Aug 10, 2015


Jesus is Not a Mascot

Steve Lutz challenges us to consider whether or not Jesus Christ is the supreme focus of our ministries to college students and not just our mascot.

Is Jesus simply your mascot, or something more? 

The start of a new season is nearly upon us. Soon, the crowds will descend, the bands will play, the team will run out, and the mascot will be trotted out to get everyone hyped up. Then someone will open a Bible and preach.

Oh, sorry, do you think I’m talking about a football game?

I’m actually talking about many large group meetings on our campuses this Fall.

In far too many of our meetings, the crowd will be thick, the band will be tight, the team will be on-the-ball, and the teaching will be #killinit. But Jesus will be merely a mascot. Incidental to the real action. A symbol of positive feelings, but without much power or purpose to effect what is happening “on the field.”

David Bryant, author of the book Christ is All, says in convicting fashion that, “Once a week…we ‘trot [Jesus] out’ to cheer us up, to give us new vigor and vision, to reassure us that we are ‘somebodies.’ We invite him to reinvigorate our celebration of victories we think we’re destined to win. He lifts our spirits. He resuscitates our souls. He rebuilds our confidence. He gives us reasons to cheer…We’re so proud of him!…Enthusiasm for him energizes us for awhile…Then, for the rest of the week, he is pretty much relegated to the sidelines as our figurehead…our cheers may be for him, but our victories are for us. There’s scant evidence that we think of ourselves as somehow utterly incapable of doing anything of eternal consequence apart from him.”

Ouch. Let that conviction lead to repentance and reflection on how Jesus is regarded in your ministry.

Bryant reports visiting dozens of conferences and barely hearing the name of Christ mentioned—from the main stage, and in hundreds of lobby conversations. Is it the same in our large group meetings? Our small groups? Our social events?

What might you find if you simply spent time listening to the conversations happening all around your ministry? How often do you think you’ll hear Jesus Christ mentioned, let alone explicitly referenced as Messiah, Redeemer, Savior, and Returning King?

If Jesus is who he says he is—indeed, if he is who we claim he is—we can’t treat him like a mascot. He’s far more than that. He’s King. He is meant to be supreme. Front and center. To extend our football analogy, he’s not the mascot. He’s the coach, the quarterback, the field, the end zone, and the audience. It’s only out of his lavish grace that we get to play on his team at all.

How do you know if you’re treating Jesus like a mascot? 

  • If the only time his name gets mentioned is when you say “in Jesus name, Amen,” then he’s probably a mascot.
  • If the time is meant to simply entertain or have fun, not to glorify Christ and extend his Kingdom, then Jesus might be a mascot.
  • If the songs you sing are more about what you’ll do for God, instead of worshiping Jesus for what he has done, is doing, and will do, then he might be only a mascot.
  • If you’re so worried about “offending seekers” that you do a lot of vague “God-talk” without mentioning much of Jesus, then he might not even be a mascot.
  • If what you’re tirelessly saying and doing isn’t by and for Jesus, then he’s just a mascot.

We must acknowledge that even well-intentioned, Jesus-loving leaders can functionally relegate Jesus to mascot status.

So how can we make sure Jesus isn’t merely a mascot in our ministries? Here are just a few ways we can more intentionally lift up the name and infinite worth of Jesus Christ in our own lives and ministries:

1) Go deeper in studying the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is dangerously easy to believe that we’ve learned all that we need to know about Jesus. But we never come to the end of him, and it is his praises we will sing in Heaven! Let’s not settle for what we know now; let’s go “farther up and further in” in our knowledge of Christ. Christ is All is a great and concise resource for this.

2) Let’s repent of any areas in which Christ has not been made supreme. Are there areas of unrepentant sin that we haven’t surrendered to him? Do we function as if we are coach and quarterback? Do we think that we can achieve anything of eternal value without his supernatural power permeating all we do?

3) In our teaching, let’s make a “beeline to Christ” in every passage, as Spurgeon used to say. Plenty of us bemoan the prevalence of “moral therapeutic deism,” among students, yet perpetuate it by dispensing moral lessons and inspirational pick-me-ups that are devoid of Christ and the gospel. Let Jesus be the sum and focus of our teaching. Christ-centered, not human-centered.

4) Let’s make sure that all our “God talk” is actually “Jesus talk,” and that mentioning him is not relegated to the ends of our prayers. How do our songs, the testimonies, the teachings, even the announcements point to and glorify Jesus Christ? How can we make sure that Jesus is not just central to our ministry, but infused throughout it and supreme over it?

5) Let’s charge our leaders to speak more of Christ not only when we’re upfront, but in casual conversations: over meals, in the lobby, in GroupMe threads, you name it. Wherever people are talking, let’s bring Jesus in to the conversation.

In all these things (and more), let’s make Jesus supreme. For the sake of our students and those we lead, for the health of our ministries and the expansion of the Kingdom, and for the glory of Jesus Christ. “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ,” Colossians 1:28.

What are the ways you lead you do to keep Jesus the focus of your ministry to college students?

about the author

Steve Lutz

Steve Lutz is the lead pastor of Wellspring Church in State College, PA Penn State University. He is also the author of two books, King of the Campus (2013) and College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture (2011). He frequently speaks and writes on college ministry-related issues, and consults with college ministries across the country.