Intentional Sport

I wonder whether you have good or bad memories of Primary School playground sport. I remember vividly the ;line up’ while teams were picked. The fear of being left out, not wanted. The joy of being chosen! And then the friendships built up as we amateurishly kicked the ball around the playground thinking we were the best footballers in the world! There are connections which are built through sport that last a long time and sit long in the memory.

When Paul came to Athens in Acts 17:17 we see his usual pattern. He would use ‘natural bridges’ to come alongside others: he went to the Synagogue to speak to those who would listen to God’s word and in Athens particularly, he went to the Marketplace – a large area where people gathered and didn’t merely trade but chatted, listened to ideas and were willing to talk. As a Tent-Maker Paul was used to speaking with trading people and so used this opportunity.

In Britain in the not-so-distant past there was the equivalent of going to the ‘Synagogue’ with the gospel – people would come into church, or were willing to be invited along to a Billy Graham ‘crusade’. There is less willingness to do so now – that ‘bridge’ is largely gone, though not entirely. Some people when invited in will come, and the ‘high days’ (Christmas, Easter) are still opportunities that can be used as we saw this Christmas when many who were invited came into our services. But there is a greater need to identify our ‘marketplace’ where there is opportunity to live out and speak out the gospel among those who may never think of entering a church.

And this is where my Primary School sports memories come in! If you remember the camaraderie of sport, if you remember how it provided a sense of belonging, if you remember the relationships that were built, and the chatter and conversation around sport, so do others. And it is as true for you playing sport now as it was then – there are friendships that develop and conversations that occur around sport that we rarely find opportunity for elsewhere.

But, here’s the challenge: How intentional are we? Do we see it as our ‘marketplace’?

But, here’s the challenge: How intentional are we? Do we see it as our ‘marketplace’?

Paul went to the Marketplace with an intent … seeking gospel opportunities. I guess there were some days when these were few. Other days there were more, and one day the ‘big break’ came when some Philosophers overheard him and asked him to speak some more.

There were two women I know who used to go to the gym together weekly; one was a young mum, the other was older. But what they did each time they went was pray for God to enable them to be ready to use whatever opportunity He gave. Opportunities didn’t often come, but they continued to pray. Then one day, a young man spied the young mum. He had been recently divorced, and an entirely different agenda was on his mind! But the older woman saw what was going on and made sure she was the primary one in the conversation (I’m sure to his annoyance). As they chatted (while running on treadmills) he shared his situation, and then he shared his emptiness, his sense of worthlessness, his search for meaning. They asked if he would come to chat to me, which he did, and (long story short) he came to know the Lord and his life was transformed. It’s only one example. I could tell of another aerobics class where, in the changing room, some of the women were talking about failed ambitions, and as a result an ‘after exercise’ Coffee and Bible Study group formed. Or I could talk about the regular golfer who realised he and his fellow golfers used their 3-4 hours of time to just talk about what they did in life and, since Jesus was all to him, he shared Jesus. And there are so many more true and wonderful stories like this I could tell.

Sport is a huge opportunity for the gospel – it creates a ‘market place’ – a place where people meet and talk. And God has placed you there for His Kingdom purposes.

None of this required church ministry teams to be set up, rotas to be formed or rooms to be booked – they were the outflow of intentionally living for Jesus whilst doing the sport they enjoyed. Sport is a huge opportunity for the gospel – it creates a ‘market place’ – a place where people meet and talk. And God has placed you there for His Kingdom purposes.