‘To perform at a high level in my sport I can’t regularly attend church.’ Is this you? Or someone you know?
Sunday sport, midweek training and other commitments often pose problems for sportspeople seeking to follow Christ. For elite sportspeople, this issue can be even more challenging, in many sports you cannot compete at high level without touring for months of the year, playing away with your team, or heading off for long training camps in the winter.
This issue is not confined to sport, those who work in healthcare or emergency services may also find their work prevents them from physical participation at a weekly Sunday morning service.
So why bother with church if you’re an elite athlete and sport is your vocation? Why, if you’re not an elite athlete but you aspire to be a high performing player, would you prioritise a regular mid-week church group over an extra training session in the week? Why go to church at all if you’re a Christian playing sport at any level?
As we open God’s word we see His game plan - He longs to see us live life to the full, in relationship with him, and His church is a precious and vitally important part of this.
Here’s three reasons why church is so precious for sportspeople.
So, what exactly is church for? In the book of Acts we first find the word ‘Church’ from the Greek word meaning ‘assembly’. Throughout the New Testament the word is used in the context of a gathering of Christians as those who belong to the Lord. In effect, every Christian is part of God’s universal church, the collection of all God’s children throughout the generations and the world whom he has called to himself.
Your local church is an expression of that universal concept. The Bible is clear that God uses key ingredients within the local church to disciple us as His children. These key ingredients are, in effect, His playbook for the church.
The preaching of God’s word. To handle and guard God’s word faithfully against all the forces of unbelief, proclaiming it as glorious truth it to the generations that follow. Preaching must always be designed to strengthen believers and reach the lost. (1 Tim 1v3-4, 2 Tim 1v13)
Where communion and baptism are practiced among those who believe (Matthew 28v19, Acts 2v42)
Where there is exercise of accountability and discipline (Romans 16v17-18)
"It was important for me to be an active member in a local church. To have spiritual family that were involved in my life personally. It was not just a structure – it was the body of Christ in motion."
If we are unclear, as sportspeople, as to why the church is so important for every believer, this playbook is a good place to start.
Elite sport especially can be desperately lonely, and church may well be the only place where relationships can be formed that are not dependent on performance, money, or success.
“When we first joined a church in Portsmouth we met people that didn’t care about me because of football. They cared about my wife, my children and me. For the first time in ten years we felt like we belonged somewhere, that gave us stability, it allowed us to grow as a Christian family within the church”
God is fundamentally relational, existing as the Godhead through the persons of Father, Son and Spirit. He has uniquely created every person in His image and redeemed every Christian at a particular point in time to come into a new relationship with Him and the ‘body of Christ’ or ‘the bride of Christ’ as referred to in the Bible – this is the Church!
If you’re a Christian then you’re on the team sheet – God calls you to actively be part of His church. This is an exciting call up, not a command to reluctantly accept. One day that will be amidst the multitude of all believers of all time, of every tribe, nation and tongue. But for now, the local church is the means and the manner that God has provided for our benefit and a taste of things to come.
Hebrews 10:24-25 helpfully outlines this benefit:
'And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.'
We need this encouragement to keep going. Highlights in sport are few and far between, whereas disappointment is around every corner. What better way to affirm that our identity lies in Christ, regardless of our performance in sport, than meeting with other Christians each week, focusing on God.
If you physically cannot be present at church every week, you don’t have to miss out on this, relationships within the church cannot solely exist within the four walls of a church building on a Sunday morning:
“When I was away on training camp or competing it was important to know that my church were praying for me, that they were in contact with me. I had a prayer partner from church who was messaging regularly to ask how I was getting on, but also challenging me, asking if I was reading my Bible, encouraging me to enjoy growing in my personal relationship with Jesus.”
“I’d meet the chaplain once a week, and we had a house group who understood our life. We didn’t feel that if we missed Sunday that was it – we had things in the week that we were plugged into as well. If you lead a church, ask how you can support someone, if they’re going to be away a lot then can they be sent studies, or sermons? Athletes don’t necessarily want special treatment, it’s just that the need is often different.”
As Christian sportspeople we need others help for a focus towards love and good deeds especially in tough times when we’re ready to throw the towel in on faith, we need others to lift our eyes.
It’s great if you know of other Christian sports people in your sports club that you share common values and purpose with, or you’re involved in something like a Christians in Sport group at University, but that is not the church.
The diversity found in a local church helps us not to be insular or narrow-minded.
"Being able to step into church and have normality of life, others around to talk to about things outside of sport when my week was so focused on training, recovery, nutrition, and sleep! People in church would ask me how I was actually doing, it was wonderful!"
It also means we get to practice love, understanding, patience and the other fruits of the spirit. We get to watch and learn from others who are different from us. All of that is healthy for Christians. If you’re part of a church where you experience this, I hope you agree! You see why this is so precious for sportspeople. The diversity of the church, and relationships within it help remind sportspeople of key truths:
“Being able to stop and be around others, worshipping God, hearing His word from the front, sharing that together - there is something precious about that. Being able to switch off from rowing and have time that is away from it to remind you of the greater perspective on life.”
So, you’re on the team sheet and the playbook is clear: if you’re a sportsperson today, God is calling you to be part of his church, to play on His team with other believers, from all different backgrounds, sportspeople or not. So, either find a local church or thank God for your local church. You need it and your church needs you to continue growing in becoming more like Jesus and making Him known to a watching world of sport!
Get the perfect start every
A weekly devotional for sports people