For players, parents and pastors, the issue of whether you should play sport on a Sunday is a difficult one. Following on from our Rest and Play blog we chatted to Ian Lancaster, one of the leaders of Town Church Bicester, to break down how they have approached the tension of sport and church.
At Town Church Bicester we’ve had the unique flexibility, as a recently-planted FIEC church, to decide from scratch how church life is organised. One of these decisions was around when our service would be. So we wrestled with it and settled on 4 o’clock as there are a number of reasons why Sunday afternoon works. One of the key reasons was providing a solution for the clash of sport and church that many pastors now need to be aware of.
When I share my experience of choosing our service time with other church leaders their reaction is mixed. I’m aware that not all church leaders will be in a position to set up programmes and services which fit around the mission field of Sunday sport. A lot of people have said, “We just can’t do what you’ve done. I’d love to but we can’t for lots of different reasons.” It’s definitely true that shifting a service or starting up a new one might not be realistic with the resources or systems that individual churches are working with.
Others have grappled with the sense that moving service times to fit around sport sends out the wrong message to congregations. Some have come with a word of caution that sport can be an idol, like many other good things in life. That your ability to worship God through playing sport is one thing, but, if that’s to the detriment of meeting with other Christians and growing in Christ as a community of believers, then sport can be an idol. The word of warning is “be careful that it isn’t the ruler of everything”. And they’re not wrong in that, but why can’t we find solutions which encourage sportspeople along to church gatherings and also to engage in the world of sport?
I know this is provocative, but I would say we can be slow in churches to think about the individual’s personal impact and responsibility to bring the Good News of Jesus to bear in the context that they find themselves in. And you if you’ve been gifted with sporting talent and are glorifying God by using that in a club or team, then you’ll find yourself in a community of sportspeople who need to hear the gospel.
A crucial part of growth as individual disciples is making disciples of others. To bring that to the fore, I’m asking why wouldn’t we change everything as churches to do that and get among lost people? Those out there in the world of sport, mates in our teams and parents on the touchline next to us. And in our case, ‘everything’ means thinking about the time of the service. That’s up for grabs when we’re thinking about what the church is here to do.
So how can members of the church or those in church leadership support sportspeople in living missionally among other athletes and also in meeting with other Christians? There are no easy answers and no one ‘out of a box’ solution that every church worker can implement, but here are some suggestions to help think this difficult area through.
Firstly, prayer on this tension is a must for all parties. We’re all in need of godly wisdom in this area, and it’s so important that church leaders and those within the church family coming alongside sportspeople are praying for wisdom here. It’s a real conscience issue and the outworking of this will look different for different people as they weigh up the Biblical principles in play around meeting together in church and reaching the lost world of sport and worshipping through sporting gifts on the pitch.
Secondly, it’s always helpful to communicate in both directions. Whether you’re a parent trying to figure out what this looks like for your sporty child or an elder trying to support your congregation in their sports mission field and by feeding them as Christians, let’s talk about it! Let’s help each other understand what we’re thinking and how we can support each other as church family, growing as disciples of Jesus and in making disciples in places like the world of sport.
Finally, let’s not fall into the ‘either or’ mindset. Sunday sport and meeting with other Christians doesn’t have to be a choice between the two. If it is, it can send unhelpful signals about the importance of church and of being in the lost world of sport. If there’s a workable solution, go for it, but also be realistic about its implications both practically and spiritually. Think about what mid-week group options you can give to help sportspeople continue meeting Christians and coming under the sound of the gospel together. And if you’re in a position as a church leader to shape services to include sportspeople with Sunday commitments, do prayerfully consider that.
UK Team Leader at Christians in Sport and Church leader at Town Church Bicester
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