25 Things I Learned From The REC

I have worked at The REC for four years. I can honestly tell you that when they first hired me, I thought to myself, “Boy, Dr. Garrett and Dr. Jackson must really like me if they are going to take a chance on me.” There have been some major learning curves and times when I thought, “What am I doing here?” , but the most reassuring thing that I have learned at The REC is that I am definitely called to sports and recreation ministry. Here are 25 things that I have learned from my time at The REC.

 

1. Focus on programs, not facilities 

When I first took over as REC Director in December of 2014, most of the staff and the climate on campus towards The REC was that nothing could be done unless The REC was updated and better. If you work on giving your audience high-quality programs, they will forget about the state of your facilities (to a point). Facilities only keep people for so long. Relationships are a big deal (look at churches and community).

2. Take Risks

During the spring of 2016, Matt Jarrell and I thought it would be fun to create a Mardi Gras float (when in NOLA, why not?) and throw beads from the table cart float in the Hardin Student Center to promote our spring trivia night. The response was awesome, to say the least. People were surprised when we first rolled out before the 8 A.M. classes and we had people laughing and taking tons of pictures and videos. Part of the reason The REC is where it is today is because of the risks my staff was willing to take.

3. Liability, Liability, Liability 

I did not quite get this when I first took over, but thanks to my supervisor, the great Dr. Judi Jackson, liability was drilled in my head. After all of these years, I am glad that she did that. People will sue you for just about anything, so proper signage and paperwork is key. Look up safety guidelines and see what other recreation centers are doing. Even if it is a scratch on the eye, fill out an accident report.

4. Think what’s best for the people, not what’s best for yourself

It is too easy to think about what is best for you as the leader. At the end of the day, you will move on at some point as a leader, but the people and community do not. My goal while building up The REC was, “What is best for the campus of NOBTS?” not “What is best for Brad?”

5. Be persistent 

The old saying is that “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” If you ask enough, someone will eventually listen. I asked for wi-fi at The REC for three and a half years. We finally were gifted with it this past spring and it has made a world of a difference. If it is reasonable,  keep asking.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask 

Over the last four years, I have been told no about 8,675,309 times (did you catch that reference??). I have sent out email after email to companies to see if they would sponsor our events and/or intramural sports. Out of the 8,675,309 times I was told no, every now and then, from places such as Raising Cane’s or Iron Tribe, I received a yes. All they can say is yes or no. Don’t take it personally. So, ask away!

7. Make connections 

Man, I wish I would have accomplished this sooner. Sadly, at the end of the day, it is usually not what you know, but who you know. I did not start making connections until my last year and a half at The REC. Honestly, if it were not for Dr. Judi Jackson, I would still be lacking in this region. Making connections with others in your ministry, business, or academic setting is very important, even with those that may not see eye to eye with you or those who are in a different field of study.

8. Have fun! 

I cannot stress this enough! It is okay to take a break and to have fun. It is also okay to make events and participate in them as well. If you never have fun, burn out will rear its ugly head and get you. I was in charge of floor hockey and played while leading it, it was a blast!

9. Be gospel focused 

If you are not gospel focused, you work a secular job. As a minister and a believer, the gospel should be the focus in everything you do (P.S. EVEN at a seminary). I really press my employees to make sure that the gospel is in our programs in some sort of way or form. During Tuesday’s basketball nights, Bobby Green leads in a devotion and a good bit of that crowd are guests that do not know Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

10. Boundaries are important

I have been on call mostly 24/7 for all of the past four years. We are not an 8-5 office, and sports and recreation will never be in that time frame. You work when everyone else wants to play. Turn your phone off sometimes, do not answer texts right away, learn to take breaks, say no to things, and spend time with your family. Your ministry is replaceable, your family is not.

11. Be consistent 

Either do something or don’t do something. People will stop being interested if you are all over the place as an individual. Make sure, even as an employee/employer, that you follow through with things. Be there when you say you will be there. Work hard and let your finished product speak for itself. One of my personal pet peeves is people who are inconsistent. Inconsistent people were always the most frustrating employees and coworkers. Matthew 5:37.

12. LISTEN 

Don’t think you have all the answers. You and I can always learn from others (even if they are underneath us in seniority ranks). If you are willing to listen, it keeps you from being prideful and from learning the hard way. Think and meditate on James 1:19.

13. Stand your ground for you and for your employees

This can go along with being consistent. If you do not agree with something or you have already made a choice (like officiating), stick with it and stand your ground. I also tried to stand up for my employees whenever possible. When you defend your employees and stand your ground for them, they know you are there for them and that goes a long way for them.

14. Empower, don’t micromanage (not slaves- delegation curbs burn out)

I tried micromanaging in the BCM that I was over before I came to New Orleans and it was a disaster. The biggest reason why The REC is where it is at today is that I empowered employees to lead programs. I did not tell them how to make every move. They had ownership of what they were putting on weekly or monthly. This is one of the biggest pros that I get from why employees work at The REC.

15. Creating community is hard and has to be intentional 

Creating community is really difficult to create. I started out taking staff outings to Pelicans games, then taking a trip to Sector 6, and BWW’s. Since then, it has been really hard to get another staff outing down. This semester, instead of secret prayer partners, we just paired up (graduate and undergraduate) and prayed for each other after every staff meeting. You have to be intentional.

16. Be a friend, not just a boss 

To me, this was one of the hardest things to distinguish and be consistent on. Being a fellow student in class and then being the boss at work later was hard. In the end, be the boss but do not be afraid to go talk to your employee about sports for thirty minutes, get lunch with them, or play them in ping pong when it is a slow day on the job. Build them up when you can and see fit. Ephesians 4:29.

17. You can always improve

Kim Collins once said, “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”  Your ministry or job will never be perfect. So, how can you always evaluate where you are and where you want to go? Once you become complacent, people notice and your ministry or job becomes bland and no one wants that. Don’t be the person that says, “But, we have always done it that way.”

18. Don’t be afraid to cut things when they are not working or meeting the vision

This could really go with number 17, but this is something the church really seems to struggle with. We have tried programs and they peaked and we thought they were awesome. Within a year or two, we had to cut them because no one was coming anymore. This was either because the program became too large and people had to wait too long to play, the competitive people scared recreational people off, or the person over the program did the bare minimum to get by. Think of Jesus and the vine/branches in John 15.

19. READ

There are always breaks in your workday or season of the year. Whether it be summer or winter break, take that time to read about your field of employment and see how you and the place where God has you can improve. I followed most of the university recreation centers around the country so I would be able to see what they were doing. I would read Atheltic Business magazine, Campus REC magazine, NIRSA, insurance policies, and whatever I could find relating to campus recreation when we had a down period like summer and Christmas/New Years.

20. Be a team player (you’re never too good to clean toilets)

Never think of yourself as too good or too high of an authority figure to not do tedious tasks. At the end of the day, your staff is your team. Clean toilets when no one else wants to, sit at the front desk to work with a co-worker, or help open/close for your staff. If you give all the tedious tasks to your staff or co-workers because you think they are too low for you to perform, evaluate your heart. I once had a student tell me that he did not want to work for a specific office because that job and its tasks were too low for him. To say the least, I am glad that I did not hire him at The REC. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in John 13. Just ponder on that for a second.

21. Over-Communicate

My employees always hated this, but I would tell them the same thing four times via text, email, in staff meeting, and sitting at the front desk. It might get old really fast, but that leaves no room for, “I didn’t know.” Leave a paper trail, let people know where they stand and what your expectations are of them. Bad communication is another one of my pet peeves. In no way am I saying that my communication is perfect.

22. Even as called ministers of the gospel, we still have a sinful nature 

Man, if sports don’t display this, I don’t know what will. This is probably the biggest struggle with sports and recreation ministry. When overseeing a sports and rec ministry, share the gospel. Obviously, the lost need to hear it, but in the instance of the rec, when you are around fellow Christians you would be surprised how much you should share the gospel with them. Are we trying to convince them that they are not saved? No! We should be preaching the gospel just as much to ourselves, as we do others. This past fall, I had the flag football teams pray for the other team in pairs before the kickoff, and that really curbed the unsportsmanlike attitudes during the season. Basketball for some reason or another was always terrible when it came to attitudes. No one is perfect, but please do not let that be your excuse to tarnish your witness around believers and non-believers. Trust me, people are always watching (I have a two-year-old).

23. Have a vision 

This is HUGE in anything you do. You never create anything without something in mind as the finished product or goal. Do you run just because you like the wind against your face with no end goal in distance or time? I highly doubt that. In saying that, one of the big reasons why The REC is where it is at today is because of the vision that I feel that God gave me regarding The REC. When the staff caught onto it, the rest was history. Everything we do seeks to fit into the vision of The REC, which is “where Recreation, Exercise, and Community happens at NOBTS.”

24. Make your passion your job 

If you are still with me, thanks. I know this is a long post. If you are passionate about something, make it your job. Seek out your passions and see how you can use them to glorify Christ and spread the gospel to the lost and needy. Is it a passion for using empty lots in the urban setting as sports fields to reach the inner city youth for Christ? Is it drawing? Is it music? Is it gaming? Is it hunting? What ignites the fire in your soul besides the gospel (which I hope it does) that you can pair with the gospel to be obedient to the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20?

25. Keep Christ first

This should definitely be first. In saying that, this list is not in any order of significance. Sorry, that I did not list this first, please don’t think that I placed this at 25th to sound like a good Christian (the last should come first, right??). Make sure Christ is always first. I once heard that if you are married to your ministry, go find a secular job and make Christ first. That is a pretty powerful sentence, right? I would be lying if I said this is the easiest one out of the 25.

 

These are 25 highlights that I have learned from probably the 100 plus learning moments that I have had over the last four years. Thanks for all of those who have supported me during this time, worked with and for me, and for Brittni who was a constant pillar of support and encouragement when things were tough or frustrating. I am really glad that God can use passions, like sports and recreation, to spread his gospel. God is an awesome God. Brittni and I are ready for the next leg of our adventure in God’s will for our lives as we move on to Quail Springs Baptist Church in OKC. I am glad that, four years ago, someone took a chance on me. Now, I get to experience another great sports and recreation ministry at QSBC because Mr. Greenwood decided to take a chance on me. I’m ready to learn and become a better sports and rec minister from the 18 year veteran in sports and rec ministry. John 3:30.

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Excellence in physical health and wellness

This is a piece I wrote for the Dean of Students Newsletter at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

I remember stepping on that scale three years ago and realizing that I had enough. If I was truly going to go wherever God wanted me to, I had to change my lifestyle. I just knew that if God called me to a remote part of the world at 300 plus pounds, that I would struggle the whole time there. Sadly, I would not be able to honor and serve God to my fullest ability.

Excellence in physical health and wellness is vital not only for being available to go wherever God wants you but also for your own well-being. Physical health and wellness, when placed in the top tier of our priorities help with stress and anxiety. It also helps with battling depression, it affects your work performance, protects against heart disease, and other medical issues that we encounter in our lives.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Take some time this summer and reflect on where you are with your health. See which areas in your physical health and wellness that are not glorifying God at the current moment and work on those areas. Then, get busy getting healthy in order to go where God wants you and to glorify Him in that aspect of your life. It’s tough, but you can do this!

 

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The Importance of Sports and Recreation Ministry in the Church [Part 3– The Hidden Gem]

The big question is “How can we use sports in missions?” Sports is such an essential part in everyday lives. More and more athletes such as Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators, and most notably Tim Tebow who is now with the Southeastern Conference Network and the New York Mets farm system are stepping out of the shadows and using their platforms for sharing Christ with the world through post-game interviews, play on the field, and actions off the field. Using one’s platform to share Christ is not a new concept. Famous baseball player Billy Sunday gave up baseball to be an evangelist and Eric Lidell, Olympic gold medalist, gave up his track career in his prime to be a missionary.[1] John Garner, in his book Recreation and Sports Ministry, states that “To fail to use what God has given us through our physical creation denies the very order and sovereignty of God.”[2]

Christians can tap into the potential use of evangelism in sports to bring the gospel to individuals who likely would never step a foot into the church’s doors. George Barna states,

“The weekend church service is no longer the primary mechanism for salvation decisions; only one out of ten believers who makes a decision to follow Christ does so in a church setting or service. On the other hand, personal relationships have become even more important in evangelism, with a majority of salvation decisions coming in direct responses to an invitation given by a family member or friend.”[3]

Also, sports and recreation ministry enables the relationship to begin as a “safe haven” for the unchurched person.[4] Sports and recreation paired with missions can definitely have that effect. Through playing soccer with kids in a village in Peru or through going to the streets in Europe and playing basketball with guys, one can build relationships with those people and eventually have the opportunity to share the gospel, praying that they will be receptive to God’s word and come to Christ. Sports and recreation opportunities are considered to be the most strategic tool for evangelism that the church has today.[5]

Another way sports can be paired with missions is by doing events for youth and men. Men and youth want activities to participate in. That is where recreation and sports come in hand.[6] Plato says it best when he is quoted saying, “Students are at their learning best while having fun.”[7] Sadly, kids that go to church and never have fun, often see church as boring and are more likely to stop coming as a teen or a young adult. One way to make the church more fun for kids is to engage the kids in some sort of sports or recreation. There is a fine line between merely having pointless fun and being intentional in using recreation and sports to reach the lost.  This is where the church has to be held accountable. Cindy Bledsoe, in her article entitled Evangelism in Sports and Recreation Ministry, brings a very good point to mind. She states that “taking into account that a substantial majority of people accept Christ before their 18th birthday tied with the fact that many sports and recreation ministry participants fall within this age group provide a unique opportunity for evangelism in the sports and recreation ministry field.”[8] Garner tells his readers why sports and recreation ministries are so effective for the church:

Sports and Recreation ministries are effective because they reach the largest cross section of people, they specifically reach secularized, never-churched, dechurched, and other churched nonbelievers, they reach the two missing groups of people in most traditional churches, they fulfill church growth principles by empowering and focusing on the laity, people are easily influenced when having fun.[9]

Based off of what Garner stated, this is why sports are so important to the church and to missions around the world.

Sports and recreation reach so many different people who otherwise would not be reached with the gospel. Not everyone hears the gospel once in door-to-door ministry and comes to Christ. Door-to-door can be hard. especially without first creating a relationship with that person contrary to how most people may think. The people who shut their doors in the face of door-to-door missionaries may surprise the missionaries later when they show up to the local field to play soccer.  The relationship is then built in order to share the gospel with that individual later down the road. Churches tend to leave sports and recreation up to the community, which is sad since many more people could be reached through sports. If the church were to lead the community in sports, it could tap into the unchurched of the area, that otherwise are not reached through regular church outreach activities.[10] “The creative bent of sports and recreation should turn to sports and recreation not because sports and recreation are important, but because it becomes a means to build relationships with the lost.”[11] Every Christian with any sort of athletic ability should take this quote to heart and use the gifts that God has given them to go reach the lost.

There are numerous ways that Sports and Recreation can be used in missions. The first way is to realize the gifts that God has given you to use to reach the lost. Some of the gifts that God gives people are the ability to be strong, to have good vision, and even gives people the slightest athletic ability (me…haha) to reach the guys and girls who live, breath, and eat sports. If God has given someone these gifts, they can reach people that others cannot. It is the athletes of this world that can use those gifts to share the gospel with the secular world that would never come to a church but would be willing to talk for hours at the gym shooting basketball. Numerous opportunities for sharing Christ and setting a Christian example occur through sports activities.[12] If one’s passion is sports and this passion is shared with the person they are reaching, sports can bring the two together and create many open doors to share the gospel. Recreation and sports are a natural way to share the love of Christ using analogies from sports, crafts, camping, nature, and games.[13]

Overall, one should see the major impact that sports and recreation have in this world and the many doors that sports and recreation open to share the gospel. You can go on a mission trip with E3 Partners to Costa Rica and share the gospel all week with kids by playing soccer with them.[14] You can be a huddle leader for FCA and impact high school and college athletes with the gospel. You could go through Uttermost Sports and serve anywhere from one week to three years, doing anything from rock climbing to being a weightlifting judge to a tennis coach in just about any country in the world.[15]

If someone loves football, he can create a Christian youth football league, which two men in Sioux Falls decided to do. They are sharing the gospel and are trying to change the culture of sports through the most popular sport in America.[16] One could get involved in Upward Sports in churches.  Approximately half a million players at more than 2,000 churches in 47 states participate in camps, clinics, and leagues through Upward Sports’ Recreation Department, where the mission is to promote the discovery of Jesus through sports.[17] If you are passionate about sports, spend a day researching Christian sports organizations.  You will be overwhelmed, but you will never run out of options for how to use sports to spread the gospel around the world.

Sports are a passion for many people around the world. In America, it is football, basketball, and baseball, in Europe it is soccer, in the Dominican Republic it is baseball, Canada it is Hockey, and in India it is cricket. A lot of people in the world live and die by the sports they are involved in, as a fan or a player. Sports drive a lot of people’s schedules and a lot of parents build their schedules around all of their kids’ sporting events and practices. Sports open up countless doors for conversation. The church needs to take advantage of that resource, use it, and use it well.

Every year, the revenue for sports and recreation continues to go up.[18] When does the church realize the importance to invest in that ministry and spread the gospel with the lost around the world and in their own backyard? One of the common reasons people do not come to church is that they simply are not comfortable attending functions where they feel out of place.[19] One can easily build a relationship with a person for the sake of the gospel with a football, basketball, or soccer ball. Instead of churches closing the doors on their sports and recreation ministry, they should reevaluate its current state and see what they are doing wrong or what they can do better in order to reach their community with sports and recreation. The opportunity is here, the church just has to seize it.

Christians have been known to spend a summer in Portugal reaching the Portuguese with water sports. College athletes give up an entire summer to teach their skills in a particular sport in a foreign country. You have to go to them; do not expect people to come to you. The church has to go to the lost, and sports are the perfect way to do just that. Sports and missions together make sense.  The church simply has to invest in the great combination of the two and use it to reach the lost in the world. Not using sports and recreation as a resource to reach people keeps the church coming up short of reaching the lost for Christ.

[1] Andrew Parker, “Sport and Christianity in the 21st Century,” Encounters Mission Journal 41 (July 2012): 1-7, accessed April 14, 2015, https://encountersmissionjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sport_and_christianity_in_the_21st_century_andrew_parker_and_mike_collins_41.pdf., 5.

[2] John Garner and general editor, Recreation and Sports Ministry: Impacting Postmodern Culture (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003), 32.

 

[3] Bledsoe, Cindy. “Evangelism in Sports and Recreation Ministry.” The Association of Church Sports and Recreation Ministers (2011): 1. Accessed April 16, 2015.http://ns.csrm.org/article_bledsoe.html.

[4]  Garner, 155.

[5] Garner, 156.

[6] Ibid., 155-156.

[7] Ibid., 157.

 

[8] Bledsoe, Cindy. “Evangelism in Sports and Recreation Ministry.” The Association of Church Sports and Recreation Ministers (2011): 1. Accessed April 16, 2015.http://ns.csrm.org/article_bledsoe.html.

[9] Garner, 153.

 

[10] Pylant, Agnes Durant. Church Recreation (Church Study Course for Teaching and Training). (Nashville: Convention Press, 1959), 109.

[11]Ibid., 31.

[12] Greg Morrow, Recreation: Reaching Out, Reaching In, Reaching Up (Nashville, TN.: Convention Press, 1986), 45.

[13] Garner, 153.

 

[14] “Sports,” e3 Partners, 2015, accessed April 16, 2015, http://e3partners.org/causes/sports/.

 

[15] “Go,” Uttermost Sports, 2015, accessed April 28, 2015, http://uttermostsports.org/go-with-us/.

[16] David Nicholson, “New Youth Football League to Take Faith-Based Approach,” Argus Leader, March 29, 2015, accessed April 16, 2015, http://www.argusleader.com/story/sports/2015/03/29/new-youth-football-league-take-faith-based-approach/70636896/.

[17] Upward Sports. “About Upward Sports.” Accessed April 16, 2015.http://www.upward.org/about/about-upward-sports.

 

[18]Plunkett Research,® Ltd. “Industry Statistics Sports.” November 11, 2014. Accessed April 16, 2015.http://www.plunkettresearch.com/statistics/sports-industry/.

[19] Garner, 154.

 

The Importance of Sports and Recreation Ministry in the Church [Part 2–The Connection]

Sports and religion go hand-in-hand in the Bible. Both in the Old and New Testament, authors have talked about sports and recreation as they relate to the faith. In the Old Testament, Zechariah 8:5 states, “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”[1] In the New Testament, Paul often used sports as a language to portray the word of God to his audiences. The sports reference that most church-goers know is Hebrews 12:1-2  which states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Also, in 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul refers again to a runner in a race and the way an athlete trains for events when he writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Second Timothy 2:5 and 4:7 also refer to sports and how that relates to our faith. Second Timothy 2:5 reads, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” The last scripture that Paul uses to relate sports to the Christian life in the New Testament is 2 Timothy 4:7 which reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Sadly, sports and religion have not had the best relationship through the years. Sports and religion go back to the Greek Olympic Games. The Greek games were essentially created to honor the gods and Zeus.  However, in the end, the games were more important than the reason the Olympics were created.[2] Back in the Greek and Roman Empire days, clergy banned recreation because it so closely resembled pagan religious activities.[3] The Jewish culture rejected sport and all faith-sport integration or participation.[4] All of this led to a shaky relationship of sports and recreation with the church that would continue for centuries. The Middle Ages saw the Christian faith get involved in the world of sports and recreation for a while.  Luther thought that as long as time was used to glorify God then it did not matter; Roman Catholics favored recreation and the Jewish people appeared to enjoy the benefits of recreation in the Middle Ages.[5]

After the Middle Ages and until post World War I, sports and recreation in the church were seen as sinful and was banned from most churches. “In 1872, churches of all denominations were banning recreation of all kinds, from amusements to dancing.”[6] Churches did not like recreation and made sure that the church had no part in it. Following the Civil War, the church thought that sports gave the “potential for evil.” No one could play sports at that time because the church still had a massive influence in the world. This period lasted for about fifty years until, in 1924, the recreation ban was lifted at the General Conference.[7] The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), came to America in 1860, but because of the ban, was not utilized in the church at this time to train clergy in the area of recreation.[8] By the end of World War I, church recreation was not only accepted, but was expected.[9] The last era of sports and the church is known as the “Era of Promotion.”[10] This is the time when sports and recreation in the church really expanded to be an integral part of the everyday function of the church. T.B. Mason taught the first Baptist seminary course in recreation in 1922 at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and leaders sought to guarantee the long-term partnership of religion and recreation.[11] Recreation finally became a serious ministry.

Throughout the years since the world has seen sports and missions grow to go hand-in-hand. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was formed in 1954 and is geared toward reaching high school athletes and coaches for Christ. In 1966, Athletes in Action grew into a worldwide movement holding fast to its original mission statement to introduce athletes to Christ.[12] Now, one can look on Google for Christian sports organizations and can find hundreds of organizations that use their platform to share Christ with others through sports. Churches with large congregations around the United States have big gyms and sports facilities for the sole purposes of reaching their communities for Christ through athletics. Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia has an 82-acre sports complex to use to reach their community through sports.[13]

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations will be from the English Standard Version Bible.

[2] Linville, Dr. Greg. “Sports Outreach Movement.” Toward a Theology of Competition and Sports Chapter 5 – Historical Models (2010): 1. Accessed April 15, 2015.http://ns.csrm.org/article_theology_5_4.html.

 

[3] Garner, 39.

[4] Linville, Dr. Greg. “Sports Outreach Movement.” Toward a Theology of Competition and Sports Chapter 5 – Historical Models (2010): 1. Accessed April 15, 2015.http://ns.csrm.org/article_theology_5_4.html.

[5] Garner, 40.

[6] Ibid., 37-38.

[7] Ibid., 44.

 

[8] Linville, Dr. Greg. “Sports Outreach Movement.” Toward a Theology of Competition and Sports Chapter 5 – Historical Models (2010): 1. Accessed April 15, 2015.http://ns.csrm.org/article_theology_5_4.html.

[9] Garner, 43.

[10] Ibid., 46.

[11] Ibid., 47.

[12] Parker, 6.

 

[13] William Stanford, interviewed by author, New Orleans, LA, March 21, 2015.

The Importance of Sports and Recreation Ministry in the Church [Part I]

The sports world is an intriguing part of the real world that has never seemed to fall away over time. In fact, the sports world has continued to reach new heights year in and year out. A lot of people are passionate about sports. Sports have started wars, created new friendships, given people a way out of reality for a short amount of time, and has made people do questionable things. Sports is a passion.  People live and die with their teams and even name their babies after their favorite athletes.  Breakups have been caused and towns have gone up in flames because of sports. Sports brings cities together after natural disasters, such as New Orleans and the Saints return after Katrina or how the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa brought two bitter rivals, Alabama and Auburn together to help clean-up efforts.  Sports have also helped communities and nations recover after tragedies, such as how sports brought the United States together after 9/11. The church is losing attendance on due to sports.

In many churches in America on game day, attendance is lower than average. A trend of picking sports over church has begun. In fact, I saw this first-hand when I served as youth pastor in Bruceton, Tennessee. When retired San Francisco 49er’s linebacker, Patrick Willis, who grew up in Bruceton and the face of that small town came into town for a sports camp and held it on a Sunday morning, the church had a staggering twenty members of the congregation in attendance.  A usual Sunday has about 83 members in attendance. The high school parking lot, where the camp was held was bursting at the seams.

Sports serve as an easy way to start conversations and create relationships all over the world. The top two universal languages are sports and music.[1] Sports have created a lot of friendships over the years. It is easy to see another individual wearing a sports hat, shirt, or jacket and ask them how their team is doing. People will sit and talk for hours about why they like the coach of their favorite team or how the quarterback is the best in the league. An individual’s guard seems to go down when you bring up sports. As Andrew Parker states in Sports and Christianity in the 21st Century, “As a social phenomenon characterized by globalization and instantaneous internet communication, sports can overcome social classes, cultural differences, linguistic barriers, and geographical boundaries among people.”[2] Relationships are forged forever when one meets another who is just as passionate about a team. Gospel presentations can arise easily when one talks sports with a complete stranger. Sports also give a plethora of great analogies regarding the Christian life, which Paul never backed down from using in his letters to the churches of the New Testament.

Some of the following statistics about sports, our culture, and a multi-billion dollar industry are mind-blowing. Ninety-six percent of the population is linked to sports in some way.[3] Americans are connected through sports by watching them on television, attending a child’s game, or even geographical reasons to support certain teams, much like cheering on the Saints for New Orleans regardless of any previous interest in football.  Americans are consuming sports on a scale unprecedented in history.[4] Sports are found in almost every known human society.[5] One can go to almost every country and see sports being played nationally or by the neighborhood kids in the street. An individual can bring a soccer ball overseas and within a day, attract a large following from the community kids and a platform to share the gospel. 

Companies see the effects that sports have on people and they are grabbing those opportunities to cash in. NFL have lately been dropping a billion dollars or more on new stadiums. The Los Angeles Rams are dropping  between 2-3 billion dollars on a stadium. Let me repeat that, between 2-3 billion dollars. A quote from CNN style regarding the L.A. Rams new stadium currently under construction:

Kroenke has publicly estimated the cost at $1.86 billion, but the Los Angeles Times quotes unnamed “(NFL) officials and owners” who say the true cost could reach $2.66 billion. The New York Times and others have put the value at nearly $3 billion.The NFL already claims the world’s most expensive stadium. That title belongs to the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, home to New York teams the Giants and Jets, which opened in 2010 at a cost of $1.6 billion. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are also among a minute group of teams worldwide to play in stadiums costing more than $1 billion.”

A tenth of the world almanac is devoted to sports and USA Today allocates a fourth of its publication to sports.[7]  The following are statistics that will make you scratch your head and wonder how sports have grown so much: in the year 2014, the estimated size of the entire sports industry in the U.S. is $485 billion;  the estimated size of the global sports industry is $1.5 Trillion, [8] which includes sporting events and sporting goods;  in 2013 the Major League Baseball revenue was $7.1 billion, the National Football League brought in $9.2 billion, spectator sports brought in $34.3 billion, and sporting goods stores retail sales in the U.S. totaled at $44.1 billion.[9] As one can see, the sports industry is an important one in the eyes of the population of the world. Sports affect everyone is some sort of way and the statistics display that well.

the-sports-industry-and-its-influence-on-business_50290b8b325b4_w1500

[1] John Garner and general editor, Recreation and Sports Ministry: Impacting Postmodern Culture (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003), 153.

[2]Andrew Parker, “Sport and Christianity in the 21st Century,” Encounters Mission Journal 41 (July 2012): 1-7, accessed April 14, 2015, https://encountersmissionjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sport_and_christianity_in_the_21st_century_andrew_parker_and_mike_collins_41.pdf., 2.

[3] Shirl James Hoffman, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 222.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Gregory Baum and John A. Coleman, eds., Sport (Edinburgh, Scotland.: Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd, 1989), 5.

[6] Matthew Ponsford, “Los Angeles to Build World’s Most Expensive Stadium Complex,” CNN Style, Updated 11:12 AM ET, Tue January 19, 2016, 1, accessed November 16, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/19/architecture/new-nfl-stadium-los-angeles/.

[7] Hoffman, 3.

[8]Plunkett Research, ® Ltd. “Industry Statistics Sports.” November 11, 2014. Accessed April 16, 2015.http://www.plunkettresearch.com/statistics/sports-industry/.

[9] Ibid.

Where is the Love?

 

Bombs exploding
Guns Firing
Young children kidnapped for sex trafficking
Hundreds are dying every day from lack of food or clean water
Homeless lives consume our downtown streets
Single parents are struggling to work, pay bills, and be there for their children
We say lives matter, but we are constantly discriminating
We say we don’t hate, but actions speak louder than words
Don’t tell someone they’re wrong, because everyone is right
Sexual identity is the meaning of life
Bathrooms have become a major debate
You can became a hashtag in an instant
Practicing your faith makes you a bigot
Politicians are making you cringe every time they open their mouth
Social media timelines are filled with hatred and fighting
A country thought once united in race seems split again
This is supposed to be a country of freedom
But everything you do is scrutinized
Our freedom is slowly disappearing
People are losing their lives over skin color, sexual orientation, religion, nationality
We say #lovewins but is it really winning?
Where is the love? 
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love (Love)
Where is The Love?
The Black Eyed Peas

Competition vs. Sportsmanship: Where is the line?

Being a campus recreation director, being involved in intramural sports, coaching in Upward Sports leagues, and also being an avid sports fan, I see fierce competition every day.  In fact, we see competition in our everyday lives, from “getting the girl” to “getting the job”. Something that I have been struggling with as of late is the difference between competition and sportsmanship and as a Christian what that looks like for me and for others.  As a campus recreation director, I often hear that actions on the field are merely because the players are being competitive. I struggle with this when being competitive means that players are verbally assaulting other players, the refs, and even getting in each other’s faces. I understand very well the reaction one might give when we let our emotions get the best of us. Trust me, I have been there and I feel like a complete and utter failure immediately after the fact. I think being a campus recreation director and playing in sports leagues has made me learn the hard way that people are always watching you and that your actions speak louder than your words. You can’t take those actions back.

As a coach in Upward Sports, I have noticed that my kids over the last four years have been obsessed with constantly checking the scoreboard. Are we winning or are we losing? Let’s see if we can beat this team by 25 points. It is hard to explain to my kids the difference between being competitive and crossing the line to being a bad sport.  This is especially difficult when that is what they see on tv and from friends. Also, when that is what is expected of them from other team sports that they are involved in, when it comes to being competitive. There have been so many stories, especially of late of high school football players blindsiding a referee and taking him out and some bad calls in San Antonio, Texas.

Where is the line between being competitive by giving it your all to win the game and being unsportsmanlike and rude to the refs because you are losing or because you wanted a certain call? As Christians, I think this is even of greater importance because we are ministers of the gospel and we are called to be different, which relates back to our witness for Christ.  Also, I think it comes down to having a heart check.  Where is the line between being upset with a call and asking for an explanation, and walking away and becoming unsportsmanlike and  losing it in the moment? Is that acceptable by saying that my actions are justified because I’m passionate? These are the questions that I am trying to figure out and hopefully answer today.

The definition of competition according to www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary states that competition is, “of or relating to a situation in which people or groups are trying to win a contest or be more successful than others: relating to or involving competition: having a strong desire to win or be the best at something.” People are naturally competitive. We can see this with wars throughout time, the Olympics, sports leagues, and the business world. Naturally, people want to be the best at what they do. The bad side of competition is seen when parents kill other parents over sports practices and games. Referees have been hospitalized and careers have been ruined by athletes who take their idea of competition to the next level.

As Christians, I think we should give our very best out there on the field, the court, or whatever sports arena we are playing. I think there is a misconception that, as a Christian in competition, you should just coward down and do nothing. Paul says to give it your all in 1 Corinthians and to do everything you do for the glory of God and I believe that includes sports. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) So, I am all about healthy competition in which people are out there to win a game and give it their all, leaving it out there on the court. What I am not for is trash talking, chewing out the refs, playing dirty, and not being willing to tell the other team “good game.” This actually leads me into sportsmanship.

The definition of sportsmanship according to www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary reads, “Sportsmanship is defined as ethical, appropriate, polite and fair behavior while participating in a game or athletic event. When a basketball player plays by the rules, is fair to his opponent and is gracious when he loses, this is an example of sportsmanship.” The sportsmanship model is built on the idea that sport both demonstrates and encourages character development, which then influences the moral character of the broader community. How we each compete in sports can have an effect on our personal moral and ethical behavior outside of the competition.[1] What we do on the court or field matters, especially as Christians. When we react to being called out after sliding into home plate to end the game by screaming in the ump’s face and throwing things, that is not good sportsmanship and it ruins your Christian witness. I think we never realize until the moments immediately following an incident that it takes a split second to lose your witness for Christ.

If you go out in New Orleans and play in a public league, such as Play NOLA, and you tell people you are a Christian with the goal of joining the local league to share the gospel, but your actions do not add up to what they think a Christian should look like based off of the Bible, you have a problem. Now, we all have a sinful nature and we are not perfect, but we have to strive to be our best in every situation. There will be times when you slip up but are you willing to let one call or one play mess up everything you have been working hard for? What about your relationship with the person on your team that you have been sharing the gospel with? We have to remember that in every situation in life that “He must increase, I must decrease” John 3:30. We are called to be set apart, in the world, but not of it, several verses that relate to this are Romans 12:1-2, 1 Peter 1:16, Colossians 3:1, and Romans 13:14.

I remember seeing a basketball game get out of hand between two teams that were filled with Christian people. They were trash talking each other after every possession. They were constantly yelling at the refs, and then at the end of the close game, two of the players from opposing teams “bumped” chests and started to get into each other’s faces. Now think about it, is that still being competitive or is that bad sportsmanship? When it comes to Christians and their attitudes during games and sports, I have heard non-Christians talk about how church softball leagues are worse than public city leagues that they are a part of. These people have said that when they go to a church softball league game, it is not unusual to see a ref berated by church members on and off the field. Where is Christ in that moment?

I think, as a Christian, when playing sports you should give it your all and compete to the highest level, but also show great respect toward your fellow peers, teammates, opponents, refs, and spectators no matter how the game is going. We need to stop using the excuse that “we are just being competitive” and realize that we are called to be different. We need to realize when we are being bad sports and fix the attitude we have about the game before it gets worse. Having anger and being upset are natural feelings and emotions, but do not let those same emotions and feelings define who you are. Don’t destroy an opportunity to share Christ based on whether the game is going your way or not. Making an eternal impact is something we should be striving for instead of a game that we will probably forget about a week from now. What are your actions on the court or field revealing? Do you need a heart check? Are you being competitive or displaying bad sportsmanship?John Wooden said it best about sports:

 

“Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.”

[1] What Role Does Ethics Play in Sports? By Kirk O. Hanson and Matt Savage in https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/resources/what-role-does-ethics-play-in-sports/.