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Harnessing the Power of Sports for the Gospel

This is an excerpt from Sports Ministry by David B. Lewis,David Irby,William Galipault & Wayne Rasmussen.

Sport will always be part of life. As Jay Busbee, writer for Yahoo! Sports, contends, “Sports can be a diversion. Sports can be a hobby. And, for a fortunate few, sports can change the world” (Busbee 2013). Who will be among the “the fortunate few” who believe sport can be a tool to help change the world? Is it possible that God could use sport enthusiasts to share the love of Christ with those around them and perhaps throughout the world?

If Jesus has captured the heart, any sport that stirs passions can be used to serve the world for good, whether the sport is team, individual, competitive, or recreational. The followers of Jesus who have a love for sport can use that passion to build relational connections with those around them to share the love of Christ in their neighborhoods, schools, and local and global youth sport clubs. As the Apostle Paul writes,

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:20-27 NIV)

This passage of Scripture presents a key foundation for the practice of sports ministry. Paul encourages his readers to run every step with purpose so they will not be disqualified to win the prize. But first, one must enter the arena and start the race. Paul’s example is an exhortation to find common ground with those around them. In Paul’s situation, he lived as a Jew in order to identify with Jewish people. He lived like one under the law so that he could be like those living under the law. He became weak to identify with the weak. In all possible ways, he attempted to identify with those to whom he ministered. The principle remains the same today. In the case of sports ministry, common ground is found through sport. The sports-minded can be reached with the gospel through sports ministry methodologies that tap into this inherent bond of sport. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, one can become a sportsperson to reach the sportspersons around them. Sport can be intentionally embraced so that relationships can be fostered and lives touched. For example, sports ministers have used sport to share Christ’s love in communist countries, helped to bring peace in the midst of civil war, run sport camps for churches and sport-themed vacation Bible schools, and helped to mentor students at the university level. The need and opportunities are endless.

Whether one’s ambition is to be a successful athlete, an effective coach, or a great parent, true-life examples of sports ministry, past and present, will inspire and equip for godliness. The integration of faith with life is all-encompassing, permeating every aspect of one’s life, including participation in sport. Faith is not to be separated from one’s involvement in sport. Faith and sport can intimately be joined together. God equips His followers with varying gifts, passions, and abilities. All of them are to be offered back to Him as an offering of thanksgiving and service. The life of a Jesus follower, as an engaged ambassador for Christ through sport, is powerful to influence lives with the message of grace and reconciliation, whether in one’s neighborhood, a local park, a gymnasium, a magnificent stadium, or a place along the Amazon River accessible only by a dugout canoe or small plane.

More Excerpts From Sports Ministry