My Experience in Sport & Rec Ministry
I serve as an administrator of sports and recreation at a local church and as an adjunct professor for sport management and ministry. In addition, I have been an athlete, coach, spectator, and a parent. This means I have spent many hours watching games, observing practices, researching, and sitting in the stands. My roles and experiences have helped me come to understand the struggle of integrating the Christian faith within the sporting context.
Through my own personal growth and struggles, as well as research in the areas of integration of faith within sports, I have found this to be an area in which transformation and discipline are needed. Yet, for the Christian athlete, parent, or coach, there seems to be a struggle or a wrestling to integrate faith and sports. This struggle has led them to respond in a “compartmentalized” manner that adheres more towards our secular and global sports culture than that of Christian response and play.
Recently I have found myself in a number of gyms in which I witnessed contradicting behavior. While I don’t know every detail, and only God can truly know, it strikes me odd that coaches, parents, and leaders of recreation ministries and athletic teams believe they are developing and living out Christian principles of faith and honoring God, while at the same time, dehumanizing the referees, gossiping with others about the integrity of the other coach, and verbally abusing players for their performance. Why has this become the norm? How can someone speak of sports as an opportunity to teach character while behaving in a way contradictory to the gospel? How can one confess Christianity, but bear such un-Godly fruit within sixty minutes of athletic competition? This answer is compartmentalization.
Compartmentalization can be defined as the space in which an area is subdivided. Imagine a house diagram where each room is a “compartment” within the entire space of the house. Certain rooms hold certain belongings that are not integrated within the rest of the rooms or house.
Compartmentalization allows for putting the areas in which we are unsure of how to live in room, while behaving in the culturally expected actions of the activity. Compartmentalization allows for separation of actions while still believing we are living within Christian principles.
Compartmentalization is not a new concept. Ancient Greek philosophers spoke of compartmentalizing life into five realities: physical, mental, social, financial, and spiritual. Today’s psychologists refer to compartmentalizing as consciously separating life into compartments as a way of avoiding negative emotions. Business leaders suggest we even compartmentalize our work so that we are able to separate work issues from real life. While compartmentalization can be beneficial in certain areas, it is not a biblical concept.
The Church has utilized many ministry strategies throughout history: hospitals, schools, arts, music, dance etc., but sport has a few distinctive advantages over other worthy endeavors…
A. Its Relevance
1. Sport attracts the two missing groups of most churches. Men and youth. What’s the common denominator? Both are hormonally challenged! Any one with teens will tell you they are often “bouncing off the walls” because they have so much energy. In addition, it’s well documented the male hormone drives men towards activity. Most youth stop attending church shortly after the church stops providing refreshments, recreation and activity-based learning – usually about grade 3 or 4. Men get and stay involved in churches providing manly “roles" and "rolls” (think donuts!). It is important to feed men (physically and spiritually) and provide them with roles based on activity rather than communication. But what is most important...it is vital to “challenge” men with the adventure of following Christ. Churches engaging in dynamic activities for youth and men will grow.
2. Sports activities and sports facilities attract people. There’s something about seeing: families enjoying a parking lot of “inflatable games;” men kicking up the dust on a softball field; young adults running and jumping as they play ultimate Frisbee; or women "digging" and "spiking" volleyballs. Far more people are attracted to athletic pitches, fields and courts than ever think to attend a church service because the church has beautiful architecture.
3. Sports activities provide continual marketing opportunities. Local papers keep league standings and will often advertise your upcoming leagues and activities for free. The print and other news media are always looking for innovative activities to feature and sports, tournaments and events all provide great stories for media in need of continuing story lines.
B. It fulfills church growth principles
1. Sport Ministry focuses on outreach. Most churches know they will not grow if they don’t evangelize. Yet they are often unaware of a very dangerous principle called “maintenance creep.” The shift from “outreach,” to “pastoral care” is often so subtle most churches aren’t even aware it is occurring until it is too late and their evangelistic efforts are no longer receiving the priority needed for continued success. Sports oriented activities are naturally attractive to the unchurched in ways unparalleled by any other ministry.
2. It provides a role for everyone. Traditional churches are based upon verbal skills. Preaching, teaching, fellowshipping and even singing are all based upon verbal exercises. These activities are perfect for those who are gifted communicators. Not so much for those who are more inclined to activity. Many people are excluded from being able to serve or lead within the church. A sports outreach opens up roles for many non-involved parishioners.
3. It provides a natural “back door” activity that church members can invite friends, families and co-workers to.” Whereas, most un-churched people are not receptive to invitations to a church service, they are very open to playing on a softball or football team. Furthermore, it provides a continual opportunity for relationships to deepen and develop because sports leagues occur at least once a week for months at a time. This becomes even more relevant by the fact it normally takes 6-7 years for a totally non-churched, secularized, non-believer to come to a personal faith in Christ! Most church outreaches last one hour, one day or perhaps in the rare occasion, one week. Sports keeps people involved for years, greatly enhancing outreach success.
C. It has built in accelerators
1. The accelerator of relevance is primary. The statistics of how many people participate and are interested in sport fluctuate each year but regardless of the year or the study the results are always the same: vast majorities of people are involved in sport, thus making it the most relevant connection to a secular world the church has.
2. The accelerator of relationships is crucial to the overall goal of reaching and discipling those far from God. Men who met each other for the first time just prior to the game physically embrace one another after a teammate “puts one in the net” or "over the fence." Sports bring disparate people together quicker than any other ministry.
3. The accelerator of communicating faith is unparalleled. Sporting analogies, metaphors and experiences provide unique, insightful and relevant ways to communicate a personal and growing relationship with Christ.
D. It is cost effective
Would those who attend your Christian Education classes pay money to attend? Do you charge those attending your youth group or small groups? Yet, millions of people pay churches up to $150 per person to participate in leagues or other sporting activities. In addition, local businesses are willing to sponsor teams or otherwise advertise at your sports facilities and events. Concessions, sports gear and fundraisers such as marathons and tournaments are all “economic engines.” Sports ministries are far more cost effective and have a far greater potential for raising funds than any other ministry in the local church.
This blog is an edited article written by Dr. Greg Linville's in July of 2010.
All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact: Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. W. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville and other authors are archived at: www.csrm.org
The True Measure of Our Success
Some years ago I was in Rwanda with a small team. I remember vividly how we went to a prison and shared the gospel with the inmates. More than 600 prisoners indicated their decisions to give their life to Jesus that day. For us it was a great response. However following our meeting as we were traveling with the prison’s volunteer chaplain, he expressed his deep regret to us that it would be impossible for him to follow up on each decision. He did not have the time or the resources to disciple each individual, and he knew that many of those prisoners would be unable to keep their new faith without the encouragement or input from mature believers.
Still as is my practice I dutifully reported that we had seen more than 600 people accept Jesus (which was true)… But I often wonder if I was just playing “the number game” to measure our success. Had I reported the number of inmates who would be involved in a discipleship process for follow-up, the number would have been much smaller but consequently probably a more accurate reflection of those who in the end would still be following Jesus. In our world more is better… on the scoreboard, when we compare salaries, how big our churches are, how many people attended this or that event that we organized, how many people came to Christ… the larger the number the better we feel about ourselves and that we have actually achieved something. Isn’t it time for a change?
I have been involved in sports ministry now for many years. It continues to be something that is close to my heart, not only because I enjoy it but also because it is, I believe, the greatest tool that God has given us to reach this generation with the Gospel. Through sports and recreation in every culture of the world we can build relationships with people. Maybe you have heard this quote attributed to Plato: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." As we play we build relationships that open us up for getting more intimately involved in others' lives.
Of course there is also a down side. By nature in sports ministry we are more likely to do the 'sports and recreation part' better than the 'ministry part'. Sports and recreation is often done by active people for active people where the game becomes more important than the relationships. It's easy to play, but it takes time and effort to be intentional in sharing the gospel and then growing those new relationship. Now add this to an already existing focus on ‘the number game’ and a lack of focus on discipleship for many churches and you have a situation that sucks the life and resources out of the church. It is for these reasons I believe that the Sports Ministry movement has largely failed at making disciples. It is time for a change…
We know Discipleship should be central to all that we do as followers of Jesus. It is a term we hear referred to often in our churches and Bible studies, but it is often dismissed individually because we have created an expectation that makes it nearly impossible for the ordinary person to achieve or participate in. In reality discipleship should be simple. It comes down to three relationships* that every person needs in their life and if we can begin to leverage these relationship in the right way then discipleship will take places simply because we are living the gospel:
A BARNABAS, an older man or woman (in faith, not necessarily age) willing to build into your life. Someone who is willing to share not only their strengths, but also their weaknesses. We need to be accountable to those around us. It was Barnabas who came alongside Paul and mentored him when the rest of the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem were afraid of him (Acts 9).
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7
A PAUL, a soul brother or sister. Someone who loves you but is not impressed by you. Someone who you can link arms with and go into battle together. Someone who is your peer (your equal) in life and ministry like Paul and Peter.
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he was clearly in the wrong.” Galatians 2:11
A TIMOTHY, a younger brother or sister (in faith, not necessarily age) whose life you are building into. You are their spiritual father or mentor who helps them grow through the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of life and ministry. Look into 1 and 2 Timothy.
Paul did not want to make converts but desired that all become mature in Christ. One of the best summaries of his work and calling is found in Colossians 1:28-29. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Presenting everyone “prefect in Christ” speaks to the spiritual maturity that Paul wanted to help his disciples obtain. This was his ultimate measure of success and was accomplished only through relationships.
So how will you measure success in 2016? Will it be in playing ‘the number game” or will it be through the quality of your Barnabas, Paul, and Timothy relationships? Is it your desire to see your friends and family become all that God created them to be as they are made ‘perfect in Christ’? Allow God to use you and strive to become more intentional in the relationships that He has given you!!
You can be the change...
*Barnabas, Paul, and Timothy relationships are adapted from the teaching of Howard Hendricks, former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Pray – Play – Say
Last month I began this blog on Simple and Organic Sports Ministry by sharing the value of employing the bridge of sports to build relationships with lost people. This month I will share the first of three principals that will help your church develop church sports that win!
Principle 1: Develop intentional and specific prayer.
Prayer is critical to any endeavor for which we want to see eternal results – it is even more important when the endeavor is evangelistic in its focus. The Apostle Paul pleaded with the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer for himself and his co-workers because they were sharing the Gospel. He asks them to pray for:
1. An open door to share the message (Colossians 4:3).
2. God to give the clarity when proclaiming the message (4:4).
3. Wisdom when dealing with outsiders (4:5).
4. The blessing of making the most of every opportunity (4:5).
5. Their conversation to be full of grace and seasoned with salt so they know how to answer everyone (4:6).
It is critical that you develop a team of people who will regularly ask God to guide and bless your efforts; and you do this BEFORE you go out and play with lost people. This requires far more than circling up and praying after you play a game or go on a hike. Even in the simplest and most organic sports ministry, prayer is essential to seeing eternal results.
In addition to Paul’s list above, your prayer team could also ask God for:
1. Wisdom to know what sports or activities to play. Think people first – who are you trying to reach? The sport/activity is secondary.
2. Where and when to engage in the activity – this may determine who comes
3. The Holy Spirit to draw those He wants to participate – not just sports all-stars from the church
4. Physical protection from injuries
5. Self-control of those participating – especially the believers playing
6. Protection from the enemy of the God and His work in the world (see Ephesians 6:10-20).
7. Key volunteers. When Jesus was in Jerusalem, He looked over the people of His city with compassion and gave the disciples a task - pray for laborers (Matthew 9:36-38). Employing sports to reach out does not require a lot of volunteers, but they do need to be the right ones - those drawn by God’s Spirit. So ask God for them – like Jesus told us to.
After personally surveying 94 churches that employed sports for ministry purposes, I hired a professional statistician to analyze the survey data. His purpose was to determine which aspect of the churches’ sports ministry (e.g., church size, facilities, paid staff, Senior Pastor support, sports ministry budget, etc.) correlated most closely to families becoming engaged in the life of the church (through the bridge of the sports ministry). Intentional and specific prayer was greater than two times more likely to be correlated to families joining the church than any other aspect!
Don’t overlook the importance and strategic advantage prayer brings to incorporating sports in your church Sports Outreach efforts. You will have to invest time to ask people pray, then give them specifics.
GOD, MONEY AND US (Local Church Sports Ministers)
Struggling With Finances in Difficult Times
Warren Fish, CFP® Qualified Kingdom Advisor™
This blog is going to be about money. Why? Because among the many tensions and stresses a Sports Ministers faces is managing an income that may not seem to be adequate in the midst of some difficult economic times. I write from the perspective of personal experience and the experiences and training I have been privileged to be taught. I have learned that Christians in all walks of life (including Sports Ministers), and with a wide range of incomes, have some very common struggles. Permit me to share what I see are a few of the arenas of struggle.
BIBLICAL AURTHORITY: while we say we take God’s word as true and inspired we sometime do not search out what all He has to say about money. There are 2350 verses in the bible pertaining to money. Jesus spoke 38 parables, 16 of which dealt with money or, 45%. Since there is such an abundance of scriptures regarding money we may want to ask “why?” I believe God spoke 5 times more about money than any other single topic is because he knew money would be the leading competition for the Lordship of Jesus in our life. No matter our income, or lack of it, money will compete with Jesus in our hearts.
The Psalmist tells us in 24:1, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” If he owns it all then he has the right to instruct us in the best use of his assets. In future blogs I will share more of the specific verses and teachings, but for now let me share with you another struggle:
CONTENTMENT: or the lack thereof! Paul writes in Philippians Chapter 4 that he has lived with a lot, with a little and all in between. But, he has learned to be content (13). We know that the Lordship of Jesus was firmly established in Paul’s life and he wrote from that perspective. What causes discontent among believers…among Sports Ministers? I believe is falls into not fully trusting what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you.” A major cause of discontent comes from comparing ourselves with others. Ken Boa writes that “comparison is the basis of discontent.” Do you find yourself comparing what you earn to others on your church staff? To your Senior Pastor? To others in your congregations? When we compare ourselves to others who seem to have it much better, we can get quite disgruntled and take our attention away from serving Jesus. Our discontent can also lead us to another major struggle:
CONSUMERISM: or the penchant to purchase items and desire to live a lifestyle above our means. Consumerism is saying to God “you aren’t providing well enough for me so I have to go into debt to get the things that I deserve and will make me happy.” Consumer debt and credit card debt is as high among the family of God as it is in secular society. Struggling with issues of being in Sports Ministry becomes more difficult with a credit card payment due every 30 days. I mention this because I have personally: “been there, done that.” Getting wise counsel and then “gritting our teeth” for the struggle of getting out of debt is all worthwhile when we finally arrive at a place of being at peace with Jesus and our finances. This leads to another arena that is:
PERSPECTIVE: or, seeing things from God’s point of view. We need to learn that all money decisions are spiritual in nature, and often emotional. God wants to instruct us in all matters including money. James 1:5 tells us to seek wisdom from God and He will give it without making us feel stupid. We learn to view life from a biblical perspective through wise counsel, taking advantage of the many teachings in the Christian community and just simply and sincerely asking God. God’s grace is extended to us and he does not condemn us even in the area of finance.
THANK YOU: for reading this far! Look for more blogs in the ensuing months regarding money and finance as we expand further upon what God would have us to know.
Warren Fish is a retired United Methodist Pastor & Financial Counselor. He is a former CSRM Board of Trustee Member, father and grandfather. He lives in Canton, Ohio with his wife.