How to Balance Sports and Ministry

How to Balance Sports and Ministry

Did you watch the game last night?

Sports are an ever present, increasingly influential fact of life in American culture. It is the topic of conversation around the office, at the gym and on social media. Both participation in and identification with sports are as great now as ever. Don’t misunderstand. I am fan. I’ve enjoyed sports since I started playing football in my backyard. After my stellar playing career—5/6th grade basketball & 10th grade practice soccer squad—I’ve taken more to playing recreationally and cheering on my favorite teams.

Over the years, I’ve found that most people are like me. They have some memories from the glory days, play a pick-up game occasionally, but mostly enjoy watching their favorite teams. However, a few years ago, I noticed that I was more than just an active viewer. My schedule was set by the upcoming game. My nights were increasingly spent in front of a TV screen. Not only did I experience the emotions of a good game, but they hung around after the game. I recognized that sports had taken too significant of a place in my heart. I needed to go to bed and watch the highlights the next day. I needed to put my enjoyment of sports in perspective of my pursuit of Christ.

What I’ve wrestled with personally, I’ve also seen students and families walk through in ministry. How do you balance sports and church? How do you balance sports and academics? What does it look like to prioritize Christ in your pursuit of athletic achievement? How does your faith impact the way you compete? In what ways are you using sports to glorify God and advance the gospel? When have sports become an idol in your child’s life or your family? Sports raise these questions and many more for students and families. Where do you turn for answers?

Below are some resources you might find helpful for yourself, your family or your ministry.

On Sports and the Christian Life: An Interview with David Prince (Part 1 & Part 2)
David Prince provides answers to a wide range of questions in this interview with The Southern Blog. He shares his own interest in sports, lessons from sports for the Christian life, and guidance for families with athletes. One of my favorite quotes comes from his response to avoiding sports idolatry:

Unthinking rejection or unthinking embrace of sports is a failure of Christian discipleship. I believe that the Christian with a rightly ordered, Christ-centered worldview is uniquely in a position to enjoy athletic competition as a good gift from God and his or her sports loyalties as a demonstration of providential rootedness in time, place, family and community. (See also this TGC post)

For more from David Prince, see his book In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship.

Don’t Waste Your Sports – C.J. Mahaney
This eight-part series is full of great advice for athletes and fans from a fellow sports-lover. Mahaney’s focus is helping athletes play to the glory of God. If your child plays sports and wants to be faithful to Christ, Mahaney’s book based on these posts would be a great gift (Don’t Waste Your Sports).

Are Youth Sports a Friend or Foe to Christian Discipleship? – ERLC
This is an important question. The answer can go either way depending on the leadership of the parents. Sports can be used to serve self or glorify God. Sports can pull a student’s affections away from Christ or compel them to live for Christ. “Sports, rightly understood, are but a means to a greater end of delighting in God. Though, like all good gifts, sports can be corrupted and become an idolatrous competitor with God instead of a means to glorify him.”

For other helpful resources, check out this help podcast on Youth Athletics and ERLC’s Resources on Sports.

In Defense of Sports – Barnabas Piper
Piper poses and responds to some typical objections to people’s enjoyment of sports. He concludes, “I believe sports are a gift, a good gift, that God gave through human creativity for our enjoyment. They should be participated in at every level and in every way as such. And just like all of life, we ought to approach them with thoughtfulness, discernment and intentionality.”

God’s Chariot of Fire: The Life of Missionary Eric Liddell and the Race He Ran – Hebrews 12:1-3 – Danny Akin
Dr. Akin examines the life and missionary calling of the Olympian, Eric Liddell. While his athletic ability was world class, he ran for something much greater than Olympic gold. Akin’s sermon is as enlightening as it is challenging. “Contrary to popular opinion, he never said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” However, he did say, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

You might also enjoy Chris Norman’s personal testimony, Why I Said No to the NFL.

Football Talk – Tim Challies (circa 2004)
I have benefited greatly from Tim Challies blog and resources over the years; however, I’ve rarely seen his interest in sports come out on his blog. I know cheering for the Rams must not have been easy this year!

This is by no means not an exhaustive list. However, I hope it provides some helpful insight into the possibility, temptations and joy of sports.

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Michael Guyer
Michael is the Minister to Students at Open Door Church where he has served for the last five years. He gets most excited about good coffee, enjoying friends and family, making disciples, engaging culture, and planting churches. He writes to help others delight in, declare, and display the gospel in all of life.