The Church & Sports: A Strange Relationship!
By: Bob Schindler
Over the years, the local church has had a strange, almost love/hate, relationship with sports. Three perspectives on sports have contributed to various expressions in that relationship.
1. The first perspective is that the local church thinks that sports are evil. They are secular. Unspiritual. Followers of Christ are to hate sports. Christians are told, "Don't be involved with sports." The relationship ends up as one of intolerance and disengagement.
2. The second perspective is that the local church thinks that it isn't sports that are evil; it is the people playing sports who are. Followers of Christ are to hate those evil people who play sports. Christians are told to only play sports in "safe, Christian" leagues run by the local church for other Christians. The relationship ends up as one of tolerance and cautious engagement.
3. The third perspective is that the local church thinks that sports are good. Followers of Christ are to love sports. Christians are told so, maybe not directly, but are certainly encouraged by the example of others, to engage fully in any and every sports opportunity – whether to watch, play, or coach. We are enamored of sports. The relationship ends up as one of complete acceptance and unbridled engagement.
With those in mind, what kind of relationship do you have with sports? Which perspective do you see in yourself?
Most of us probably don't fit into one category or the other but are a mixture of all three. Each of the three have been widely advanced and yet none of them is actually biblical.
At Church Sports Outreach, we want to encourage the following perspective on sports:
* Sports are built into God's creation as an aspect of the fulfillment of our role as God's image bearers. As such, they are good, as is all of God's creation from before the Fall.
* Sports are seriously broken by the Fall. All sports. As such, they are now realms where the corruption of the Fall is manifest, particularly as we live out the pursuit of our own glory rather than God's glory in sports.
* However, sports can be redeemed! Sports should not be shunned but rather should be engaged in wisely in order to redeem them for God's glory by restoring them to God's original design.
* This redemption, this restoration, of sports is part of the work God is doing in the world today through Jesus Christ – "through him to reconcile to himself all things." Colossians 1:20
This perspective can dramatically change our relationship with sports.
First, we acknowledge sports' power to capture our hearts devotion. Sports, like few other realms, are all about glory – mainly our glory – and we idolize sports as a result. With this perspective, we learn to repent of that idolatry, turning away from the enamored, idolatrous place that sports has in so many of our hearts today.
From there, we engage with sports. We do it cautiously, even introspectively, as we attempt to re-establish it as a place for God's glory not ours, knowing how easily our hearts can be led back to our idolatry. We know something of the power of the world to conform our play, our coaching, and our spectating.
Therefore, we renew our minds to the gospel and look expectantly to the Spirit of God to transform us in those realms.
As we play, coach and cheer, we move to express God's character, humbly acknowledging where we fall short in the process and joyfully grateful for every success in doing so. Sports become more and more a place to give and to serve, not to be served and to take.
As we do this, our relationship with sports goes from this historically strange one into something wonderful as we watch the power of God use us to redeem this realm for his glory.
Bob Schindler heads up the Church Sports Outreach Leadership Center, www.csosports.org.