Redeeming the World of Sport by Redeeming the People of SportRelevant Gospel Outreach Through Sports / Part 3
Dr. George Hunter, George Barna, the Pew research foundation and others are most helpful in providing quality research from which trends can be established. Dr. George Hunter is particularly insightful in his analysis of secularized people. His claim about two commonly held myths concerning secular people is particularly astute. He states secular people cannot erase their innate spirituality nor can they erase their sense of morality. C. S. Lewis affirms the same many times in his magnificent book Mere Christianity: all people have an innate morality. To state secular people don’t have a spiritual or moral dimension to their life is demeaning and inaccurate. Secular people prove they have a moral code whenever they praise or condemn anything, exemplified whenever they chastise Christians for trying to “evangelize” them. Their innate spirituality is demonstrated whenever they make a “truth” claim.
Atheists – who believe there is no God - and agnostics who - don’t know if they believe God exists – demonstrate innate spirituality by their very claim to be non-believers! Morality is evidenced whenever they pronounce something to be wrong such as, it is wrong for religious people to “force their beliefs” on others. To believe something is wrong assumes a moral code.
Surprising as this might seem, this provides an open door for Sports Evangelists to enter. This is how it works. First of all, it must be realized, traditional church outreaches aren’t effective in reaching those who doubt the existence of God. However, those who have no interest in traditional church activities will play ball in a league, or exercise in a fitness program sponsored by a church. They’ll even participate in post-game “team huddles where the Bible is discussed.” Yet, they would rarely, if ever, attend church “Bible Studies.”
Secondly, the shared athletic experience opens up avenues for relationships to develop. Relationships lead to dialogues and dialogues provide opportunities for Christians to affirm their new found friend’s spirituality, albeit spirituality that denies the existence of God. Encouraging a person who gives serious thought to important topics such as whether or not there is a God, and commending someone who is courageous enough to state these somewhat unpopular beliefs, is far more effective than condemning someone for not believing in God. Meanwhile, the continued, recreational activity and the ongoing personal affirmations build trust as post game devotionals and testimonials slowly make an impact.
Secularism and Science
Sports Evangelists are better able to relate to secular friends if they take a little time to understand them. Generally speaking, secular-minded people have a world view based upon science, not faith or the Bible. However, this too provides an open door for dialogue. For one to believe in science, one must assume there is a created, logical order to the universe. Without order, the scientific method of experimentation is rendered useless. Without order, chaos reigns and all science is rendered impotent. More significantly, order assumes, in fact, demands, there to be an Orderer. Order and its requisite Orderer, is necessary for science to have any validity at all!
Similarly, leagues cannot be run, nor games played without order. Unless there is a final authority all sports devolve into chaos, spoiling the enjoyment of everyone involved. These kinds of discussions help explain the Christian world view to those who claim there is no Orderer but are interested in participating in a recreational activity.
To summarize, secular people who believe science will solve all of humanity’s dilemmas are by necessity affirming a higher authority than science itself. In addition, if they engage in a conversation with Christians about these issues they are admitting there is ultimate truth. Furthermore, the only way to have an intelligent discussion is to assume there is logic. What is the bottom line? The opportunity to communicate the truth about there a higher authority than science will more easily flow in relationships forged by a common athletic experience. Moreover, not only do the athletic experiences form the foundation of relationship in which such discussions can occur, but they also provide living examples of the rationale for order and thus an Orderer.
Secularism and the Afterlife
Sometimes Christians waste a lot of time and squander any trust they’ve gained by talking to secular-minded people about heaven and hell – especially hell. Many secular-minded people don’t believe in the afterlife and most don’t believe in hell. They simply aren’t worried about spending eternity in a place they don’t believe exists! Since they don’t believe the afterlife is guaranteed or knowable this is a non relevant issue to discuss. However, they do have an innate comprehension of reward and punishment and this would be a place to start a discussion about the afterlife. The reality of reward and punishment within the sports world can be a great segue way to begin a discussion that provides a rationale for eternal reward and punishment. It’s not that Sports Evangelist shouldn’t ever talk about hell or the afterlife it’s more about how and when to discuss this topic.
For many years Rico Tice directed the Sports Outreach for John Stott’s All Souls Church in London, England. At a pastor’s conference near Cleveland, Ohio Rico exhorted ministers not to eliminate discussing hell with those they were sharing the gospel with. His rationale was stated in the following concepts. First, evangelists must believe the results of their evangelizing depend entirely upon God. Second, to believe it all depends upon the evangelist would result in the evangelist getting rid of God’s wrath and condemnation, never calling people to repentance out of a desire to be liked by those they are reaching out to. Third, he made a most profound observation regarding communicating the gospel with secular people in relationship to heaven and hell. He said evangelism in the 21st century is not about getting people saved as much as it is convincing them they are lost and going to hell!
Discussing the afterlife, particularly hell, is best done after a solid relationship has been formed. Sports outreach evangelists would do well to avoid post game devotionals that focus on condemning people to hell unless they know the relationship can handle it. Ask yourself: “have we built a bridge strong enough to handle the weight of this topic?” As Rico says the topic must be discussed, but it must be at appropriate times and in sensitive ways.
Secularism and Religion
Typically, secular people are uninformed about religion as a whole and about Christianity in particular. However, this doesn’t stop them from having negative views about Christianity and the Church. Driven by biased media, the prevailing view is Christianity is not sophisticated and Christians on the whole, are not intelligent. Christians are believed to be intolerant, bigoted and narrow-minded. The church is seen as corrupt: morally, financially and politically. At best, secular people generally believe the church is irrelevant having nothing to offer.
Furthermore, secular people are often put off by, and certainly don’t comprehend, the language of religion. Terminology such as “Washed in the blood,” “Fed by the Word,” “Walk with Christ,” “Baptized in the Spirit,” “Repent.” or “Rapture” is unintelligible and confusing. It tends to alienate the very people the church is trying to reach. Moreover, people report they dislike the very methods churches use to attract those far from God. These methods include:
It truly is amazing how significant it is for non-churched people to observe church people who are passionately competitive and who sometimes struggle to control their emotions during a hotly contested game. Rather than being a poor witness, these emotions are an encouragement to those who have never experienced Christians who “are real” and play with intensity. Men in particular respond favorably to a Christian Sports Outreach that includes battling and sweating together - much more than a billboard or a cold call visit to their home.
Secularism and Life
In an attempt to make sense of their lives, secular people are often driven by temporal and materialistic motivations. This is why Rick Warren’s Book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life” was so wildly popular amongst secularized people. Devoid of a Christian worldview or any spiritually-minded worldview, secular people desire help in finding what can give their life meaning, significance and purpose.
This search for significance also provides an opening for Sports Outreach. A faith-filled life focusing on how to live, rather than on what happens when you die, is extremely attractive to people striving to live before they die. They desire a fulfilled earthly existence much more than they respond to contemplating the “hereafter.” In addition, secular minded people tend to be focused on materialistic goals and feel the full weight of the daily stresses of family, life, work and health. People stressed out by temporal and materialistic motivations find it refreshing to be around people who live a less stressful, loving and purposeful existence. Those filled by doubt are encouraged by Christians who exhibit hope. Those alienated by the government, the economy or work related situations are attracted to Christians who lovingly accept them as they are. Those experiencing lives of lonely desperation in gated communities or high rise complexes welcome the connectedness they experience with people of faith. They are drawn to those who are joyful, fun-loving and enthusiastic about life. Those experiencing the pain of divorce or widowhood find comfort in being surrounded by contagious, loving Christians. Well meaning but frustrated parents welcome a local church sponsored youth sports league that includes teaching kids about morals and ethics.
To summarize, secular people lack and envy exactly what Christians have: lives of meaning, purpose, fulfillment, joy and connectedness. Unfortunately, they are too often disconnected from these winsome people by their own prejudices and ignorance of what true Christianity is and who real Christians are. The key for contemporary Church Outreach is to find relevant, common-ground, activities (sports and recreation!?) that will enable relational bridges to be built with the secularized community. True evangelism occurs through relationships which emerge in the midst of jointly participating in shared activities.
The creation of strategic outreaches attract people through what the Celtic evangelists of the 4-6th centuries termed “middle life” issues. The Celts determined people have no more than a passing fancy in higher life issues (how many angels exist) and are unable to contemplate the condition of their soul when facing the life and death situations of basic life issues. That is why St. Patrick, Columba, Aidan and others focused on the middle life issues such as vocation, family, justice and health. They desired to enrich and bring meaning to the lives of “Celtic barbarians” of their day. Similarly, contemporary churches will do well to concentrate on strategic outreaches that can bring clarity and relevance to the middle life issues of today’s “neo-barbarians.” The following section looks at churches that are effectively reaching secularized people.
 In this section I will outline a few overarching concepts that emerge from research done by reputable people or firms. I will not be citing specific statistics so as not to deter the flow and relevancy of the main points offered here. The technological era in which we live makes any hard-copy resources antiquated within a few weeks of being in print. Rather than cite statistics which have a short-lived, shelf life, I will concentrate on the trends based upon these evolving statistics and suggest where the latest statistics can be found as well as refer to specific authors, researchers and books which have influenced my thinking. These include the Barna foundation, the Pew research on religion and spirituality, George Hunter and others.
 Much of my thinking has been influenced by Dr. George Hunter, particularly his book entitled: How to Reach Secular People.
 Rico was a long time rugby player and shared these thoughts at the Parkside Church’s “Basics” Ministers Conference in May of 2011.
 These are a summary of George Barna’s Book – “Evangelism that works”
 These examples are very much North American. Each culture will need to interpret specific scenarios to fit their own experiences but the principles are cross-cultural.