Top club runner Gill Bland reflects on her experience of faith and individual sport, and how she has grown in the courage and practicalities of evangelising to fellow runners.
As a Christian long-distance runner I’ve found it easy to look at those playing team sports and think how much simpler it was for them to worship God and share their faith through sport. After all, they had regular training sessions and coach journeys to build relationships. They were all playing on the same pitch at the same time with the same goals and had the opportunity to play in a way that honoured God, following it up in the changing room afterwards.
Me, I was getting up and pounding the pavement before work or doing two-to-three hour long runs on my own. With an average of two key races targeted a year, selected from a choice of hundreds of elite distance races globally, I was lucky to see someone I knew on the start line.
The church I attend in London, Euston Church, ran their first evangelistic sporting event back in 2010 – a football tournament. It was born simply out of a group of guys who loved playing footie wanting a way to share the gospel. On a chilly evening, eight teams went through the group stages before everyone stopped, stood round on the pitch with gospels in hand and listened to a short Bible talk before heading onwards to the semi-final, victory (for some), and the pub for post-talk chat.
I went along to watch a bit of it and, while I thought it was great, I didn’t have any idea of how this would work with my sporting life. If I’m honest, I confess that back then I wasn’t really thinking about witnessing to other distance runners at all.
As I’ve tapped into the burgeoning London distance running scene over time, I’ve started to wonder how my faith and sport work together. I have found myself having occasional chats with other runners and being struck by how they are in tune with the concept of a power outside of themselves, how they love to talk about the wonder of nature or the idea of the ‘runner’s flow’. Little by little, as I’ve been encouraged in my personal evangelism at church and as God has worked in my heart, I’ve begun to wish that I could introduce my running friends to the One who made these great moments and who can be the source of their identity, rather than any racing achievement.
In recent years Euston Church has started to partner more closely with Christians in Sport and as part of that they have put on events like multi-sport tournaments and sports quiz nights. I have seen how these have benefited my church family by offering a different type of invitation. It’s also meant that sportspeople in the church have been able to connect with and encourage each other more.
Last year, while walking to a Bible study, I got chatting to Laura from Christians in Sport about how I found it hard to share my faith with my fellow racers. Her encouragement and support were brilliant. We decided to give it a go and start an occasional series of running events. We meet after work at church and go for a 40 minute run around the capital before returning to munch on pizza and hear a brief interview with a Christian runner. So far I’ve been able to invite seven of my competitor friends along and I’ve also had the benefit of sharing my love of running with church family. These events have pushed me to make the effort to invite people and have given me a way to start sharing my faith more clearly. They’ve also helped with opening the door to talk about some of the harder topics like sin.
When I’m training six days a week, doing a job and being part of a church it can be all too easy to give myself a free-pass from thinking about evangelism. Sometimes it feels like there are enough challenges around just being a Christian and doing life as an athlete already. The support from Euston Church and their Christians in Sport staff to put on events and help me up my game in telling people about Jesus is invaluable.
It doesn’t mean it’s always easy. One of London’s particular challenges is that everyone is so busy and other events will always crowd in, even when people have agreed to come along. But if there’s one thing it’s easy to persuade runners to come to, it’s another run. I like to think of it this way: I’m not asking my sports mates to give up an evening of doing what they love, I’m just asking them to do it and have something even more lovely added on to it!
Gill Bland is a marathon runner, women's running blogger and a member of Euston Church, London.
At Christians in Sport we love equipping you with the teaching and resources you need to reach your world of sport for Christ.
Check out the resources section for helpful pointers on how to share your faith with your sports friends, and see the Sports Mission Pack for more information on hosting your own evangelistic guest event.
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