’ve now learned that it’s so much better if you do. For one thing, you keep warmer.

As in football, so in life.

A matter of life…

Legendary Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly famously said that football wasn’t a matter of life and death, “It’s more important than that”.

While I may not agree with taking football so seriously, I do think our personalities come out on the pitch.

Some people have more of a defender’s personality: they are more cautious, often very dependable, but not known for extravagance or flair. They stop bad things happening and stop things declining.

Likewise, there are attackers in life: those who go all out to make good things happen and make things grow. They are often called go-getters and can inspire others with their visions of what’s possible. 

Defenders and attackers

We also bring who we are to our faith life - we’re not different people in church.

Maybe evangelists are the attackers of the church, the missionaries surging forward.

Defenders meanwhile are perhaps more naturally attuned to defending the church’s stance on various issues or keeping things running in church while the attackers are off finding more players.

Both are important, both have gifts and both at times are called to switch roles and fill in for others.

We are in a special time called the New Evangelisation when we’re all called to be on the “attack”, in the sense of being proactive about sharing the love of God.

Perhaps this is the equivalent of a corner to your side when all but the goalkeeper are in the opponent’s half (although when the situation is desperate even the goalkeeper comes forward).

Is the church herself a defender or attacker? While she defends much e.g. the right to life, I believe that generally she is a striker.

“And the gates of the underworld will not hold out against her.” (Matt 16:18) This is not a defensive statement made by Jesus to Peter – he is reminding him that the church is on a mission!


Away from the action on the football pitch, there is another group of people whose role is equally important – supporters.

Supporters are not on the pitch, but somehow they’re still involved.

What would a supporter look like in church? How much would our parishes benefit from people who took seriously their call to encourage others onward, to cheer them on and inspire people to get involved?

It’s strange how perfectly normal it is considered for people to sing, jump up and down, cheer and chant, cry and be incredibly passionate in support of 11 men trying to kick a small sac of air into some netting, but somehow odd to show even the slightest emotion in church, where we meet the God who loves us and has saved us from a fate worse than death. 


Spectators can be present either on the pitch, like some of my old classmates, or off it.

The key difference between spectators and supporters and players is that spectators are not involved in any way.

Whether they are running around in such a way as to avoid being passed the ball, or stood off the pitch refusing to join in the singing, we all know people in our lives and in our church who would benefit from Mr Nicholson’s challenge to “Get involved!”

When you stand silent on the sidelines, you miss out on all the fun. How much better would our church, our world be if more spectators at least raised their voices in support?

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