This is the sixth in a series of blogs addressing the question: Is Sports Outreach Working
and begins with the following premise:
The Sports Outreach Movement that emerged in the mid-20th Century was touted as a most strategic tool for Evangelism, Discipleship and church growth. In addition, most Sports Outreach Ministers and many Lead/Administrative Pastors believed Sports Outreach to be the most strategic tool the church could employ to accomplish the Great Commission. Yet, these leaders are now beginning to doubt it can deliver the promised results. They wonder…if Sports Outreach is so effective then why is the Western Church losing ground. The following statistics combined with those presented in previous weeks provide evidence of the decline of the local church.
The purpose of this series of blogs is two-fold: a) an explanation of why Sports Outreach has often been ineffective; and b) a proposal for how Sports Outreach can successfully meet its “Kingdom” oriented goals. The basis for this discussion flows out of the Six Sports Outreach Continuums of Tension and their impact on the current trends in Sports Outreach Ministry. The Continuums are:
This week focuses on Continuum of Tension #2: Christmanship / Sportsmanship / Gamesmanship.
Gamesmanship and Sportsmanship need little definition. Conversely, Christmanship may be unfamiliar to some. Gamesmanship defines what athletes do and think to win a game. Adherents commit to winning at all costs. The ultimate goal of the “gamesman” is to win… by fair means or by foul. Most likely, those adhering to Gamesmanship are also committed to a worldview called Sportianity (defined in previous blogs). Sportsmanship describes a code of ethics for athletics based upon humanistic relativism. Humanistic because the athletic code of conduct emerges out of what humans determine to be ethical. "Relative," because the Sportsmanship ethic changes according to shifts in the societal morals and the specific group of people who are deciding what is ethical. "Sportsmen" drift towards Sportianity.
Conversely, Christmanship describes the value system and ethos of athletes, coaches and fans committed to pursuing Christ above all else, including competing in the image of Christ and worshipping Him through their competing. They strive to win and have an affinity for certain aspects of Gamesmanship/Sportsmanship but they evaluate their success from a Biblical foundation.
Gamesmanship, Sportsmanship and Christmanship all share areas of overlapping agreement, with Sportsmanship occupying a middle ground between the other two concepts. This does not mean however, Sportsmanship should be considered Aristotle’s highest ethic: the “Golden Mean.” Sportsmanship has many excellent characteristics but is far from being the perfect model for sporting ethics. The following graph illustrates Christmanship shares an affinity with Sportsmanship because both are based on a higher standard than Gamesmanship’s ultimate ethic of winning. But there remains a sharp, foundational distinction between Christmanship and Sportsmanship.
Christmanship is founded upon the unchangeable final authority of the Word of God. Conversely, Sportsmanship is founded on the constantly changing ethic as determined by humankind. This does not mean Christmanship can’t affirm the overwhelming ethic of Gamesmanship – winning – or the basics of the Sportsmanship ethic – playing fair, striving for excellence etc. It does affirm these positive values but it also surpasses both, in its pursuit of not only playing to win and playing fair but more importantly, by playing in the image of, and to the glory of, Christ.
Relevance of the Sports Outreach Christmanship, Sportsmanship, Gamesmanship Tension Continuum
It’s not enough to choose Christianity over Sportianity. Individual Christian Sportspersons must compete in a Christmanship ethic and Local Church Sports must be conducted in a Christmanship ethic, both on and off the court, field or pitch. How you play will either glorify and honor Christ or it won’t. Local church Sports Outreach Ministries have the incredible opportunity to not only redeem the individual sports person but can also serve as a catalyst to transform and redeem the sports culture by “discipling” athletes of all ages in the Christmanship ethic. This is no little thing!
WILL THERE BE ONE?
Last summer I presented seminars at a summer Chautauqua on the topic of Muscular Christianity and also to a Church on a related subject. Combined total attendance was over 200 people but less than five had ever heard of Muscular Christianity! It is likely you too have lived in blissful "non-Muscular Christian" awareness. What's amazing is, we live less than a century after Muscular Christianity's hey-day and yet no one recognizes the term that described a world-wide movement, shaped an entire culture and inspired the modern day Olympics! Could the current Sports Outreach Era be headed for a similar future? Sadly, many in the Sports Outreach Movement cite disturbing trends which could well spell a similar fate.
THE SPORTS OUTREACH MOVEMENT CONSISTS OF FOUR MAIN COMPONENTS:
A few are growing but most are static or declining. Since 2005, the Local Church segment of the Sports Outreach Movement has seen a decline in churches offering sports programs and the numbers of Professional Local Church Recreators and Sports Ministers dwindle. Why? Two main Methodological reasons - reliance upon a model of "personality, rather than presence;" and of "leading with buildings rather than building leaders."
PERSONALITY OVER PRESENCE
The “Achilles heel” of the Sports Outreach Movement is its preferred model: “Platform Proclamation.” “Platform Proclamation” seeks to provide a “Platform” for “Christian” athletes & coaches to share their faith. This methodology is flawed on two counts. First, it is rare to find Christian athletes adequately prepared to speak theologically and thus their “proclamations” are at best, unwise, and at worst, misleading or even heretical. Second, all too often the personal lives of the “proclaiming” athletes don’t match their “proclamations.” This results in an increasingly cynical world with fewer and fewer people willing to “tune in” Christian athletes who frequently don’t live in ways congruent with the Biblical faith they espouse. The motives of many athletes aren’t wrong. A better model is needed.