I don’t have to tell you that sports are a huge part of American culture. Whether it’s a professional event of some kind or the local little league baseball program, the average American household is involved.
One of the many factors that led me to Jesus in 1974, while a junior in high school, was the testimony of a local college quarterback in my hometown of Modesto, California. He loved Jesus and was a great athlete too. As a kid that loved—and still loves—sports, it dawned on me that the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive as long as Jesus comes first.
Since that time, I’ve had many opportunities as a former athlete and now as a coach and pastor to use sports as a platform to share the gospel. One of the ways we’ve done that at Shafter (California) MB Church is through summer sports camps for incoming kindergarten through sixth graders.
For the past 10 years we’ve offered a wrestling camp, and this summer will be our third year to offer a basketball camp. New this year is a volleyball camp that will be directed by our two summer interns. Camp runs from 10:00 a.m. to noon each day with a combination of teaching, drills, games, snacks and a devotion that follows the theme for the week. This year’s theme is “Train,” taken from I Timothy 4:7-8.
On Friday night of each week we also have an “Exhibition and Dessert” for the whole family. The kids demonstrate what they’ve learned and are given a whole array of take-home items such as a T-shirt and medal. We also send home information about our ministries and a sports New Testament provided by the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club.
The greatest blessing of these camps is the many community families we host in our facility and are able to build a relationship with.
As we welcome them to our church home we also pray that the friendships we form will build bridges into their lives that the gospel can travel on.
I think of a family that sent one of their children to our wrestling camp a couple of years ago and since that time have started attending our church. They’ve gotten involved with our children’s ministries as well as our youth ministries and were recently part of a class that I teach on membership. The sports camp was a great way to be exposed to our church and what we have to offer before actually attending a worship service.
I also help coach a local wrestling club for elementary school age kids during the school year and many of those children have attended our camps over the years. Many of them come from non-believing homes and being able to coach them in a sport as well as tell them about Jesus is a real privilege.
We have a saying at our church: “The gospel travels primarily through relationships.” Sports camps are a great way to see that happen!
Pat Coyle has been the senior pastor of Shafter MB Church since 2001. He has enjoyed teaching kids about wrestling and Jesus for the past 10 years.