Football wager drawing Baptist churches together

Pastors at two Baptist churches in Tallahassee, Fla., and Auburn, Ala., say their mission trip wager over the BCS title game has caused their congregations to grow closer together. 

By Jeff Brumley

While plans have yet to be made by two churches who bet a mission trip on the BCS championship game, the pastors of the two Cooperative Baptist congregations say the wager’s impact is already producing spiritual fruits.

It all started in late December when good-natured ribbing broke out on Twitter between First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., and First Baptist in Auburn, Ala. The topic: whether Florida State or Auburn universities would win the big game.

The biblical jibes continued escalating until a challenge was issued: the church in the losing city would have to travel to the winner’s hometown for a joint mission project.

But the Seminoles' 34-31 victory has yet to produce a solid plan.

“We don’t have anything yet, and we don’t have a timetable,” said Bill Shiell, senior pastor at the Florida church.

billshiellBut what they do have are closer-knit congregations which have been inspired by the game and the wager.

“What has been fun here is that the Auburn folks in our church are also very excited about helping” with the mission project, Shiell said. “It has brought us closer together as a congregation across university lines of demarcation.”

It’s a similar story over in Alabama, where First Baptist Pastor Tripp Martin said the football-related bet was originally envisioned as a project for college students. But the subsequent hype has drawn other members into the mix.

“I think the neatest thing is the folks are genuinely excited about doing something together that’s creating a larger connection in the congregation and between the churches,” Martin said.

TrippMartinMeanwhile, both pastors said they are leaving the bulk of the planning to their college ministers. The onus is on First Baptist in Tallahassee to identify an actual need in the city that can be met by this particular group of traveling and local mission workers.

“It would be much easier for Tripp and me to just pick something, but it’s better to have the students get together and brainstorm,” Shiell said.