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.
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!