By: Rev. Dario Richards
A few years ago, I had a dilemma as a brother and a pastor. My youngest brother had finally reached his goal of becoming a player on Barbados’ national football team. My challenge was the national team practice would be on Sundays during the time he attended our church service. As a brother, should I just celebrate his achievement and encourage him to keep pursuing his goals? On the other hand, as his pastor, should I demand that he quits the team so he does not miss church service? Maybe there was another solution – he can do both! One of the benefits of sports, especially team sports like football, is it is perfectly designed to facilitate both evangelism and discipleship.
In my brother’s case, he was either going to football practice or playing games 6 days a week. After years of doing this, it was clear that his coach had more influence on him than his Sunday school teacher did, and his teammates were closer to him than his peers at church. If his coach or any of his teammates were believers, due to the level of trust and relationship they had developed as a unit, it would create a space to both share and model the gospel.
Furthermore, his team would also create a space for discipleship, or as we call it: “Whole Life Coaching.” This approach to coaching acknowledges that every individual is more than an athlete. We are multidimensional beings, with spiritual, physical, emotional, social, and intellectual components. Hence, whole-life coaching is about using the environment that sports naturally create to contribute to the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of individuals. With greater levels of intentionality through godly coaches, playing fields can become incubators that produce great players, well-rounded individuals, and Christ-centered disciples.
Sports create opportunities for unique modules of ministry to emerge that assist us in achieving our goal of making disciples in all nations. In the Caribbean and across the world, there are numerous testimonies of leaders who have been using sports not only to reach communities but also to make disciples and plant churches. These examples include Honduras, where one pastor decided to build a football field in his church building to reach the young men in his community, ultimately increasing his influence and impact. In Antigua, one pastor saw the power of whole-life coaching firsthand and decided to pursue an official coaching license to start a football academy in his community as a strategy to disciple young men and women.
As disciple-makers, sports ministry provides us with a space to not only have a spiritual impact but a whole-life impact!