Through what lens do you view sport? I’m not asking how good your seats are for viewing sport at the arena or stadium, rather when you’re thinking about sport is your perspective one from the seats, through a television camera, from the luxury box at the stadium or from the sideline at field/court level? The answer to this question has powerful implications for how one does ministry with people of sport.
If one sees sport through the sports fan’s lens he tends to see the players and coaches as celebrities, valuing the spectacle and seeing sport like other forms entertainment. While he seems loyal to the team; paying for expensive seats, wearing team gear and cheering loudly, his experience is as the consumer of the event. The implications for ministry are that celebrities and entertainers often seem rather distant and even unapproachable to fans. That makes for surface level ministry, at best. It also lends itself to using the Christian player as a part of “the show” at Church or we capitalize on her celebrity status for our magazine, our radio or television show, sometimes without respect to the development (or lack of it) of her life in Christ. If you see sport primarily as a fan, be very cautious about your motives as you serve sportspeople.
If one sees sport through the television camera’s lens he often values comfort, instant replay, availability of multiple games and slow motion for maximum enjoyment of the game. Sitting in the recliner, remote control in one hand, favorite beverage in the other and bountiful snacks at his side, the arm chair quarterback and coach enjoys the game without any relationship with the sportspeople and sometimes without even relationships with other spectators. At its worst, this perspective leads the viewer to see the sportspeople like video game characters. They’re dehumanized, criticized and stripped of all human dignity when they fail. When they succeed they’re lionized, adored and even worshiped as demigods. The implications for ministry are rather obvious. If this is one’s view of sport, the first hurdle is to simply deal with the people of sport as human beings and not images on a screen. To connect with and to speak to their hearts is a huge leap if we’re accustomed to seeing them as two dimensional characters on our living room TVs. If this is your usual view of sport, get ready to make a huge shift in your thinking before you start serving sportspeople.
If one sees sport through the privileged glass of a luxury box at the stadium or arena, she sees it almost like a chess match. The players seem to be laid out on a game board and they almost appear to be plastic figures moving across the grid. The box’s occupants value luxury, prestige, power and influence. The coaches look like the kings and queens of sport and the players vary in value from bishops to pawns, but they’re all subject to the will of the masters in the box. Ministry implications for this viewpoint are severe. From here it’s easy to control people, but difficult to care for them. It’s easy to influence them, but difficult to inspire them. It’s easy to manipulate them, but terribly hard to nurture their lives in Christ. It’s not impossible, but immeasurably more difficult to care for the hearts of the players when your voice is muffled and face obscured by the luxury box’s glaring glass.
If one sees sport from the sideline or even from the pitch, his or her values are most closely matched with the players and coaches he or she seeks to serve. Those who are privileged to be and pay the cost to be in this position become fully aware that these are real people with real virtues and vices. Their relationships are real, both flawed and flourishing. Their emotions are real, anguish and exhilaration. Their pain is real, emotional and physical. Their exertion of effort is real, not plastic like a chess game, not like a video game electronic image and not rooted in “school spirit” like a fan might think. If one has this perspective and is willing to fully embrace these sportspeople, full of virtues and vices, he or she is in a perfect position to care for, to nurture, to speak to their hearts. If this is your perspective, wrap both arms and your whole heart around the sporting community and love them with Christ Jesus’ sustaining power.
If you are privileged to serve the people of sport as a sports chaplain, as a character coach or as a sports mentor, be mindful of your internal lens on sport. Be diligent to adjust your view to one which most properly serves those for whom you care. Seeing sport through their lens will help you communicate more clearly and connect most directly with their hearts.