Last Saturday New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup by defeating Australia. This makes New Zealand the first country to win three times. The newspapers and commentators opined on why this small nation of 4.5 million in the South Pacific should be so successful at this sport. Matthew Futterman in the Wall Street Journal wrote that their dominance is a unique combination of ancestry, genealogy, weather and the sporting culture. To excel at rugby requires a unique combination of size, speed, fearlessness, and grit.
I was born and raised in that culture. My father, Carl Schroder, was a star player, was the President of one of the local teams, Excelsior, whose photographs of his team in his prime were hung all around the public bar in the Central Hotel, Hokitika. My uncle, Ron King, who was my father’s best man at his wedding, rose to be captain of the All Blacks (the national team), and eventually their coach.
I played from childhood on. Since I was fast my position was wing three-quarter (the equivalent of wide receiver). When I was a student at Canterbury University I played for a team in Christchurch. At Durham University in England I played for my college (St. John’s). At Gordon College in Massachusetts I coached, and in Jacksonville, Florida I closed out my career as a referee in the 1970’s when I could no longer keep up with the players.
What did playing rugby teach me? I had to learn to catch the ball when it was thrown or kicked to me, I had to run with every ounce of effort to avoid being tackled and to score a touchdown, I had to tackle my opponent and throw him down if he had the ball to prevent him scoring. I had to play in all weather and in all sorts of conditions: sun, rain, mud, or snow. I had to be aggressive. Yes, I had to have speed, fearlessness and grit.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 states: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might….” In the ministry I have often found that some people value the soft virtues over the hard virtues. Many people prefer their clergy to be warm and fuzzy. I would be the first to admit that the culture in which I was raised did not promote those virtues for men. You had to prove that you were a man on the rugby field. There was no room for a shrinking violet. No doubt that was hard for some boys who did not fit the mould. Playing rugby was like going through boot camp. You either endured or you didn’t survive.
Being a Christian and being a pastor requires endurance, courage, perseverance and complete commitment. Life is not easy. You have to catch and run with the ball when it is thrown you. You have to tackle temptation, opposition and discouragement and not let them get you down. You have to face every day no matter what the conditions. You have to have grit. Jesus is your coach. Heaven is your goal.