Amen, and a Foul
Are sports the problem? Mark Householder, president of Athletes in Action, Benjamin J. Chase, a former lacrosse player at Wheaton College, and Ted Kluck, author The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto, respond to CT's cover story on "Sports Fanatics."
I found myself saying "amen" more than once to Shirl James Hoffman's well-written appeal. It's both a worthy challenge and a chance to envision a new role for sports.
Still, at times I felt lumped in with evangelicals who are being swept up in the tide of materialism, excess, and moral freefall. When Hoffman says that evangelicals "have been quick to harness sports to personal and institutional agendas," I call a foul. He overlooks the thousands of professional and college athletes every year who give of their time to volunteer in the U.S. and abroad for transcendent causes. They are doing it because they believe there is a victory beyond competition.
It is important to distinguish between individuals in sports and the system of sports. Both are broken due to the Fall; both are in need of the redemption found at the Cross. Over the past 50 years or so, sports have been considered a viable ministry field, and the majority of sports ministries have focused on the individual and his or her platform to influence others.
Effective ministry strategies have been employed that bring the gospel to and through the world of sports. The growth has been staggering—some form of sports ministry exists in over 200 countries around the world. But more work can be done. It is one thing to see athletes and coaches profess Christ, and quite another to see them engage in the discipleship process that yields Christlike character.
By trying to influence individuals "one life at a time," we have often overlooked the system of sports. Hoffman is on the mark when it comes to the systemic issues and realities. Here is the reality: Having a few athletes and coaches committed to following Christ doesn't necessarily change sports culture. That culture is broken. Here's where we need new ways of thinking, spiritual breakthroughs, and pioneers to lead an effort to redeem the culture of sports.
Nelson Mandela once said, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down barriers. It laughs in the face of discrimination." Let's move forward and capture a much higher view of sports.
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Mark Householder played football at the University of Cincinnati and is president of Athletes in Action, a sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Benjamin J. Chase and Ted Kluck also responded to CT's cover story on "Sports Fanatics."
CT also published a cover story on "Why We Love Football" in 2007.