Ep. 31 - How the Bible went viral in a rugby club
Ep. 31 - How the Bible went viral in a rugby club

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Dave and Mike speak about the amazing story of what God did in one rugby club through a series of Bible studies which went viral around the club. In this episode they also give some helpful advice for anyone else looking to share the good news of Jesus in their sports clubs and teams through the simple act of getting God’s word open and letting God does his work through it.


Jonny Reid: Great. Welcome back to the Christians in Sport Podcast where we're going to continue to look at questions, issues, and stories to do with sports and faith in Jesus. A massive welcome if you're listening for your first time or if you've been listening for years. It's great to have you with us.

My name's Jonny Reid, and today we're going to hear a great story. A story of a rugby club in Oxfordshire, a story replicated in a number of clubs up and down the country. Now, we don't want to make this club, or the guys who are with me today, heroes, but instead learn some lessons about what it looks like to read the Bible in a club. What it looks like to share the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, with teammates. And why, if you're listening in, and we know many of you are who wouldn't say you follow Jesus yet, you're so welcome. We hope you see why reading the Bible itself is so worthwhile as you look to understand who God is.

Mike and Dave, welcome. Thanks for being on with us, both rugby players here with me. Now at different clubs to the one you were at, when this happened. But firstly, Mike, why don't you tell us a little bit, what's your rugby background?

Mike: I started playing rugby at my school and club when I was younger. I've been playing all the way through. Initially started playing in the front row when I was a little bit bigger, as a youth player, than I am now. Gradually as I've lost a bit of my bulk that I've had, I've moved back and ended up at scrum half. It's not enough speed to go any further out. But that's where I started to learn to play.

Jonny Reid: Dave, you're up in Scotland now, but were down this way. What's been your rugby background?

Dave: Originally from Wales, so you don't really have a choice of what sport you play. You're born with a scrum hat on and told to play rugby. I went for it and loved it.

I grew up in Wales playing rugby, went to university, played rugby there, and then moved over to England for a bit. I've also been in Scotland and just played at different clubs throughout that time. I play as a center, but I've actually just moved to become a coach at my local rugby club.

Jonny Reid: Okay, great. Give us a bit of background about this club, which we're going to hear this story of what God did in this club, of opportunities to read the Bible and explore the Gospel with them. But help us understand, paint the picture. Mike, you've been in the club a bit longer previously. What's the club like?

Mike: To be honest, it's probably one of my favourite places I ever played rugby. Great club, great bunch of boys, much like any other rugby club in lots of ways, but a really friendly group of lads as well. And quite a local club. A lot of boys live pretty near the club and they're guys have been playing for years and years, a number of them, up through the juniors. A club with a real community feel, really nice place to play rugby actually.

And you started there in 2012 right?

Mike: Yeah, 2012.

Jonny Reid: Dave? When did you join?

Dave: I played there for one season, actually back in 2011, but then moved to Scotland, but then returned in 2014 and played for three years then. So came in after two years of Mike being at the club.

Jonny Reid: Paint us a picture then, what was it like, for both of you as Christians in that club? Initially when you joined rugby culture, rugby club, how did you find it there? Christian in that club?

Mike: I think with any rugby club, there's always going to be a difference between the culture of a club and the way as followers of Jesus, we want to live in response to God's goodness to us. And so there's always those areas of life where you want to live differently. A lot of that in rugby can be around the drinking culture, some of the banter that goes on. Actually probably this club, they had had Christians who'd played in the club before so they understood a bit of what that looked like, the ways in which we wanted to live as we tried to follow Jesus, in light of all He's done for us. It was actually quite a nice club to join, in that sense, as a Christian, and provided opportunities straight away because boys were up for hearing a little bit about my faith when I joined.

There was another Christian there at the time who played just for a season as well, before Dave came back a couple of years later. So there's those dual... There's always a benefit as a Christian, playing in a rugby club, that the rugby culture is so distinct from a Christian way of life. Sometimes we can see that as a hard thing. How do I try and stand tall and be different here? How do I actually say that I'm a Christian? I want to live differently. But I think the flip side of that, is that it's a massive benefit because it opens up opportunities to speak about Jesus because people want to say, "Well, why do you want to live in this different way than the rest of us here?" A massive benefit of being a Christian in a rugby club, if you're prepared to tell people that's the case.

Dave: It was a really great environment as Mike said, it's a super club and we felt really welcomed actually and included. And there was, in some sense, our Christian faith was no barrier or a hindrance to being involved in the club. And I think that's a testament to what the club is like, as a whole. But we also wanted to be known as more than just rugby players. I guess that's a choice you make, isn't it, as a Christian sports person? Is how you want to be known and how you want to live and play your sport within your sports club. And so from an early point, both Mike before me and then the two of us together, wanted to really show that our faith and our sport go together. We take Jesus with us into training. He is with us through all the ups and downs of a season and we hoped that was a really good bedrock to be able to then have conversations as well.

Jonny Reid: Tell us the story, it's the 2015-16 season I think, when something different happens. Paint the picture of what happened then.

Mike: Well, I think it was my fourth season at the club and as you said, Dave's second, and we'd have a number of different conversations with players who wanted to find out more about Christian faith. And there'd been some of those opportunities in that sense, to share a bit more about what we believed. And we do also each year run a sports quiz at the rugby club, each season where there'd be guys from the club would come enjoy the sports quiz, we'd have food together. One of the guys at the club would actually do the food for us, which was great, and we used to then have a talk halfway through the quiz, so just get people thinking about the Christian faith. And so we've done that in connection with a load of other sports clubs around the town.

So it wasn't just the rugby club by any means, but there was that kind of ongoing conversation and I think we arrived to that 2015-2016 season, saying that this is all very well, there's some great stuff here. We were thankful to God for the ways in which people had been asking questions and had been struck by those sports quizzes. But we felt that if this really was the best news in the world, then we wanted to do more to share it, a slight discontentment with where we were at. Would that be fair, Dave?

Dave: Yeah, definitely. We were so thankful the boys will come into things like the quiz. Little conversations were going on, but exactly as you said there, Mike, we wanted to give people an opportunity to really dig deep and think about it for themselves, and so that's where we were wrestling really, because ultimately, we wanted to see them come to know Jesus for themselves and begin their own relationship with God in light of what He's done for them. So yeah, a discontent, it's probably a good word to use, but a healthy discontent is probably the best way to put it.

Jonny Reid: So help us. Maybe people listening in, they've been playing in their club for a number of years or maybe just Christians just joined their club and they've maybe got the same discontent. They're saying, "We've got some great news we want to share," help us maybe practically understand, what does that actually look like, then? People have been to a quiz. You'd have some conversations obviously, and then you started reading the Bible with them, but how did you get to that point?

Mike: Part of it is that basically, both being in the club together was a real help. Because we basically said, "Look, we know we've got the best news in the world." And we're actually thinking in some ways, we just said "We've been a bit soft, aren't we? We want to be a bit braver in giving people an opportunity to hear more about it." Actually, it was around the time of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. We put on a World Cup quiz specifically for the rugby club just before the final.

At the quiz, I remember, Dave, I think it was you, saying that we wanted to give people opportunity to go further. And so we'd start to put on, every Monday night for five weeks, a chance to come for some food and we'd print off a passage from one of the accounts of Jesus' life and we'd just read it and chat about it together. And that was the kind of pitch to the boys. We said, "Look, if you want to find out more, great. And this is what we're going to do." Basically, we set that up and we sent out a message to the team WhatsApp group and said very simply that we're going to spend five weeks looking at what Jesus did in people's encounters with Him and in Luke's gospel.

And we're just going to have food, read it, and chat about it. And if they wanted to come, we said then, send us a private message outside of the group because we know that sometimes people want to move conversation on quickly in the club What's Up group. So, that was what we did.

Jonny Reid: Tell us how'd it go then.

Mike: Go on, Dave, you go.

Dave: Yeah. Do you want an honest answer there? At the beginning, we didn't really know how it was going to go. As Mike said, we made the announcement, we put it on the WhatsApp? Then we probably followed up a couple of key people, individually and where the relationship was quite strong. But then we got to the first night and we both sat in my living room and said a prayer. And we just waited to hear the first knock on the door. And it was great. One of the players came along with actually one of the coaches, and it was so basic, we printed the passage on a piece of A4 landscape. We thought that would probably be just a easy, gentle way in. We did have Luke's gospels on the table if they wanted to take them away, but we thought just having something on a piece of A4, where they could read the top left or bottom right and if they wanted a pen to scribble on, they could and they came and we had a feed together and we went straight in.

I think we gave a bit of intro into what Luke's gospel is about, and Luke's desire in writing it. And then I think we went into the paralyzed man as our first session. Was that right, Mike?

Mike: Yeah, it was. And I think honestly, and we're not exaggerating it, I thought it might just be me and Dave having dinner together for five weeks, which I thought would have been lovely. But it was so exciting to have those two guys with us on that first night. One of the moments I really remember is one of them just coming to the passage with such fresh eyes and saying, "I don't want to be rude here, but this Jesus just seems to be really arrogant. He's just saying..." I go, "All right." I say, "No, that's fine. Cool. Anything goes. Why are you saying that?"

He goes, "Well, He says He can forgive sins." It was just so great to have people with fresh eyes come to a Bible passage and to see the real shock in the passage that Jesus says that He can forgive people's sins. And it led to great conversations. And I think that was the most exciting thing for me, was to just literally have the bit from the Bible in front of us, read it together, and people to just pick up, on the things that are in there that we have to learn. It was great.

Dave: Yeah. And I guess it's worth saying then at this point that, linked to all of this, Mike and I felt a growing conviction that God's Word, the Bible, is powerful in and of itself. And when we put it into the hands of people, and we've prayed obviously in faith that God would use the night, His Word is powerful to help people start to connect with God Himself. We really wanted to trust that and believe in that and step out in faith, by simply just allowing guys to read it and chew on it and ask questions, not just as an intellectual exercise and we hope it was intriguing and helpful, but much deeper than that. We really do believe that God speaks through His Word and He has given it as one of the greatest means for people to discover who Jesus is.

Jonny Reid: So that first session, you've got a couple of guys, their coach, and a player. How did that go? Five weeks obviously, as we probably wouldn't be recording this, if the next four weeks, you and Mike were just having dinner together. How did it go?

Mike: Well, the next night we went to train, didn't we, on Tuesday night? And I just remember people coming up to us. Everyone knew what was happening because we put it on the club's WhatsApp group and just a couple of players coming up to us and going, "Oh, how was it last night? What did you do? Who was there?" And as we just told them a bit about it and told them the people that actually come and we'd have great conversations and we'd enjoy the curry together, they started to say, "Oh yeah, well, we'll come next week." And I think, of course we put another message out on the WhatsApp group to say anyone else is also welcome. And I think by the time we got to the next Monday night, there were about eight or nine players-

Jonny Reid: Wow.

Mike: Who wanted to come. And I remember actually, Dave sent me the email on the day, on that Monday, received a couple of texts from people who you'd just never have expected to want to come. We just didn't know that beneath the surface, they were thinking about the big questions of life,, and here was an opportunity to wrestle with them, that had been presented to them. I think that was one of the biggest things that surprised me. We have the guy with the worst disciplinary record in the club and one of the younger players who we'd really never spoken to that much at all, who just both got in touch with us on that Monday and said, "Yeah, I'll come tonight." So that was a great joy, and that really continued for the next four weeks.

Dave: I remember two incidences that made me chuckle. One was, I was taking the balls back at the end of the session into the store and one of the guys was just loitering around near me, and you could see waited for everyone else to go away. And then he peered his head into the store saying, "That thing on Monday, is it okay if I come next week?" And I said, "Of course you can. Of course, you can." And then the other one was even funnier because I was in the shower and one of the boys next to me, we're having a little natter in the shower. And then he equally waits for a couple of them to leave, and say, "Any chance I can come next week."

So it was funny, obviously. Understandably, some boys wanted to come but were maybe nervous about saying that publicly and unsure if others would go, and things like that. But it was really exciting to see God working ultimately, in planting seeds of intrigue and interest and people wanting to come. So yeah, it grew. As Mike said, by the end of the five weeks in Luke's gospel, we probably had between eight and nine guys come in. Not every single week, all of them all together, one or two wouldn't come, but that was cool. We were happy every Monday night to be giving food and having a chat around Luke's gospel.

Jonny Reid: How does it then continue? Because five weeks, great. What happened next for those guys?

Dave: I remember, actually, really funny conversation at the end of those five weeks because we turned to them and said... After having looked at this, we got through to the Cross and the Resurrection, and we wanted in five weeks, to try and give a fairly full overview of the gospel. We said, "Right, so what do you make of this? How do you assess the last five weeks?" They all were just, "It's been really good. Any chance we can just carry on going?" Which quite surprised us, really. We thought we would just do five and clock off at Christmas really. We were building towards Christmas. Then one of them turned and said, "How do you assess it?" We weren't really ready for that. We were just thinking-

Mike: I'd forgotten that.

Dave: That was the moment where again, I felt a little bit of, I have to be faithful here. I said, "Well, we've loved it. It's been great, but we do want you to trust Jesus. And so if we've done these five weeks, and we are at this point now, what we would love to do, is for you to make a decision whether you want to turn to Jesus and say sorry for your sins, repent of that and follow Him with your life. But if you want to carry on going and keep looking at this, then we'd love to also do that."

One of them actually who had a bit of a good knowledge of the Bible said, "Can we do John's gospel?" And the others weren't really sure what John's gospel was, but they were keen for it and we said, "Yeah, of course we can." We then did six weeks in John's gospel after Christmas, which we were not prepared for, but we were really excited for. And off we went again.

Mike: Well, one of the most amazing things about it, was basically seeing that people were interested beneath the surface, who we'd never expected. We had a few guys we thought might want to come, and some of them did, but others, we had no idea that they were thinking about these things at all, or had any kind of interest. But beneath the surface, God must've been at work, and it was just that bit of egging each other on, to actually ask everybody if they wanted to come and see that actually in God's goodness, there were quite a few boys who were up for it. That was one of the exciting things. And I remember distinctly the end of every Bible study. Everyone would leave Dave's flat, and we'd look at each other and go, "What has just happened in the room?" We felt in some way, so out of control.

We weren't looking at it going, "This has gone to plan," ever, because there really wasn't a plan. It was just we were seeing what happened when God was at work and people interacted with His Word. It was just the most exciting thing.

Dave: Let's give a real detail here, because this might be helpful for people to know is, we said, "Come to our house for seven, there'll be food ready," so they came at seven, and we got straight into main course. By half-past-seven then, we read the passage. We said, "Right, we're going to start now, and we're just going to go for an hour. We're going to clock off at half-eight. Even if the going is good, we're going to stop at a half past eight, so at half seven then, we handed out the paper and then we read it, and then we literally asked basically, what do you think about this? Because the environment is quite good, boys started going with questions and then we jumped in and asked kind of probing questions as we went. And we really were trying to go with, what does this passage say?

What do you think this passage means? And then apply it. What could this mass passage mean to you? And we would get to half past eight, wouldn't we, Mike?

Mike: Yeah.

Dave: And we would say, "That's it, boys." And we would get the pudding out, it was at that point. And normally it was an ice cream every week. But even then, we'd sit around for half an hour. And I guess in some ways that was deliberate, as well. We just wanted to sit there, and the conversation might go back to rugby or different things, but every so often, as well... I remember on both occasions at half past eight on one day, they asked me how I became a Christian. They asked you how you became a Christian and there was opportunity to share a little bit more personal story of our faith in Jesus and then, usually, boys were out the door by about nine o'clock.

Mike: It helped build friendships in the club as well, didn't it, Dave?

Dave: Yeah.

Mike: That was a side effect of it is, it really did help, I've felt, each of us to get to know each other better because it's quite a rare thing to just sit down in a relaxed environment and have food and chat with boys from the club. It doesn't need to be a rad thing, but it was, when most of the socials were after a game and there's a different sort of environment then. So that was something that actually they really appreciated as well as we did.

Jonny Reid: As merely four years on now, Rugby World Cup come around again, what's happened since, what are some of the encouragements, and I presume some discouragements, around maybe in the last four years? You guys have both moved on as well, which has obviously happened. You're at different clubs, different places. How's it been left and what's continued at that club?

Mike: I remember just after the gap between the last Bible study and Christmas, hearing stories of people who had put their trust in Jesus, from a friend. Of course, I was always pleased by that as great, rejoicing with them. But there was a pang of... I asked, "Come on Lord, please do this work." And I think it might've even been the next day. We had a Christmas social at the rugby club and one of the boys came up to me and he said, "Mikey, I did it." And I went, "Oh, what have you done? What have you done?" He said, "Yesterday I prayed. I didn't pray for riches or anything, but I prayed that I'd be able to follow Jesus." It was just one of the best moments. And we just had a walk around the pitch together.

And I then came into the Clubhouse and one of the others came up to me and said, "Do you know what? I just can't get this stuff out of my head. Can we meet for lunch?" And so we started to see the boys responding to what they'd heard, and a number of them making professions of faith and saying, "We think this is true. We want it to change our lives now." We saw that from a handful of the boys, didn't we, Dave? Of course, we did another six weeks. For some, that was at the end of the next six weeks in John, that they said that and that was so exciting.

Dave: It was, and as we've tried to stress a few times, we did not expect it in some regard. Of course, we did because God is God. And He can do these amazing things, but you put so many of your own human conditions on this. No one will come. No one will be interested. No one would want to become a Christian. To actually see genuine, initial steps of real faith in Jesus, was just such a joy, and we were so thankful to God that He was kind and gracious to allow us to see that within the club.

But equally, it's worth saying, of course, over the total of the 11 weeks, we probably had about 11 or 12 different boys who'd interacted with us. Some did not want to believe it, some weren't interested, but most were respectful, which is lovely, and thanked us for it. But they didn't want to. And I think we asked the majority of them individually at some stage, "What are you thinking about this? Do you want to trust Jesus with your life?" Some respectfully said, "No, not for me. Not right now. It's not my thing." And I think that's worth saying, because we see that pattern in the Book of Acts, don't we? Where the gospel is proclaimed and some of course, receive it and others reject it. And we saw that live in front of us as well.

Mike: Yeah, definitely. And of course, four years on now, we know the parable that Jesus taught, the parable of the soils and we see that when the seed is sown, that some of the crops will spring up and will continue, and others will spring up initially and those plants will wither. They'll be choked by the thorns of the world, we see all of that and we've seen a lot of it in action over the last four years. For us, that's to be expected of course, that we have seen people continuing in faith, which is a great joy. And of course, we've seen people who've found that harder, to keep going and for whatever reason have said, "Do you know what? Actually this isn't for me."

So there's all those encouragements and discouragements and under all of it, the thing that's been most helpful for Dave and I, is to just know that God's in control with all of those things, that actually we're to praise Him for the good things that we've seen. And then the discouragements, we know He's in control of that as well. We can take that to Him. That's been one of the biggest things that I've learned over this whole four year, World Cup cycle if you like, is seeing God's work and knowing that we can trust Him in that.

Jonny Reid: Right. Boys, as we wrap up then, Dave, why don't you just give us a minute, if Christian sporters are listening in now, what would be your reflections? What would you be saying, these are the key things we learned, the key things we saw God do and which would you'd want to pass on?

Dave: Well, I think for me personally, this experience has probably changed my complete outlook on how I go about trying to share the good news of Jesus with people. And it's underpinned with two convictions, really. One is that there are people out there that are interested to find out about Christianity, hungry, maybe so to speak, which I didn't think that and you can't see that maybe on the surface, but there are people out there. And the other conviction is that God's Word is powerful enough to help people discover Him for themselves. And I really now believe that getting people to have a Bible in their hand and read it will be an incredible experience, which God can use.

And with those two things, it has changed the way I go about trying to share the good news with people. And so, if there's a Christian listening in, I'd encourage you to have faith in the fact that God is working in people's lives, even if we don't know it. Maybe there are some people in your sports clubs who are interested but also have faith that God's Word is powerful and alive. And so go for it. Don't be shy. Give people the opportunity, be brave, be transparent and clear what you're trying to do, and then be excited and get ready to see what God might do. And so yeah, wholly encourage everyone. If you are a Christian listening in, just to give people the opportunity and trust in who God is and the power of His Word.

Jonny Reid: Great. Mike, somebody listening in now, who's not yet a follower of Jesus, what would you be saying to them?

Mike: Well, I think one of the biggest takeaways for me, was seeing that the perception of who Jesus is, the guys had from school, from family, from what they hear just on the news, was totally different to what they found when they looked at the person of Jesus in the Bible. I'd be saying to someone who's not a Christian yet, to say, "Have you checked out who He is in the words of the Bible? Have you seen who Jesus is from that perspective? Because the guys said to us over and over again, "This is just not what I thought it was. It's so much more excited, so much better."

And so that would be one of the big things I'd say. And to say that actually is really quite simple. If you're not a Christian and you know a Christian, why don't you ask them, to say, "Let's have a drink together and can we look up what the Bible says about Jesus? And it will be totally life-transforming, which we've seen that in action. And if you don't, well, try and find a Christian if you can, but grab hold of one of the accounts of Jesus' life and read it for yourself and pray that God would help you see who He is. And we've seen that's something that God really does when people get the Bible open.

Jonny Reid: Boys, thanks so much for sharing your story and it's really encouraging to hear what God did, what God continues to do, as people step out in faith and say, "Hey, you want to look at God's Word with us? Do you want to look at the Bible with us?" So thanks for joining us. Hopefully that's been a challenge or an encouragement for you if you were listening in. If you are maybe a Christian sportsperson listening in, who could you be inviting to read the Bible with you? Are there others you can do that with? What would it look like for you this season to be bolder, asking people just to consider who Jesus is, together?

There's resources, blogs, and our websites to maybe help you think that through. Help you think through how could you actually do it? Hopefully some of the practical tips the guys have shared have been really helpful as well and if you're listening and it's so great to have you, if you don't yet believe in Jesus, you don't yet follow Jesus, you wouldn't say that's you, can I encourage you? Why don't you grab a gospel, grab one of the biographies of Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read one.

You can find it online. Just type in Book of Matthew, Book of Mark, whatever it might be, or get in touch with us. Feel free to email podcast@Christiansinsport.org.uk. We'll send you one in the post for free. Might even chuck a free sticker or something in there just to sweeten the deal, but we'd love you just to read the Bible, hear what Jesus has to say.

Thanks again so much for listening to the podcast, hopefully each week something slightly different as we consider what it looks like to be a Christian and a sportsperson, how sport and faith can go together. Can they? Please do keep sharing the podcast with your friends, pass it on. They might find it interesting. Do leave us a review as well on iTunes. It really helps other people find it, and one thing we always say is, we'd love to hear from you about topics, questions you'd love us to talk about in the podcast, so do get in touch again on that email address podcast@christiansinsport.org.uk, paying us a message on social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. You can use the hashtag #askCIS as well, if you'd like. We'd love to keep producing podcasts, which are really useful and helpful for you. Thanks so much for listening and it's been great to have you with us. We'll see you in a few weeks.

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