Club Sports (And Other Big Commitments): Could They Be Good for Christians?

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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6 Responses

  1. DS says:

    “I am convinced that the way we approach sphere-of-life ministry is the primary factor in determining our ability to make disciples.”

    I agree! I am learning that as well. In fact, I am beginning to wonder whether segment ministries distract us from the best opportunities to make disciples among people that we are more naturally connected to. I find that I need to be involved in fewer programs and become more involved in my neighborhood and in the lives of people that God has already given me connections with (through kids, sports, etc.). However, I have a tough time changing my mentality…

    I’m praying that God will help me become more effective at making disciples, especially among the people that He has already placed in my life. I am praying for boldness, courage and open doors.

    • Beau Stanley says:

      Thanks for your feedback, DS. Yes, there are limited hours in the day, so if we want to live lives of intentional ministry to those in our spheres of life, we need to have the margin in our spheres of life to permit this, it seems to me.

  2. Linda says:

    From watching the news and some sports games I can see all people like to be a part of a group of people w/ the same short term goal. Even at jobs people connect w/ each other when they set up goals. So watching the events or even being a part we can see a tiny vision of God and His children. The Ending of the Final Game will be overwhelming.

    • Beau Stanley says:

      Linda, I’d agree that even in our individualistic culture, people are still receptive to being part of a team. Sometimes we struggle making the sacrifices to experience genuine teamwork, though.

  3. Rick Parcher says:

    Youth team sports teaches many life lessons: discipline, hard work, focus, knowing and playing your role, and teamwork, to mention a few. As families interact with other families, and players with other players, they will know we are Christians by our love. But when this love has been seen, we need to open our mouths to point those who “see” our testimony to understand that the source of all love is Christ alone, lest they come to believe that we are simply a “good guy”.

    Last weekend, the North Columbus Sports “Raiders” baseball program hosted the “Firecracker” baseball tournament at Ridgeview Middle School in north Columbus. The tournament had age divisions of 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 yr. The tournament was a benefit for “Make a Wish” foundation which benefits youth who have a serious -often critical- medical condition. The participating players from all the teams sell “wish stars” door to door to raise funds for this cause. One youngster raised $1300 by himself, and the total was over $35,000. This uniting for this common cause allows all to see two things: 1. love in action, and 2. the intrinsic brotherhood of those who value the benefits of youth sports.

    For the third year in a row, I was invited to address the gathered group of teams and families with a short devotion and a prayer. I talked of God’s teaching us through baseball, and through that tournament, to love our teammates, defining love as “the commitment to act in the interest of another” and pointing out that everyone sitting there was our teammate. The response from this “secular” gathering was extremely positive.

    Youth sports is a powerful venue for both ministry and evangelism May God open our eyes to see the fields that are ripe for the harvest.

    • Beau Stanley says:

      Rick, excellent insights here. Few know youth sports and their benefits for the Kingdom as well as you do. Thanks for your ongoing ministry!

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