This is the 3rd installment concerning Sunday Sports in the context of Local Church Sports Ministry. In an effort to answer the question of Sunday Sport, this blog series has introduced the 3 Sabbath mandates to “honor the day:” Rest, Worship, Witness; and 3 Lord’s Day principles to fulfill the day: Acts of Mercy, Necessity and Ministry; but as yet, no clear-cut conclusion as to whether or not Sunday sport is theologically sound, and biblically defensible, has been established. Finding the answer to Sunday Sports cannot be determined quickly nor pre-determined by properly-motivated emotional desires to: a) play sport at a high level; b) a desire to utilize one’s sport to glorify God; and/or c) reach others for God. The answer can only be ascertained after significant reflection on at least five key Level #1 Theological Truths: (see the previous two blogs). This blog will address the issue in relationship with the third Theological Truth: Ecclesiology (theology of The Church). After the family, participation in a local congregation of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ becomes the primary obligation of all disciples.
Obligations to and Participation in a Local Congregation of The Universal Church
Even if athletes can find a way to biblically justify participating in sports on the Lord’s Day, they are best served by a realistic consideration of the impact the consistent and repeated lack of participation in a local congregation has on: a) their personal faith; b) the relationships and fellowship with other members of the congregation; c) how their absence negatively impacts the congregation through the loss of their contributions; and d) last but certainly not least, is the impact such lack of church involvement communicates to teammates and others about personal faith and the model it creates. Athletes need to ask the question: does a lack of commitment to, inconsistent participation with, and sporadic involvement in a local congregation enhance or weaken their witness to those far from Christ? The following considerations are crucial to all who desire to become dedicated disciples of Christ.
a. Personal Faith
Even though local congregations have services, classes, and fellowship groups that meet on various days of the week, it stretches the limits of credulity to suggest even a sizable minority of churches offer such opportunities at times that don’t conflict with an athlete’s training and game schedules. Church and sport activities often conflict as Sundays, Saturday evenings, and most week night evenings are all consumed by athletic practices, conditioning and games. Christian sportspeople must make a choice. They must make room in their schedules for and be committed to, regular, active participation with a local church for the good of their own spiritual development, even if it means leaving sport. On a side note, it should be pointed out, the same principle would apply to all vocations; sport cannot be singled out. If one’s career precludes or prohibits regular, personal involvement in a local church, then a new career is necessitated.
b. Relationships and Fellowship
Another aspect of personal spiritual development is negatively impacted for want of regular participation in a local church. One’s faith is always enhanced by and through the personal relationships with other believers. Whether the relationships are peer-based or more of a mentor to a mentee, regular fellowship is crucial to one’s spiritual journey of deepening faith. Furthermore, accountability partners are a must for everybody. This area however, is one that may well accommodate an athlete’s schedule as it can be arranged on days and times other than Sunday. Thus, this point should not be used to deter any sporting involvement.
c. Personal Contributions to a Local Assembly
One of the most overlooked aspects of sports commitments and church participation is the loss to a church of the gifts, skills, passions and leadership of sportspeople who choose not to attend church functions when they conflict with sporting commitments. The Body of Christ is always negatively impacted when any individual and/or specific groups of people self-select to not be regularly involved in local church ministries, outreaches and activities.
One of the prime rationales given by sporting people for their commitments to sports is they have a goal to reach the sporting world by using their sporting gifts and positions for the benefit of the gospel. They should be highly commended and encouraged for this, but I would challenge them to consider how much more effective they could be for the kingdom by applying their sporting gifts and position to a local church sports outreach ministry!
d. Communicating One's Faith
As just mentioned, most Christian sportspeople want to maximize their sports opportunities for the glory of God and to encourage others to consider becoming a Disciple of Christ. Therefore, it would seem counter-intuitive to ask these sincere people to consider forgoing participating in sport on Sunday. However, by participating in sporting activities on the Lord’s Day, especially when it clearly conflicts with traditional times for church worship services, has the exact opposite effect that is desired! What is communicated is, attending a church service is not as important as participating in a sporting activity! If Christians deem sport a higher priority than church…. Well, you can fill in the blank. What does skipping church to participate in sport really communicate?
A Christian who forgoes attending church to reach out to those playing sport on Sunday, but not participating in sport, clearly communicates they are there for ministry, not for playing sports. To repeatedly show up at sporting events for the express purpose of reaching those who play sport is made far more powerful when the “evangelists” don’t participate, than when they do, especially if they are good enough athletes to compete! When participating in the sport, their motives are suspect. The validity of this argument is made obvious by seeing the result in the numbers of people who show up at a Sunday sport event to “evangelize” as compared to those who would come if they could “play.”
e. The Sacraments
While all three Christian traditions disagree on the number and understanding of the Sacraments they do agree on their vital importance. Catholic and Orthodox traditions share seven Sacraments whereas Protestants claim only two, often calling them Ordinances. All three Christian traditions place a very high priority on the regular receiving of, and participation in the Sacraments. The relevance of the Sacraments in regards to athletes, coaches and Sports Outreach Ministry has to do with the fact that commitments to sport most often preclude participation in the Sacraments for coaches and athletes because athletes participate in sporting activities on the Lord’s Day. The implications of this should be apparent. Christian athletes and coaches, along with Sports Outreach Ministries need to evaluate their priorities and find a way to reconcile their sporting commitments so as to be able to regularly participate in a local congregation’s activities including the receiving of the Sacraments.
Summary of Obligations and Participation in a Local Church
The reasons to participate in non-church sponsored Sunday Sport are few, while many great reasons not to exist. However, a case can be made for a local congregation to incorporate Sunday sport and recreation into an overall ministry plan. To state it even stronger, churches that combine recreational and sporting activities with traditional church-based ministries enhance their ministry and such endeavors fall well within the theological mandates and biblically-based philosophical principles of the scriptures. The key distinction is all such activities are church sponsored and they support and enhance the purpose, function and evangelistic-disciplemaking endeavors of The Church.
Next week’s blog will feature the 4th Theological Truth in relationship to Sunday Sport – Missiology
This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Linville's yet to be released book. 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 written by Dr. Greg Linville are archived at: www.csrm.org
Dr. Greg Linville was one of the founding members of CSRM and has served as the Executive Director since 2000. He served for 15 years as a local church sports and recreation minister and coached over 30 years at the junior high, high school and collegiate levels as well as 30 years in rec. leagues. Dr. Linville has consulted with churches from Australia, Africa, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, Europe, New Zealand and North America. He was awarded the world's first honorary Doctorate in Sports Ministry and holds an earned Doctorate as well. He is the author of Christmanship: The Theology of Competition & Sport. Dr. Greg has been married for over 35 years, is the father of two married children and the grandfather of a growing number of grandchildren.