Conference realignment. The transfer portal. Coaches getting fired. Coaches moving. COVID-19.
These are all uncontrollable obstacles that collegiate student-athletes face every year, if not every day, in their quest for championships.
A constant, however, found in sports and all aspects of life is Christ and faith in God’s promises.
The world of athletics and how it interacts with all religions, specifically Christianity, is unique and unlike any other relationship in sports.
From their earliest memories, athletes are told by coaches that the most important thing is winning. Through winning, coaches have job security and money continues to pour into the organization.
Money drives much of college athletics. But should it be the driving force?
In its most basic form, sport is play. Sports were created to be an avenue to exert oneself in a fun and competitive environment. Oh, how sport has fallen.
In its created form, sports should be centered on building up young athletes not only in their athletic abilities but, more importantly, in their faith.
Ministering to both Christian and non-Christian athletes can be simplified to a few steps.
While there is no one-size-fits all approach to loving others well, through my own experience I have found these approaches to be helpful in creating lasting, Christ-centered relationships.
How does one minister to both Christian and non-Christian student-athletes?
Get to know them. Grab coffee or lunch. Show a vested and consistent interest. Ask about their families, friends, hometown, etc. Take it upon yourself to make them feel deeply loved and cared for.
In these meetings, there does not need to be a focus directly on faith or the Bible unless the student-athlete brings this up themselves. In this way, you can share the gospel with them in action and not only words (see 1 John 3:18).
Everyone wants to be known, whether they are a believer or not. Because of this, investing time in both the lives of Christians and non-Christians is exactly what Jesus wants from those who love him. By following Jesus’ model while he was on earth, we should invest in the lives of both Christians and non-Christians, continuing to create community and deepen relationships.
2. Share your faith and hardships.
Share your story. Continue to deepen your relationship by being vulnerable.
You cannot expect someone to share their deepest heartaches and biggest triumphs with you if you are not also sharing fully with them. In doing this, you open the door to allow them to share in their own time and when they are comfortable.
Through sharing your faith in pieces, it will also allow the student-athlete to feel more comfortable to share their faith with you in their own time.
Christians and non-Christians alike yearn for a space to share both the hardships and the triumphs of everyday life. This step allows Christians a space to speak freely about their faith while also giving those who are not already Christians space to learn and ask questions.
3. Join a Bible study.
One of our calls as Christians is to surround ourselves with Christian community and spread the gospel message to the world (see Matthew 28:19-20).
A way to connect athletes with a strong Christian community is to encourage them to join a Bible study group or hold a one-on-one Bible study.
What is most important when ministering to athletes is to encourage them to seek out intentional community at their own pace, helping to instill confidence that they are equipped to minister to and receive mentorship from their teammates and Christian community.
Those who are Christians will appreciate the chance to fellowship with believers and learn more about scripture. Someone who is not already a Christian will be able to begin building relationships with others while being introduced to what Christian community truly looks like.
God is a big fan of relationships. Because of this, we are called to participate in deep relationships with one another regardless of an individual’s faith.
Through the building up of these relationships, the gospel is shared first in action and then in word.
As Christians, through the Great Commission in Matthew 28, we are called to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
In a Christian environment, this may seem an easy task; however, in any environment, especially in sports, placing Christ at the center of everything is challenging.
Because of this, it is important for chaplains and spiritual mentors to lean into the truth of the gospel calling us to love everyone and point them towards Christ.
Sport in its created form is so good. With God at the center, athletes have the platform to change the world.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.