Club sports have become a major feature of American culture, at least for families with school-age children. Though they have been around for a long time, club sports have become more intense recently, demanding more and more hours, and routinely usurping traditional sacred times of the week (most notably Sunday mornings). The American church’s response to this dynamic has been primarily negative, as pastors bemoan families’ absence at church gatherings. I have sung in this bemoaning chorus, true, but I’m also beginning to realize that some of the opposition we express toward club sports and other large commitments that Christians make is based on a misunderstanding of ministry.
As we have discussed before, ministry within the church walls or in programmed settings is segment ministry. While segment ministry is necessary and important, the much larger category of ministry available to believers is sphere-of-life ministry. Sphere-of-life ministry occurs within the networks of relationships (or “pools”) God has given us, such as our workplace, neighborhood, family, clubs, and so forth. I am convinced that the way we approach sphere-of-life ministry is the primary factor in determining our ability to make disciples.
When we recognize that our spheres of life present a myriad of opportunities to meet needs, build relationships, and connect people to God, we begin to see the “secular” arenas of life as spiritually valuable, or even indispensable. Thus, club sports—and other activities like them—become contexts for blessing people and helping them hear and obey what God is telling them. Below we present some principles for success in these contexts. We think you’ll find them helpful in club sports and beyond.
- Look for needs. One difference between simply participating in club sports and ministering through club sports is being alert to the needs of those around you. Nobody expects other families on the club to take a genuine interest in their needs, much less to take action to meet those needs. A simple way to begin this process is to ask a lot of questions about the things that seem important to people, and then follow up on those questions in the future.
- Connect with other believers on the team. It doesn’t take a ton of effort to locate other believing families on the team, if there are some. Encourage the other families by suggesting a get-together, maybe dads meeting over coffee or moms connecting at the playground. These connections can lead to a sense of shared mission and to group prayer for lost families on the team.
- Have lost families over for dinner. By “lost families,” we’re not implying that families are either all believers or all non-believers. Having said this, one of the great advantages of ministry in club sport settings is that club sports usually involve the entire family of the athlete on the team. This provides a natural inroad to minister to families as a cohesive group, which is hugely superior to ministry that detaches lost people from their family relationship. In the case that a family does have one believing spouse, for example, relational outreach to the family will mean a great deal to the believer and possibly catalyze that believer’s witness to his or her family.
- Manage commitments wisely. Everyone knows that we are supposed to be careful about the commitment load we place on ourselves, but few do it well. Recognize that if you are going to view club sports as a ministry context, then you’ll be more invested in those teams, which means that you’ll need to truncate or eliminate other commitments. When there are multiple children playing sports in a family, try as much as possible to create overlap between the teams, perhaps by participating in organizations that have clubs in the same sport at multiple ages, or by lining up your commitments with those of other families that have children at the same age as your own. For more ideas on managing busyness in general, see our earlier posts on the subject: The Busyness Dilemma and Solutions to the Busyness Dilemma.
- Maintain investment in your local church. Travel schedules of some teams make it difficult for families to be available in their home city on Sundays, when most churches meet. You don’t need to be at your church building every time the doors are open; in fact, this is usually a very bad idea. If you routinely have to miss the most important gathering times of your church, however, you need to find other options for club participation. It’s not so much about being in a building on Sunday morning; it’s about being able to assemble regularly with a body of believers. If you have to push back a little on the sports team to make this happen, that’s alright.
Now it’s your turn! Have you thought about club sports and other big commitments in this way? Leave us a comment below.
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