What NASCAR Taught Me About Church

One of the greatest gifts ever given to me was by my former church upon the occasion of my fifth anniversary as their pastor.  They sent my wife Julie and me to the 2011 Daytona 500.  I am a big NASCAR fan and can become highly offended when people make fun of me for this. Actually, being a NASCAR fan is a lot like being a pastor! Both require thick skin for multiple reasons.

The Daytona 500 is unlike any other sporting event I have ever attended and stands alone even in the world of motorsports.  They call it "The Great American Race" -- a 2.5 mile oval where speeds exceed 200 miles an hour.  Because of the size of Daytona and the banking in the corners, drivers mash the gas all the way to the floor and never let up.   Daytona is so fast that cars must be artificially governed with the use of a restrictor plate for safety reasons. 

There’s a point, you see, where fast is just too fast, and 200 mph is sort of the magic threshold.  But what happens when you restrict the performance of these 800+ horsepower engines is that all 43 cars become clumped up into a massive pack cruising around the speedway.  This is the magic of Daytona.  You find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat as the greatest drivers in the world speed just inches from one another.  You get the very real sense that disaster could strike at any moment.  And because the cars run so close together, when a driver wrecks, he usually takes out multiple cars with him.  This kind of wreck is called The Big One. 

When you put it all together, the whole experience is a three+ hour adrenaline rush. 

So I found myself the last month pumped and ready for this year’s Daytona 500, which ran on February 22nd.  As I was watching Speedweek’s events, particularly the qualifying duels on the Thursday before the 500, I learned something about, of all things, the church.

What I learned about church involves what in NASCAR is called the draft.  Essentially, because of the draft, two cars can go faster than one car.  Here’s how it works:

A lead car can go maybe 195 mph.  The air resistance going that speed is tremendous.  Just stick your hand out the window of your car when you’re going 70 mph on the interstate to understand what I mean.  So a second car can come up behind a lead car and tuck himself up nice and close to the bumper.  When this happens he is drafting.  This means that he is not experience air resistance like the lead car, which means he can go faster than 195 mph.  What he will then do is “bump” the lead car and push him to go faster than he can go by himself.  This is called bump drafting.  In this way, two cars are faster than one. Got it?

Now imagine 43 cars all jammed together at Daytona International Speedway, all running tucked up next to each other because the restrictor plates slow them all down to about the same speed.  What you have is a massive pack of drafting taking place.  And this is good and exciting, because the big pack can go much faster than a single car or even a smaller pack.

What I learned about church while watching the Daytona 500 has to do with what happens when a driver loses the draft.  This always happens to a group of cars who, for whatever reason, just can’t keep pace with the pack.  Somehow, they fall to the back of the pack and allowed themselves to get separated from the pack.  Then away the pack goes.  The cars in the rear fall behind like a rock. 

I see way too many Christians today who lose the draft. 

Sometimes they lose the draft accidentally. They get distracted from church life with their “other” life.  A weekend at the lake.  Travel ball.  A “snow day.”  There are all kinds of ways that we lose the draft without meaning to.

Sometimes they lose the draft on purpose.  You will see this in NASCAR.  During the race, one car will pull out of line and try to make a move.  He thinks he’s got something the others don’t have to improve his position.  But what usually happens is that he starts to fall back…and fast.  Next thing you know he’s actually being lapped by the other cars!

So here is the life principle that all believers need to hear and understand:  You can go faster and further in a pack than on your own.

This is why we all need a church.  Is it messy at times?  Sure.  There’s banging and rubbing, and tempers flare and sometimes there is even a crash.  But we are all in this together.  Another thing I love about NASCAR is when a driver crashes one week, he’s back behind the wheel the next.  That’s how it should be in church life.  It will not always be perfect.  But it will always be exciting!

Let me challenge you – don’t lose the draft.  Pastors, it is incumbent on us to keep the principle of the draft in front of our people.  Our culture sends all the wrong messages about the importance of church life and church attendance today.  People think they can just jump away from church and life will go on as normal.  In reality they find themselves falling behind, and fast!  Challenge your people to stay in the pack. And if they’ve lost the draft, challenge them to jump back into the pack this Sunday.

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” Hebrews 10:24-25