January 25, 2021

It’s “Holy Week” in America

Today’s guest post is by Chaplain Mike.

UPDATE: Scot McKnight is discussing this over at Jesus Creed today as well. I encourage you to check out his perspective and those of his readers.

I grew up fully immersed in sports. Sports were a part of almost everything I did, every friendship, most activities. I became a jock. I got pretty good at basketball, and played competitively through my junior year in high school, capping off my career with a team that won the first regional championship in school history.

But I was especially focused on baseball. At the time of my conversion, as a senior in high school near Baltimore, I played for a school with a storied tradition. That year we again had a talented team that won our conference, beating out our rival, the school that would produce Cal Ripken, Jr. a few years later. I was honored as County Player of the Year, and there was little I loved more than baseball.

That was also the spring I met Jesus.

For some reason, at that time in my life, I thought this spiritual awakening meant that my life was supposed to change completely. Not just internally. Not just “spiritually.” Not just morally. Totally. Like the first disciples, I was being called to drop the nets, climb out of the fishing boat,  leave the family business behind, abandon it all and follow Jesus.

To me, that meant I was through with sports. I don’t think anyone told me that specifically, but nobody said differently either. When I graduated and started thinking about studying for the ministry, no one suggested I find a school with a baseball team. It was all about the Bible. It was all about following the Lord. It was all about spreading the message. And so I went to Bible college. Our school had a soccer team and a basketball team, but I never seriously considered playing. In fact, I rarely even attended games. Sports were now outside my radically narrowed focus. I was headed in a different direction.

Our first church was in a tiny mountain village in Vermont. My wife and I didn’t have a TV in our home by choice, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because reception was non-existent. Occasionally I listened to the Orioles or the Cubs on the radio when a distant AM station would come in, and once or twice we went to Fenway to see a game, but sports was no longer a regular or central part of my life, my thinking, or my interest.

We continued in this vein when we moved back to Chicago for seminary. Life for us was all about school, work, church, having babies, and learning about family life. While there, we got caught up a little bit in the fun of watching the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl, and we occasionally watched games at friends’ homes, but sports remained on the periphery.

Then our children started growing up. Girl’s basketball games began appearing on our schedule. Then, even more significantly for our future lifestyle, we started Little League baseball with my oldest son. After more than 15 years of living, for all practical purposes, without sports, we entered a season of life in which, for the next 20 years, sports once again became a prominent focus. In fact, it would not be overstating it to say that, except for the church, nothing filled our lives so much as interest and involvement in sports. Whether spending time at facilities cheering on our children, coaching, watching sports on TV as a part of our family experience, or attending professional sporting events as special occasions, we had become a “sports” family.

That culminated this last fall when my son played his final college football game. Our role as “sports parents” is suddenly over. It remains to be seen what will happen with the next generation, our grandchildren. But the lifestyle is still a big part of who we are. We continue to watch sports on TV and follow various teams. Having grown up in Chicago, I remain a lifelong Cubs and Bears fan. Living near Indianapolis, we root for the Colts and enjoy attending games at our Triple-A baseball park. I check scores daily. The remote is used regularly to flip through channels in hopes of finding a good competition to watch. We host or attend parties for big games. As a chaplain, I have found that sports can be a bridge for building friendships and creating opportunities for ministry.

So, sports remains a central part of our lives and daily conversations these days.

Sometimes, though, I feel twinges of spiritual concern.

Like yesterday, when I read the thoughtful article by Shirl James Hoffman in Christianity Today entitled, “Sports Fanatics: How Christians have succumbed to the sports culture—and what might be done about it.” I encourage you to read it too, and see if doesn’t raise issues for you about our American preoccupation with all things sports.

Hoffman writes:

Americans are consuming sports on an unprecedented scale. The ancient Romans, long considered the gold standard for how sports-crazed a culture could be, were dilettantes compared to the sports fans of this century. The Romans could squeeze 50,000 spectators into the Coliseum for gladiatorial contests—a quaint assemblage next to the 107,000 seats regularly sold for University of Michigan or Penn State home football games. In 2006, Americans spent over $17 billion on tickets to sports contests and $90 billion on sporting goods, over double what they spent on books ($42 billion). Sports magazines take up prime space on bookstore shelves; the granddaddy of them all, Sports Illustrated, sells as many copies in a month (13.2 million) as To Kill a Mockingbird has sold since its publication in 1960. A tenth of The World Almanac is devoted to sports, more than is allocated for business, science, and politics combined.

None of this has been lost on evangelicals, who have been quick to harness sports to personal and institutional agendas. Less than a century ago, major segments of the evangelical community considered sports a cancer on the spiritual life; today their denominational progeny lead the parade to stadiums. The cozy coupling of sports and evangelicalism shows itself not only in the outsized athletic complexes that are common features of church architecture, but also in the ease with which sport and its symbols show up in the sanctuary. Pastors incorporate pithy sports metaphors into their sermons. Famous athletes are invited to pulpits to tell how their faith helps them compete. Some churches celebrate Super Bowl Sunday by canceling the evening service and assembling in the sanctuary to watch the game on large-screen TVs. “Faith nights” sponsored by local baseball teams draw entire congregations to the ballpark. Evangelistic organizations that center on the public’s fascination with sports flourish.

However, Hoffman later opines:

Variously described by those inside and outside as narcissistic, materialistic, violent, sensationalist, coarse, racist, sexist, brazen, raunchy, hedonistic, body-destroying, and militaristic, big-time sports culture lifts up values in sharp contrast with what Christians for centuries have understood as the embodiment of the gospel. There are simply no easy, straight-faced, intellectually respectable answers for how evangelicals can model the Christian narrative—with its emphases on servanthood, generosity, and self-subordination—while immersed in a culture that thrives on cut-throat competition, partisanship, and Darwinian struggle. If evangelical ethicist R. E. O. White is right to assert that self-absorption is behind all wrong social relationships and, for this reason, self-denial is the first ethical condition of discipleship, then elite athletes immersed in the self-consumed atmosphere of sports, where self-denial is a recipe for competitive disaster, face a fundamental problem.

…If indeed sport is marching toward Gomorrah, it seems to have escaped the attention of large portions of the evangelical community, which continue to bask in the reflected glory of Christian athletes. Much evangelical commentary glorifies athletes and sports, but becomes timid in situations that warrant indictment. Rarely does the evangelical press ask touchy questions about tensions between the moral culture of Christianity and that of big-time sports. The silence is deafening.

In its vision of sports, bolstered by the large number of Christian athletes who have joined professional and collegiate teams, the evangelical community has yet to ask how the influx of believers has affected the morality of sports. There may be no more vivid illustration of historian Mark Noll’s “scandal of the evangelical mind” than the way the community has neglected to think Christianly about sport, or has excused itself from crafting a sensible philosophy that will help them mine the spiritual riches that sport has to offer. [emphasis mine]

Back in 1976, Frank DeFord wrote a series of Sports Illustrated articles called “Religion in Sports,” in which he asserted, “Sunday has become a day of games rather than worship, but churchmen are adapting.”

In those articles, he coined a phrase, “Sportianity,” to describe a “new denomination” of Christianity that has embraced sports, has intentionally infiltrated its arenas for the purpose of evangelism, but which may have become, in fact, sports’ handmaiden.

Unlike DeFord, I am not qualified to speak on the complex relationship between sports and religion in America. My concerns are much more personal and pastoral. It seems to me that sports represents one of those areas of American pop culture that has simply inundated Christianity and left us helplessly going with the flow.

  • Now churches schedule services and programs around sporting events and calendars, not vice versa.
  • Now it is common for individuals and families to miss services and church activities to be involved in sports, whether simply watching or participating.
  • In many minds, any specialness which Sunday maintains is usually more related to sporting events that are taking place that day than to Lord’s Day worship.
  • People who would complain loudly of “legalism” or authoritarianism if the pastor suggested we dress up a little bit to honor God when we come to worship have no problem with wearing jerseys and other sports gear to church to show allegiance to their teams (picture the 80-year old woman wearing her Colts jersey, face paint and team-colored ribbons last week in our service).

But wait, isn’t most of this just harmless fun? Am I being too hard on God’s family here?

I am aware of the good aspects of sports, and I fully affirm them. After all, sporting fields and stands have been the context where I have sought to live out my faith over the past 20 years. But somehow, I wonder…

  • Have we lost some perspective here?
  • Was I completely wrong to have relativized sports, to have set it aside as a less worthy pursuit, when I was in the state of first love with Jesus?
  • Has the Sportian lifestyle swallowed up a distinctive, counter-cultural Christianity?
  • Do we live in a day in which it is simply impossible for pastors to admonish their congregations about a devotion to sports that has crossed the line, tying up their time, emotional energies, and finances in something which is not, in the final analysis, all that important?

Sportianity’s Holiest Celebration
And now we have come to Holy Week, which culminates on the holiest day of Sportianity’s year: Super Bowl Sunday. Here in Indianapolis, where we have a rooting interest in the game’s outcome, it’s just about all anyone is talking about.

  • We’ll have our daily devotions listening to messages from sports pundits and talk-show hosts.
  • We’ll have a special season of fellowship with our friends and coworkers, praising our team and encouraging one another with new insights into the game.
  • We’ll share the good news with neighbors and coworkers that our team is best and will certainly win.
  • We’ll utilize apologetics in commending our team against unbelievers, giving a reasonable defense as to why they will triumph.
  • On game day, we’ll gather before the sacred flat screen altar, share the holy appetizers, and participate in the liturgy of watching the big game (and especially the commercials) with exclamations of praise and/or lament.
  • We’ll go forth into the world on Monday to talk about our experiences and rejoice that we were together.

Then, on to spring training, the Final Four, the NFL draft, the start of baseball season, the NBA playoffs…

…with ESPN at our side, for he hath said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

(Cartoon Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc – www.reverendfun.com)



  1. I’ll have a go at this.

    Let us begin with a debatable stipulation that there are two types of Christians: Type A is focused on himself, his behavior as judged by his church culture, and what he’s *doing for the Lord*. Type B is focused on the Lord and what the Lord has done for him. Evangelical America is overwhelmingly a type A kind of place and has been ever since the Great Awakening. I think the Evangelical mania for sports goes back to the early 20th century (the *Golden Age* of sports) and the adoption of athletics as spiritual by such folks as Billy Sunday. Why were athletics spiritual? Because for type A Christians spirituality is all about approved behavior — and better to have the boys playing ball than tipping flasks or chasing skirts. It’s much more spiritual, don’t you see, and the identification of Jesus with sports was born. The machine took off at high speed and has never slowed down…

  2. Hi Mike,
    I am relatively new here to the site, but I thoroughly enjoy the blogs as they are very thought provoking to me. I am at a point in my life where I am unsure which way to go theologically. But, I wanted to comment on this topic as I am originally from New Orleans (39 yrs in N.O., last 3 yrs in Fl). To me this event is much more than a game for N.O. This is a wounded hurting city. Many years of corruption, history of and ongoing racial divide, poverty, and Katrina have negatively affected this city. This is one thing that has brought people together- something they can rally around, something uniting them as opposed to dividing. The mood in the city has been upbeat and positive. I believe be something God uses to unite people. I agree that sports has become idolized with atheletes being lifted up to the staus of God – just like entertainers, celebrities, and preachers. I believe atheletes who have been blessed have a responsibility to give back, bless others, and be humble. God can use them because of their huge platform. God can use sports as a tool to acomplish His will. I apologize for not being more eloquent with my writing. Peace!
    Also, if anyone knows of any gospel centered forums available, please let me know.

  3. Emery Barg says

    As I sat here reading this, I began to think of how sports and going to church has changed in my lifetime. Where I grew up, the community had set aside Wed. evenings as “church” night and there could be no school activities scheduled on Wed. nights. There could be practice after school, but only until the supper hour and after that was designated church time. I thought that was the norm until I went into the navy and saw how the rest of the world operated. I was shocked at first, then as time progressed, I just accepted the fact that it was different everywhere else and I moved on. Then when I was stationed in NJ, I was shocked again. As I drove to church on Sun. mornings I drove by soccer fields that were filled to capacity with soccer games and families that should have been in church. [MOD edit…]

    Well, that was a number of years ago, and I again live in small town USA, so I don’t know if it is still the norm to see Sunday morning soccer fields packed to the gills or not. I have purposely moved away from that situation so I could raise my kids in a good Christian way. They attend a parochial school where we attend church, and besides getting a good education, they also get a good Christian education (which in my opinion is a better education that will give them eternal rewards.)

    I do enjoy a good game of baseball or football, I do support our local high school by attending their sporting activities. However, I don’t miss church because of it. There is plenty of time to (at a minimum) fit an hour of church into any Sun. morning before heading off to the big game. And, if you have to travel so far as to not be able to make the game and attend church at home, then find one close to where you are going, stop in for a visit, make some new friends, show your faith and then go on to the big game.

    Now that I have finished with my “sermon” of sorts, being that it is Sunday morning, I too will get up and head to church before taking on whatever the day brings.


    • I do appreciate that in my town, soccer for the kids is Monday through Friday in the evening.

      There is even an alternative faith based league that has all games for all children at one location on the same evening. Multiple fields. Many community parents joined because if you had three kids it meant you were out one night and place to be for soccer in the week instead of six.

    • What time in the morning were these matches being played, Emery? It would be entirely possible for families to go to eight o’clock Mass and be out on the pitch for half-past nine or ten o’clock kick-off.

  4. Love this post. My husband is a huge sports fan and is raising our boys to be the same. Sports is religion for too many of us, and the hero worship/idolatry is insane. I wouldn’t put my husband in that category, but there was a period when he needed to rethink his priorities.

    When my husband and I were first married, he was very active in our church, but when he was later promoted, and we relocated closer to Cleveland, we struggled to find a church with which he was comfortable. I agreed with the feeling, but I took the boys to church without him.

    After a few years, we were able to switch to a more conservative parish, which he liked better, but the pattern of sleeping in on Sunday was set. (I think he likes sleeping in even more than sports.)

    Then one Sunday, we had tickets to an early afternoon Cavaliers game that came with a pass to go down near the court and watch the players warm up in the hours before the game. That day, he set his alarm, got up, showered, and hurried everyone out of the house so we wouldn’t miss a minute of the practice.

    As we drove downtown, I turned to him and bluntly said, “If you can get your a** out of bed on Sunday morning to go see Lebron James, you can do it for Jesus.”

    It really was a lightbulb moment for him. Now, not only does he go to church every week, but he eventually volunteered to be an usher–which pretty much requires his attendance. He still stretches the limits of sleeping in before noon mass, but somehow he makes it.

    • This is brilliant. My pastor is a huge sports fan, but has made the comment several times that folks will walk 3 miles each way to go to a big game, but they can’t be bothered to use our offsite parking for church. Oh, and they’ll tailgate hours before a game but they can’t be bothered to make it to church on time.

  5. Just about anything can become an idol if we let it, but systems and beliefs that are embedded in the culture and the American ethos have a head start in this department precisely because they are often also ingrained in evangelical culture and therefore rarely questioned. Sports is undoubtedly one of those areas.

    One of the questions to ask about any activity is whether it is informed and shaped by and made a subset of our faith and practice, or whether in fact it is informing and shaping and consuming our faith and practice. The former is appropriate and healthy; the latter is the road to idolatry.

  6. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a football fan and enjoy watching very much. But the obsession with sports and sports celebrities amongst contemporary evangelicals is, in my opinion,one of the many symptoms of malaise in that group.

    Memorizing endless sports statistics? No problem. Memorizing Scripture? No time. Volunteering to referee for kids games on Sunday morning? No problem. Volunteering to usher for a Sunday morning service? Sorry, can’t make it. Understanding and enjoying discussing the intricacies of the rules and history and playing styles for different sports and teams? Got that covered. Just knowing the names of important Christian historical figures who truly changed the course of history or understanding even at a rudimentary level important Christian doctrines in a way that could be intelligently communicated? No time or interest.

    I think a lot of direct church involvement with sports is caught up with our celebrity culture. Having a celebrity who can market your product (evangelical Christianity) seems to make it more desirable and have more bang for the buck. In no way do I impugn the lives of Christian sports figures, but I do think there’s something wrong when more people in the church will read and be familiar with books on Christianity written by NFL coaches than they will read and be familiar with books written by actual theologians and pastors. My opinions obviously and I understand there’s a proper balance for everything.

  7. I have a personal testimony about sports. I was a huge baseball fan. I actually had a job in 2002 where I would go to Giants and A’s games and do the data entry for mlb.com’s online app. They don’t give that job to just anyone. I write this not to brag, but to give you some perspective about how hardcore I was.

    2002 was the summer when I finally dealt with my ongoing bondage to pornography. Everything changed for me when the Lord got hold of my heart. Suddenly I saw baseball in a new light. It stopped being an act of worship and became an enjoyable way to spend 3 hours.

    Plus, I got my degree from Ohio State in 1995. As you can imagine, college football was pretty important to me too.

    Since then I have a whole new perspective on the games. I listened to all of the Indians’ playoff games in 2007 and even stayed up way past my bedtime for Game 2 of the ALCS. I was not happy when Ohio State got creamed by Florida and LSU, but I bounced back quickly enough. I keep an eye on what goes on in the sporting world, but it doesn’t govern my days anymore. I still make time each year to watch the Ohio State-Michigan game with my brother-in-law who I know from school. I make time to watch OSU’s bowl game each year. But now it is me setting the boundaries instead of the schedules of my teams setting them for me. Plus, I no longer *need* for my teams to win like I once did.

    I am currently in seminary near Raleigh, NC. I realize that if I do become a pastor in this area it would behoove me to know about the goings on with ACC basketball for the reasons stated in this post. However, that would be more like work than the pleasure it once was.

    Personally, I consider this to be quite liberating. I should probably also add that we haven’t had TV since April of 2004 and we don’t miss it one bit (I can’t handle all the flesh, particularly during sports). I likely will be doing homework for school or maybe grocery shopping during the Super Bowl. I figure I can see the Tim Tebow ad on YouTube. I don’t need to see the latest from GoDaddy.

    • Jason , praise GOD for what he’s done in your life reg. porn. that’s a story of deliverance that’s worth celebrating, I’m sure your family is celebrating with you daily.

      Greg R

  8. David Cornwell says

    Will wearing scripture on your forehead now become a sports fad?

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I’ve never been into sports at all. I’m more the type who’d be happiest in a library researching something obscure, writing science fiction, or engaging in “recreational thinking” with others of my kind.

    I spent four years as an Untermensch in a high school where football jocks and cheerleaders were the Herrenvolk. (And yes, I am using Nazi terminology deliberately. That’s how intense the sports mania caste system was back there and then.) Four years of hell that turned my attitudes on sports from indifference to outright hatred. The reactive hatred of the face always being stamped on by a football-cleated boot.

    And when I hear of Christians glorifying Christian (TM) Athletes (especially superstar new converts) as Christian (TM) *CELEBRITIES* and Spiritual Examples, all I can see is “I’m Back in High School. God is the God of the Quarterbacks and Cheerleaders. Not me.”

    [MOD edit…]

  10. I confess that the Church I attend has made a bigger deal about the Super Bowl than it ever dead about Easter Sunday.

    I withhold judgment, as the Church is highly “outward” focused.

    My own relationships to “sportianity” is my constant annoyance with the Sports metaphors in sermons and such. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard a Charismatic or a Pentacostal say, “if you scream loudly at a basketball game when you team scores, that’s how passionaitly you should praise Jesus.”


    Yeah, that’s what I always feel like screaming.

    I didn’t go to any games at my Alma Mater. I think out teams weren’t all that great anyway.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      I dunno man. Yes Christianity is not a basketball game, but it’s also not a tea party for Victorian maidens either.

      Also, look around. There are not too many guys in chruches. Perhaps they long to worship God like they “worship” their team, but we keep telling them to be quiet.

      • This male (points to himself) cheers on no sports teams. There are many others like me. If we are disinterested in our churches, it is not because we don’t get to “worship” God like we do the Lakers.

        I think it is a mistake to assume that there is an essential connection between team sports and maleness.

        I get annoyed with the “tea party” side of Churches too, but I still don’t think the sports analogies for worship are very compelling.

  11. I feel that there are more issues underlying this phenomenon than many perceive. First, Evangelical culture is very male oriented and many males are passionate about sports.

    Secondly, Evangelical culture places great value on the macho man, and a characteristic of this type of man is a passion for sports and competition. In fact, overall, I sense a much greater appreciation within Evangelical culture for the stereotypical jock than men with varied interests. Maybe this is related to Evangelicalism’s small-town roots?

    • How do you think that Evangelical culture is male orientated?

      • The question I see is how is it not? The majority of churches have male leaders, virtually all Evangelical theologians are male, and the majority of wives are taught to submit to their husbands.

        • Look at the attendence demographics for churches. They’re NOT male-oriented and neither are the churches.

          While you’re at it, I suggest, “No More Christian Nice Guy,” by Paul Coughlin. Or better yet, “Wild at Heart,” by John Eldredge. Men aren’t there because we are BORED of church. Church doesn’t draw passion out of us like Jesus did with his apostles. It sucks the LIFE out of those of us who are passionate.

          • Hey folks, back on topic. What’s any of this have to do with sports?

          • By pushing sports (and I’m stereotyping here) and the opportunity to men to be men by promoting the attitidue of “be nice” as opposed to “win” OUT of the church, that’s why we leave.

            Sports is only a part of it, Chap.

  12. In my experience, sports culture is so pervasive in evangelical churches as to be almost a pre-requisite for male social involvement. My wife and I decided when we married 22 years ago not to own a TV. As a result, my involvement with big-time college and professional sports is practically nothing. I It is amazing how fast nearly any adult male in my evangelical church walks away when he finds out that I have no idea what is going on in sports.

    If I want to talk to someone about the sermon I just heard or a book I’m reading or a film or a play or a movie or anything besides sports, I have to find a woman to talk to. Some people blame churches that Christian men are bored in church. Maybe, but it’s pretty tough to compete with a multi-billion dollar industry that knows everything that appeals to male instincts and has no qualms using every bit of it to sell its product.

    • I can totally relate to your experience. . . books, movies, sermons etc are for the ladies in most Evangelical circles.

    • I completely agree with how isolating it feels as a male sometimes. If you actually want to talk about anything serious, you have to find a woman. That hasn’t always been the case 100% in my church experience but the numbers are definitely skewed heavily in the direction you describe.

      • Let’s get back on topic here. Can Christian (or church) involvement in sports help overcome this sense of isolation?

        • Chaplain, I’m not sure I follow what’s “off topic”. Isn’t what’s being said in this particular thread that Christian or church involvement in sports is actually what’s causing the isolation in the first place? Maybe focusing on the male/female issue is what seemed like things were drifting off course, though the isolation here realistically is likely to be more an issue for men. Sorry, I just don’t understand your comment.

          • This post is not about how males feel in the church or whether or not the church is a male or female-dominated atmosphere.

            If the subject of how men feel in church can be integrated with the main theme of sports, then we’re back on topic. I was just trying to gently nudge us back in that direction.

  13. I come to this conversation as one who has almost no interest in sports, although my husband, sons and daughter have various levels of interest. I do agree that the obsession has gone over the top with regards to sports. However, I wonder if we further isolate ourselves from influencing people with Jesus’ message when we refuse to have anything to do with sports. What if, instead of driving past the soccer field to go to the church building to be with like minded people, we would stop our cars and join the parents on the field in cheering on their kids. What if we chose a different time to come together at our church buildings. What if we used those sporting events as opportunities to build relationship with people. Just something I’ve been thinking about in many areas of our lives: sharing dinner, going to the movies, vacations, etc. Shouldn’t all areas of life be used as opportunities to build relationship with people and share the love and grace of Jesus?

    • I heartily affirm what you say, Amy. I received a lot of criticism as a pastor for being heavily involved in Little League baseball. But that was our network of friends, our “neighborhood,” our community. Christians are called to be IN the world representing Christ. This is also one of the fears I have about church-based sports programs, which are ostensibly designed to “bring people in.” I would much rather see Christians out in the real world, living for Christ on the ball diamonds, fields and courts of our communities.

      Again, this is an area where I have found involvement in sports totally compatible with and even helpful to my faith.

    • Good thoughts. We’ve chosen to let our five children pick one community sport a year to do — and they’ve all continued to pick either soccer or football, so in the fall we are “all in” at the fields, and have a real time of building relationship with other parents and their children. We have received many comments that we are the only homeschoolers they know that do sports. Great lessons for our kids and us every day to learn what it really means to love as Christ loved us.

      For those congregations who are wondering where all the families with children are, I often want to say, “They’re in a sports chair somewhere, or on a bleacher, or yelling at a volunteer referee, or stuck in the concession stand for the 11th time. Go help them.”

      • Heather,

        I agree. We encourage our two children to become involved in two sports per year. They have consistently chosen soccer and nordic skiing, so we spend fall and winter doing what you do all fall. In fact, my 10 year old son and I skied over 300 km last winter together, often with other kids and parents, and it was great. However, they also play instruments, are involved in community children’s theatre, work in the garden, shovel the neighbor’s driveway . . .

        However, this is different than another family in our church who is rarely in the presence of other believers because there is a hockey tournament somewhere every weekend all winter, sometimes two different kids in two different cities with the family split up, and hockey camps in spring, summer and fall. I have a hard time believing that those boys are going to grow up believing that following Jesus should be a top priority in their lives.

        Also, this dad was bragging/complaining that they spent over $15,000 last year on their kids sports. When I see the need around the world for simple survival, that is an obscenity that will likely be passed as their boys develop their views of the world.

        Anybody ever see Mike Judge’s movie “Idiocracy?” As a public school teacher, I sense that Judge’s vision of our future is dead on, and it’s not going to take the 500 years he predicts to get there–my sex/violence/sports obsessed students are only a short step away.

        I have no problem with healthy, active involvement, its the unbalanced obsession with non-participatory observation of sport that I think is a bad idea.

  14. We recently had Tiger Woods come and play in our country.

    It was full blown idolatry. News helicopters chasing him around everywhere, thousands of people following him all over the place. It really was nuts.

    He himself actually commented on how full on it was.

    Being Australian comes with it a real love of sport [which I have] , but it does also come with many commiting the sin of idolatry………

  15. Steve Newell says

    In addition to sports, many American churches use US holidays such as Independence Day, Memorial Day, etc. as days that the songs and sermons are not about Christ but about the United States. we also see this with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were the focus in on the respective parent and not on the Christ.

    This is just as different angle on the same underlying issue.

  16. I tend to think a lot of folk do not like to realize that men, not God, schedules church services and activities. The reality is that we can’t call up Roger Goodell and reschedule NFL football. But when we worship is something over which we have control. I think there is nothing wrong with using that control.

    Also, I don’t think one of Mike’s analogies is quite right. Yes, we sports fans dress the part for games. I would not, however, make a point of dressing up in team garb to meet with some friends to talk about the team. I think the latter is more analogous to church than the former. The latter would be a good analogy if you think going to church on Sunday is your “weekly visit to the Lord,” so to speak, rather than one aspect of a life with Him. This is why, I think, Ann’s post doesn’t really resonate with me in the abstract, though all I know is what she posted, so it may be exactly the right approach to that situation.

    Earlier Emery said, go find another church close to where you’re going and go there. Or go to a night service if you can’t go to a morning service due to a game. Although I disagree with a couple things in that post (I do not view going to church as how I “show my faith,” but that is a whole nother thread) I think this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. I only observe that it won’t be enough for some people because if you do this you are, stricly speaking, planning your worship around sports. Bonus points if your normal church is evangelical but you go to a Catholic mass as your “alternative worship.” That’ll make some people happy. Still, I think this a reasonable suggestion.

  17. As a youth minister’s wife and mother of sports playing children (3 of them) we have a totally different reason for sports. It’s not about hero worship at all for us. My oldest child is going to college for free because of sports.
    We balance the importance of sports with the importance of church, but we do have to miss Sundays for tournaments sometimes. Many a time have we been told we are bad Christians, bad ministers and bad parents because of this. But quite frankly, I didn’t, and never will, teach my children that their relationship with Christ has ANYthing to do with their church attendance. The first time our pastor preached about the “wickedness” of missing church because of sports, my oldest came home and said, sarcastically, gee imagine that. all this time I thought my entrance into heaven was due to the sacrifice of my savior but here today I found out it’s all about my church attendance.
    My kids love Jesus AND play sports. It’s all about balance and who they know.
    I’m pretty sure Jesus will be enough.

    • Smart kid:)

      I agree, its about balance. If you find yourself raving and drooling on *either* side of the issue, then you’re probably taking things a bit too far.

  18. Following sports and watching it on TV is nothing less than fan-atacism, from which the word fan is derived. No Christian should then be a lover of sports, for it means it is an important aspect of their life, when in fact if falls under mere entertainment (along with TV, movies, concerts, plays, and circuses, etc), most of which was condemned by the sermons of Whitefield and others. If Christians are accountable for their lives to God, then watching sports is a fools game.

    The introduction to the Westminister Confession also traces the history of English sports to King Charles I, who wanted and promoted sports to overthrow the Lord’s Day–i.e. reading the scriptures, prayer, hearing sermons, including the Laws of God, as well as Gospel–to further delude the people into both Arbitrary Rule of the so-called Divine Right of Kings, and both political and religious tyranny. The Puritans under Cromwell, quickly remedied this, after beheading the tyrant. SUNDAY SPORTS TODAY IS OF PRECISELY THE SAME PRINCIPLE, AND A TRULY CHRISTIAN PUBLIC WOULD BE DISINTERESTED (INSTEAD OF RUNNING HOME AFTER CHURCH) AND THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY WOULD COLLAPSE. Think of that! But today’s Churchianity is prime sponsor and support of the Pagan Games, including the Olympics.

    While Paul made use of the athlete for illustration, we never hear of them attending the games. However, guess who became the spectacle of the Roman Coliseums, but persecuted Christians, for the pagan’s blood-lust entertainment! Sports indeed carries that blood-lust with it, arbitrary battles for meaningless ends.

    Note: Sports is a key element of tyrannical governments, to pacify and distract the public into submission.

    That *sports dominates over real education* (witness colleges and universities, or even high schools) is another proof of its fanatical dominion over the masses of the modern slavish mind.

    Ask Solomon whether we ought to heed and pay tribute to vanities, or John Bunyan about Vanity Fair. Modern sports is the mark of the heathen, not the followers of Christ. But woe to them who state this in their church, especially to their pastors, who cry up “Christian liberty” despite Paul’s warning to Timothy of “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God….from such turn away”.

    • blueridge – you’re going to bring up the actions of Oliver Cromwell in beheading Charles I as the attitude we should have to sports on Sunday?

      Will we have the re-introduction of soldiers going from house to house on Christmas Day looking for plum puddings as evidence of lack of Godliness while we’re at it?


      “In January 1645 parliament enlisted the help of a group of ministers to create a Directory of Public Worship establishing a new organisation of the church and new forms of worship that were to be adopted and followed in both England and Wales. According to the Directory, the population was to strictly observe Sundays as holy days and were not to recognise other festival days, including Christmas, since they had no biblical justification.

      Parliamentary legislation embraced the Directory of Public Worship as the only legal form of worship allowed in England and Wales. Two years later Parliament reinstated the law by passing an Ordinance affirming the abolition of the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun.

      …All shops and markets were to stay open throughout the 25th December and anyone caught holding or attending a special Christmas church service would suffer a penalty.

      In the city of London things were even stricter as soldiers were ordered to patrol the streets, seizing any food they discovered was being prepared for a Christmas celebration.

      Despite imposing such rigid measures on the common people, it appears that Cromwell himself didn’t quite live up to his preaching. He liked music, playing bowls and hunting and, after becoming Lord Protectorate, soon took to the high life. For his daughter’s wedding he even permitted a lavish feast and entertainment fit for royalty.”

  19. Two more thoughts:

    1. Note how so-called Youth Ministries in churches insist upon sports as a catch, as much as the world puts faith in community sports projects. This maybe socialism, but not Christian instruction.

    2. Church has become a form of the religious coliseum, religious entertainment. How similar.

  20. GinH wrote: “Many a time have we been told we are bad Christians, bad ministers and bad parents because of this. But quite frankly, I didn’t, and never will, teach my children that their relationship with Christ has ANYthing to do with their church attendance.”

    The churches are what they are because comments like GinH go unanswered, as if Goliath were taunting, daring a challenge, even though brazenly false:

    Sports vs. Self Denial, Discipleship:

    Denying one’s self (what otherwise they would hold important or pleasing) is an essential element according to Jesus of being his disciple, without which the runner is disqualified (Luke 14). This is Christianity 101 in the classroom of Christ.

    Ball games are not “cross bearing” obedience, but attendance to Christian duties are, especially for pastors families. Earthly-mindedness and worldly conformity are not marks of discipleship, and Nominal Christians make light of assemblies, “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some”. There is far more at stake than “church attendance” in truth. Satan would call this “legalism”, but Paul exhorted Christians otherwise. Scripture is our rule of judgment.

    Any pastor, especially youth pastors that youth look to for example (unscripturally), that skips church for sports events should be fired and considered a heathen and “outsider”. These robbers are paid wages, but are not tending sheep, playing the hireling, for self gain. Paul called them “belly lovers”. No one in a business would be paid to be absent from meetings.

    The disciples left their fishing trade (serious business) to become “fishers of men”, in the ministry of Christ. So should pastors forsake their entertainment and sports if they are to be serious-minded ministers out to save souls. Spurgeon would be shocked.

    The comment about Billy Sunday was spot on. Celebrity (pop) Christianity perpetuates the same notions.

    • Blueridge: I assume that you do not watch tv, go to movies, listen to the radio, read books other than the Bible, go out to eat with friends, participate in any sort of activity that is pleasing to you since you have equated the Christian life with complete self denial. And I assume that you’ve decided to ignore that Christ came to offer abundant life.
      And, unlike you, I do not consider attendance to “Christian duties” cross bearing obedience. I consider it a joy and a privilege. And missing church on a morning sometimes does not in any way mean that I “take lightly” church attendance. There are other times to be at church than Sunday mornings. As a matter of fact, I would be willing to bet I spend twice as much time at church than you do, not that I think that has anything at all to do with how “serious” a Christian I am.
      I will also assume that you do not miss church for any reason other than death since you do not “forsake the assembling” in your church attendance.
      And as for your comment about my family being heathens and outsiders, I’m not even going to respond to such blatant hypocrisy.
      Also, I feel sure the disciples would be quite surprised at your insistence that ministers of the gospel give up all forms of “entertainment and sports” in light of the fact that they were reclining with Jesus at many a dinner party having a grand time, when the Pharisees – who actually sounded a lot like you – critiqued their behavior in much the same manner.
      You haven’t even once asked how many young men or women we’ve introduced to Jesus because of our involvement in their lives through sports.
      Too numerous to count.
      When’s the last time you came out of your tower to share the good new with the lost in the world? Because, after all, you can’t share with people you refuse to talk to.
      And while we’re on the subject of Paul, since you called me brazenly false, I’ll just remind you that he spoke of the legalist as those with the weaker faith, so I actually feel a little sorry for you.

  21. I think the most I can say to this is it seems to be a conscience issue. Is the Lord your priority? Then all is well. Is sports your priority? Then not all is well, and you already know it. Is sports an addiction for you? Then you need to be more self-controlled around it than perhaps some others who are not addicted, and respect each other for your differences.

    Basically, what I will take out of this is: don’t be a slave to sports.

  22. I say through out the pastors and bring hulk hogan to speak! I bet the services would be packed. Or maybe Hulk and pile drive the pastor… his will definitely fill the church up

  23. David Cornwell says

    I agree that in a way it is a question of “balance.” But we as followers of Christ should have Him as our first allegiance. This should be true in all aspects of life; economics, the flag and State, or whatever else tries to pull us away from our first love. Anything, any attraction away from God, anything we lust after, can become an idol. Our God is a jealous God.

  24. I’m sending my wife to Spring Training. She is an avid Red Sox fan. I want her to experience being delighted in by me and by God (moreso God), so I’m putting her on a plane and she’s going to training. Because baseball is exciting to her. She’ll have 4 days / 3 nights of sunshine and no responsibilities other than getting from the hotel to the park and back and just enjoying herself and time with the team.

    Is it idolatry? Not to me. She had the choice between Spring Training and a 4 day / 3 night women’s retreat. I asked her, “Which one will bring you more joy and life at this time?” Baseball. And with much prayer, I think it will.

    My prayer is that she senses God’s delight over her and His presence. That she realizes He cares deeply about her heart. I pray that her time there is all she hopes for and more.

    Her butt doesn’t need to be in a God’s house to show God that she loves Him. Even our host here (iMonk) would agree that God goes to baseball stadiums. 🙂

    • Amen to another wonderful benefit of sports—refreshment, enjoyment. I never understood the Sabbatarian objection to games on Sunday. Many times my soul has been refreshed by them and I have seen families and friends invigorated by them.

      • What about the players?

        • The players are doing something they enjoy. How is that any different (other than them getting paid) than me hosting a barbecue on the deck?

          We don’t have a problem with clergy working on Sundays… They get their “day of rest” / Sabbath on a different day, seems to be mostly Mondays. Athletes get the same.

          Remember, too, that the Sabbath was for OUR benefit and was established in Law when the Israelites were slaves. Interestingly, the Egyptians got more production from the slaves when they followed Sabbath than when they didn’t. I think it was a Rob Bell / Mars Hill Bible Church podcast that I need to cite here. Don’t remember which one.

  25. shadowspring says

    Much ado about nothing.

    God gives us all things richly to enjoy. Neither participating nor abstaining is anything, but a heart fully alive to God- that is something!

    I think this whole “issue” is just another burden to put on the backs of those trying to enter the kingdom. So sad that I would read it here on iMonk.

    • All I can say is that if you think the impact of popular culture (including sports) on Christian discipleship is much ado about nothing, you are living in a different world than I.

    • God gives us all things richly to enjoy…….and I think a verse or two later it talks about those things being sactified by the Word of God and prayer. How many of us, myself included, seriously pray about our involvment (even our TV watching) prior to diving in ?? I’m preaching mostly to myself here, but do think, shadowspring, that the time , effort, money, and energy poured into these things is proportionate to God’s agenda for HIS American kids ?? You don’t see any imbalance ?? I’m not playing the Holy Spirit for anyone, but c’mon, this is far past an occaisional time of well earned “RECREATION”. IMO, of course.

      Greg R

  26. So, I facilitate a small, new community of faith in the San Diego area. We meet on Sunday nights and have been gathering regularly for about 7 months. It’s a good crew. We take our faith and our gatherings very seriously.

    Last night, we decided that next week we’d gather for a Superbowl party rather than for study, prayer, etc.

    What’s most interesting to me is that none of us are really sports fans. None of us watch football and none of us were planning to watch the Superbowl, but when I gave them the opportunity to ditch church and have a Superbowl party everyone perked up.

    So, it’s not an evangelism event, OR a capitulation to cultural pressure. I think we just need a break from all the seriousness now and then and this was a good excuse. There’s something powerful about integrating the secular into the realm of the sacred through cultural celebrations without trying to appropriate it with all the trappings of religiously motivated exploitation.

    • I don’t know about anyone else, but that sounds good to me, Jason. Have fun!

    • David Cornwell says

      A church where I was pastor for several years started a “Soup-er Bowl” tradition for Super Bowl Sunday. After morning worship we gathered in our fellowship room for soup and sandwiches. We always had very good attendance at worship on this day and for soup afterward, and lots of fun.

  27. Blueridge says:
    “Note: Sports is a key element of tyrannical governments, to pacify and distract the public into submission.”

    “That *sports dominates over real education* (witness colleges and universities, or even high schools) is another proof of its fanatical dominion over the masses of the modern slavish mind.”

    That is completely spot on! I work at a Christian High School and the amount of money spent on sports is ridiculous. Also, there is a direct correlation between sports, nationalism, media, and the military. When a person puts money into one, they are indirectly supporting the other outlets. Why else would EVERY SINGLE sporting event; professional, college, high school, pee-wee, sing the National Anthem before EVERY game? It’s an extension of civil religion in the U.S. The U.S. is a bastion of civil religion, because the Christians have assimilated into the system which has produced power, privilage, and status. Also, anyone given any thought to the fact that the most competitive college and professional American sports are played by mostly black athletes? Ask some white students if blacks are naturally better athletes and see what statements they make? Then ask them, “Well, what are white’s better at?” Come on, how can Christians support this institution, when it uses and spits out human beings?
    The systems of power in the U.S. determine what is acceptable and what is not. Who can succeed in what ways and who will not. Christians stand against these systems which diminish or aggrandize certain ways of interacting based strictly upon competition. I hate to say it, but the church is not a competitive environment. Competition will diminish the gifts, not enhance. The U.S. is for the most part, zero sum–the church is not.

    • You make some really good points, Paul.

    • David Cornwell says

      A local school district here is making radical cuts this year in its budget. They are consolidating schools and increasing class size. They are also laying off teachers. The one budget they did not cut is the sports budget. One social studies teacher with years of experience and seniority was let go in order to keep a coach who also teaches social studies half time. He has only been in this school a short time. I’m sure the teacher’s union is involved by now, but I wouldn’t count on their clout in the present environment. I think this shows where the priorities are.

      • One prominent high school in our area is actually considering another approach. The school board is entertaining a “pay-to-play” arrangement in which students and their families must pay extra fees in order to participate in sports. They would also cut other sports programs in the school altogether.

        • The school were I work also does a “pay to play” system, which is a supplement to the already existent athletic department budget. Either way, the money is still being funneled into athletics, instead of another venture, which would benefit people to a greater degree.
          Also, in reference to my comments concerning the “black athlete” issue, I was attempting to make a point about our perception which can be created by believing that a group of people are “good athletes”. These generalized perceptions can be detrimental to people, because people will then believe the myth that one activity defines their entire lives. This is true for athletes and non-athletes alike, but I am astounded that people can support a system which has created no feasible opportunities outside of athletics for huge segments of the population. When I was younger, I grew up in New Jersey and I used to think that schools like LSU, Alabama, were all black schools. Why would I think that? Because the players on the field that I was watching were predominantly black. So, the school must be a good representation of the athletic field, right?
          I think we have come a long way from, “Take up your cross and follow me…” So, maybe we should stop laying the cross across another’s back. Just my thoughts. Peace!

  28. Like so many other things in life, intention matters. Not every athlete is engaged in “cut-throat competition” and certainly not all churches revolve around a sports schedule. Like money or fame, sports are not inherently evil, but they can be abused. They can become the number one focus and they can become an all-consuming obsession.

    But just as a wealthy person can be a dedicated church-goer and servant of God, so can a pro athlete. Tim Tebow springs to mind, as he’s currently taking a lot of flak for being in a pro-life commercial that will air during the Super Bowl.

  29. These evangelical churches are turning to the extremely violent sport of mixed martial arts (which was banned in many states until recently) as outreach.

    My favorite photo caption: “Before the Cage Assault bout in Memphis, Mr. Lane got his hands taped by Pastor John Renken of Xtreme Ministries.”


  30. Following the Liturgical Year helps cut down on this sort of Babbitry. No mention of the Super Bowl in our services; February 7 is Meatfare Sunday, our last taste of meat until April 4.

  31. I think sports, like any other form of entertainment, has its place. Christians have an obligation to put God and His Kingdom first, and an obsession with sports can certainly get in the way of that, but watching or playing sports isn’t bad in itself.

    I have noticed that evangelical culture seems a little fixated on Sports. If you want to see a great example of this watch the movie Facing the Giants.

    One of the problems with Evangelical culture is that it happily embraces mainstream American culture, but it is very suspicious of anything that is outside the mainstream.

    To give an example, consider the church’s response to Dungeons and Dragons. When the game first became popular in the 80’s the church freaked out and assumed that people who played the game were all satanists.

    In reality D&D is another form of entertainment. Like football, it’s not inherently evil, but it can certainly get in the way of putting God’s Kingdom first. In my view D&D and football are about equal, but the church embraces one and rejects the other.

  32. Mike,
    Thanks for the post. They are always thought provoking.