“To sport or not to sport” is a question for many Christian families. I believe our response should be a hearty, resounding “Yes!” 

The Things of Earth

Does sport fit into the Christian life, and in particular, the Christian family life? I propose that those questions are part of a broader question: how should we respond to what the Bible refers to as “the things of earth?” There isn’t a clear prescription found in Scripture. For instance, the Apostle Paul says to the Colossians:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Emphasis added) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)

Then, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul seems to say something very different:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

The Apostle Paul isn’t contradicting himself— no inspired Biblical author does. My aim, therefore, is to help Christian families recognize that by engaging in sport prayerfully, intentionally, and missionally, they can participate in sport to the glory of God. And indeed, they should! Participating in this way encompasses setting our minds on the things above while enjoying and using the things of earth for the glory of God. 

As families engage sport in this way, I believe there are at least two huge benefits for Christian families.

Sport Exposes Sin So We Can Apply the Gospel

The first and maybe most important benefit for Christian families participating in sport is this: sport provides frequent opportunities to apply the Gospel to your own heart and the hearts of your children. Sport is a vivid mirror that clearly reflects the sinfulness of the human heart. The self-glory that often comes with winning, the excuse-making predominant with losing, and the heat of competing against someone opposed to us (“opponent”)— these are all opportunities to communicate and apply the Gospel, not only in the hearts of our kids but in our own hearts as well.

In a culture that promotes winning at all costs and elevates athletes to god-like personalities, participating in sport seems like dangerous dabbling. As Christians, however, we know we have been created to reflect the image of the God who created us. We recognize we have a sin nature that seeks to steal the glory that God alone deserves. When we engage in sport prayerfully, intentionally, and missionally, we have the opportunity to remind ourselves of the gospel often. Sport quickly makes me realize that both me and my child are more sinful than I could ever imagine, which provides me the opportunity to remind us both that because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are both more loved than we could ever imagine. 

When I seek to rob God of glory, or my child seeks to dishonor an opponent, or we both pursue the applause of people, we have a ready-made opportunity to remember another way. Jesus invites the Christian athlete and parent to pick up our crosses and follow him on the road of humility, service, and selflessness. This is how we glorify Him through sport. 

When I seek to rob God of glory, or my child seeks to dishonor an opponent, or we both pursue the applause of people, we have a ready-made opportunity to remember another way.

Sport is a Massive Mission Field

The second major benefit for Christian families engaging in sport is that it provides a massive mission field. In America, engagement in Christian churches is on a steep decline. The average unbeliever is not likely to come check out your church on a Sunday morning. As that truth becomes more and more of a reality, the chances of meeting unbelievers on a field, court, or mat is growing rapidly. For the Christian family that means a prime opportunity to engage our friends, neighbors, and family with the Gospel. 

The mission field of sport gives us room to open our mouths and share the hope of King Jesus; it also paves a way for us to put our faith in action. As unbelieving people see you and your kids approach sports with a Christ-centered mentality, it puts flesh to the message of the Gospel. As we love and serve our opponents, seek to bless the officials and referees, and view the wins and losses column not as a measuring stick of our value but as something to strive after with excellence… those we are sharing the love of Christ with will not just hear our words but will also see our faith lived out. 

The decision to participate in sport for a Christian family is a deeply personal one. I encourage you to see sport as a disciple-making opportunity for your family, where you can apply the Gospel to your heart and the hearts of your children and share the Gospel with your neighbors.