Baseball cap pulled low and tight, glove affixed to jittery hand, a grinning
9-year-old positions himself to stop a ground ball from a professional baseball
player. Other children ring the diamond waiting for their turn. Moms and dads
watch intently, yelling encouragement. All eyes and ears are on the leaders,
whose instruction is sound and well received. Later, the same instructors speak
of something far different from how to hit or catchthey tell how Jesus Christ
has made a difference in their lives. With the respect of the participants and
parents earned through several hoursmaybe a full dayof sports instruction,
their story is gladly heard.
A few kids say they want to know Jesus, too. Some moms and dads have their
interest piqued. "Maybe we should take the kids back to church, honey," a
father says to a mother as they drive away. "God sure has made a difference in those players lives. Joey
seemed really interested. We ought to think about this some more."
Whether baseball, soccer, basketball or another game, sports is a sturdy
bridge across which to share the gospel, and a sports clinic is one of many
effective means of evangelism. Churches are using this tool to share the
gospel, then link interested people to the local church.
Christian athletes can use their position to share the source of the inner
peace that helps them achieve success, their relationship with Christ.
Mary Lou Retton, a gold medal-winning gymnast in the 1984 Olympics, will be
using her unique platform by hosting a new TV show called "Mary Lous Flip-Flop
Shop." Retton was featured in a North American Mission Board commercial
portraying Jesus Christ as "the only perfect 10." The popular spot is part of
the Celebrate Jesus 2000 evangelistic campaign.
"My Christianity was something I really kept inside," Retton said. "I didnt
realize until doing that commercial that I was not only called to be a
Christian, but I was called to share it with everybody now."
"Mary Lous Flip-Flop Shop," designed to teach preschoolers the joys of
physical activity, singing and learning biblical values, will air on FamilyNet
winter 2000. Call 817-737-4011 or log onto familynettv.com for times in your area.
"I want parents to feel comfortable knowing they can leave their children
watching Mary Lou," said Retton. "And were going to get the kids up and moving!
The show will create a foundation for kidsteach them the values of honesty and
truthfulness." In addition to the new show, Broadway Books has also just
released Mary Lou Rettons Gateways to Happiness: 7 Ways to a More Peaceful,
More Prosperous, More Satisfying Life. She says of the book: "One of my
gateways is faith. I talk openly about my Christianity."
Rodger Oswald of Church Sports International has organized evangelistic
sports clinics all over the world.
"Churches agreed that prior to, during and after the clinic, these events
provide a tangible way to involve church members in the process of
evangelization," Oswald says.
A key element in sports clinics is the non-threatening, relational approach.
"A sports camp puts flesh to the gospel," says Tim Conrad of Uncharted Waters.
"The ministry that takes place between a Christian coach and a young athlete
clearly demonstrates the good news that Christ is alive and touching the lives
of those who do not know Him through the actions of those who do."
Oswald offers six reasons why a church should consider hosting a sports
It uses an event that ties to a popular pastime (1 Corinthians 9:24). Many
young people want to improve as athletes; consequently they will come.
It creates a safe, non-threatening environment where people want to be and
provides an opportunity for individual or group proclamation of the gospel.
Sports instruction opens the door to telling stories about personal faith.
In other words, the skill, attitude or trait under discussion lends itself to
The personal attention of the teachers builds relationships through which
the gospel can be favorably received.
Transitioning from the physical to the spiritual moves Christian principles
from theory to application.
Building relationships paves the way for effective follow-up.
Says Oswald: "The bottom line is that the believer is sent into the world.
Why not go using something the world understands and appreciates in order to
present to them something that is imperishable [eternal life] as opposed to the
perishable reward of a trophy (1 Corinthians 9:25)?
"There was a fifth-grader named April, from my kids school, who signed up
for softball," Janet recalls. "Because of my acquaintance with her family at
the elementary school, I knew they were Mormon. Needless to say, I was so
excited that she signed up for camp and felt that I could make a difference in
her life, because I was heading up the softball program for camp."
As camp approached, Janet became worriedonly four girls were signed up for
softball and that part of the camp would have to be canceled. Janet had to try
to convince April to play another sport. "My main focus had become not losing
April. I had my Sunday school class and my Bible study group praying for her. I
called her, and she didnt really want to do another sport. I convinced her to
stay because I said I thought it was really important for her to be there and I
couldnt wait to get to know her better." April decided to try the tennis camp.
"The camp theme was Undefeated and the players learned that living a life in
Christ is more important than being undefeated in a sport. A life in Christ
means you are 1-0-0one win, no losses and no tiesbecause only with Christ are
April listened intently each time Janet taught. During the last lesson,
Uncharted Waters leader Tim Conrad shared the gospel. "The whole time of
prayer, I was praying for April that God would reach her," Janet said. "After
the prayer, Tim told the kids how important it is to make public their decision
for Christ, and there, sitting up in the front row, was April! She raised her
hand and her smile beamed from ear to ear. Another amazing thing was that April
had a sister there, Debra, and she also accepted Christ. Now their entire
family regularly attends church, and were praying for their extended family who
are still Mormons. And it all started with a sports clinic."
"Jesus said that He would build His church. Why not participate in that
building process using the brick and mortar of our society placed strategically
on the cornerstone of Christ? The phenomenon of sports is endemic in our
society and can be a powerful tool for the church."
Sports clinics can take many forms but most are one-day or half-day events
featuring respected and talented instructors. It is not necessary to feature
professional athletes, though they often attract more people. Some tips for a
successful clinic, according to Oswald:
1. Be well organized. Many clinics falter at this point. Start planning
early. Putting on a clinic requires administrative skill. Select a clinic
coordinator who will recruit captains for various aspects of the effort, such
as prayer, facilities and equipment, refreshments, promotion, registration,
clinicians, first aid and medical related needs.
2. Plan a balanced, detailed schedule. Elements you will want to include:
registration, opening greeting/instructions/prayer, large group instruction or
demonstration, skills/teaching stations (with rotating schedule), drills and
practice, team time, breaks, meal (if appropriate), spiritual content,
3. Budget. Be detailed and thorough.
4. Determine what type of clinic you will have. Oswald writes, "Is it going
to be primarily demonstration, where the expertise of a high profile athlete is
utilized? Is it going to be an instructional clinic where there is a
combination of demonstration with some application that practices what is
demonstrated or taught? Is it going to be an instructional clinic with a lot of
participation? Or, is it going to be a clinic that has some instruction, some
participation and includes competition? Certainly the facilities, equipment,
clinicians and the number of participants will have a great deal to do with the
type of clinic. Remem-ber that the clinic format often dictates what type of
resources are needed as well as the number of participants who can be
Oswald says there are two critical factors to keep in mind in all clinics.
One is to provide opportunity for each participant to improve as an athlete. In
other words, have quality instruction that the athlete can genuinely benefit
from. Do not use the clinic merely as a means to attract people for outreach.
The second is strategic planning of spiritual content. How will spiritual
information be communicated and by whom?
Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams, the hottest quarterback in the National
Football League, prints his own trading cards. But its not an ego thing.
The cards tell the story of Warner turning his life over to Christ. He
carries them around so hell have something meaningful to hand out to fans who
ask for his autograph.
His new life in Christ is intertwined with his dramatic
rags-to-riches football career. The NFLs most valuable player became the Super
Bowl MVP as he led his team to victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl
Warner became a Christian five years ago, shortly after tragedy touched his
life. The parents of his girlfriend Brenda, now his wife, were killed when a
tornado demolished their home in Mountain View, Arkansas.
Kurt watched as Brenda, a Christian, responded to the tragedy with poise and
grace rather than self-pity. He also knew how she had dealt with a crippling
accident suffered by her son, Zachary, nine years earlier, when the baby was
dropped on his head. Brenda sat in a rocking chair next to Zacharys hospital
crib for 17 days, watching as he suffered seizures. She quoted Bible verses and
asked God to perform a miracle. Although legally blind and brain-damaged,
Zachary is now a fifth-grader who can read, gets around fairly well, and takes
mainstream and special education classes.
Three months after the deaths of Brendas parents, Kurt became a Christian.
Two months after that he proposed to Brenda, and he has adopted Zachary and
Brendas daughter Jesse.
Kurt got involved in a Bible study and began to "understand what was really
important in life," he told Crosswalk.com. "I had my life and my faith, and
they were two separate things. But as I began to grow in my relationship with
God, I began to understand how they fit together." The Warners host a weekly
Bible study during football season.
His long road to gridiron success was filled with setbacks and bad breaks.
He warmed the bench for four years at the University of Northern Iowa. Finally
getting a chance as a fifth-year senior, he led the Panthers to the NCAA
Division I-AA semifinals and was named the Gateway Conference Offensive Player
of the Year.
But he was passed over in the NFL draft and rejected by the Canadian
Football League. Warner took a job stocking shelves for minimum wage at a
supermarket while he worked out at a college practice field during the day.
A year later he was playing again, but in small-time Arena football, an
indoor game using eight players on a side and a 50-yard field. An injury cost
him a tryout with the Chicago Bears in 1997.
Soon he took a step up. He was signed by the Rams and sent to the Amsterdam
(Netherlands) Admirals of NFL Europe, where in the spring of 1998 he led the
league in passing yardage and touchdowns.
The Rams hired Warner for the 1998 season, but he played in only one game.
He was left unprotected in the expansion draft, but the new Cleveland Browns
didnt want him, either. He was still with the Rams in 1999, but the team signed
a superstar quarterback prospect putting Warner in jeopardy.
The rookie got hurt, and Warner stepped up. To the surprise of almost
everyone, he threw a record 41 touchdown passes, led the league in completion
percentage, and took the Rams to the best record in their conference, 13-3. In
five months he had gone from being an anonymous bench-sitter to a Pro Bowl
selection and was named the NFLs most valuable player.
Kurt is now a celebrity but says he owes his success to his faith in Christ.
He declined an appearance on the David Letterman Show to spend his wedding
anniversary with Brenda. He has his own cereal, Warners Krunch Time, and the
proceeds go to Camp Barnabas, a Christian camp in Purdy, Missouri, for children
with special needs.
Warner told his story at a Billy Graham event in St. Louis last fall. "Who
am I? I am a devout Christian man," he told the crowd of 40,000. "I am not a
football player. That is what I do. When I throw a touchdown pass now, my
thoughts are on how I can use this success on the field as a platform to
glorify and praise my Lord Jesus Christ. People often ask the secret of my
success as a football player. It has nothing to do with how I work out in the
off-season, or my diet. The secret of my success is simply Jesus Christ."
Harper San Francisco and Zondervan have co-published Kurt Warner:
My Story of Faith, Football and the Miracle Season recounting the
28-year-olds meteoric rise from third-string nobody to league MVP. This story
was compiled by the editors of Religion Today.
5. Follow up. What a waste it would be to have a large group of people
attend an evangelistic sports clinic and not follow up on each one. Entire
families have been reached by following up with participants. The clinic is
just the first step in developing relationships with people who may have had no
other contact with church.
6. Dont be afraid to seek help. Many churches and other ministries have
offered effective evangelistic sports clinics and are willing to share their
expertise. Many parachurch ministries are structured to work with local
churches to hold clinics. (See "Finding the right playbook for you"--below)
Success stories abound from evangelistic sports clinics. Tim Conrad tells of
a church sports camp where a girl gave her life to Christ. "Her family members
were all non-Christians," he says. "Over the next year the parents brought the
children to church and came to Christ as well. They are now active in the
Pastors report that dozens of children and parents accept Christ at clinics,
while other churches use clinics as a first-touch that later might lead to
Helpful resources are easy to find.
First, go to www.sportsoutreach.org. There youll find a long list of
categorized sports ministries. For specific instruction on how to conduct a
sports clinic, click on the "Planning Guides" section on the home page, go to
the "Clinics" sub-head and click on "Sports Instructional Clinics." Finding the
right playbook for you Following are the names and contacts of parachurch
groups that can help with sports clinics.
A veteran of sports evangelism, Victor Lee is the producer and columnist
for The Sports Channel of Crosswalk.com and is helping plan a sports clinic manual for
Following are the names and contacts of parachurch groups that can help with
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