Sports are the predominate religion of the world.
As a kid, I worshipped the God of soccer; all of my time, energy and emotions were consumed by the sport. I knew that the Lord had given me the passion and ability to play soccer, but unfortunately, I thought that gift was only for me to enjoy.
Through the years, I’ve come to realize that when we acknowledge that everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:15-16), we are able to recognize sport as more than simply winning and losing games, but rather a metaphorical bridge to instantly connect people and foreign cultures. And once these relationships are established, the love and grace of Jesus have the power to change lives.
Using sports as a vehicle of ministry helps take the focus off oneself and place it where it belongs: Jesus.
Within Lipscomb Athletics, we believe athletics is incomplete without nurturing the spiritual development of each athlete and person involved. When an athlete realizes that the pursuit of earthly glory never fully satisfies; yet the Glory of God is ultimately fulfilling and ever increasing (2 Corinthians 3:18), the God-given potential in that athlete will begin to emerge and sports take their appropriate place in one’s life.
For many athletes, because of their unwavering commitment to their sport, they have never had the opportunity to combine their passion and gifting beyond themselves. The idea of an athlete using their sport for the glory of God, and to positively influence others is revolutionary; and our initiative within Lipscomb Athletic Missions allows this dream to fully come alive. What started as nine student-athletes serving in Honduras in 2012 has exploded into a pillar for Lipscomb Athletics. Over the past five years, Athletic Missions has mobilized 37 teams and 587 student-athletes and coaches on the mission field. Having personally been involved in athletic mission trips for over 12 years, I am convinced that the youth of today will discover Jesus through sports ministry.
Host Partnerships are Key
The first step to everything we do is to pray. As we pray, the key focus we bring to the Lord is to establish the right host partnership for each trip.
Once we come alongside a host partner, our goal and desire within Lipscomb Athletic Missions is to stay actively connected to that ministry; continuing to build on those relationships year-after-year. We feel that the greatest impact for the Kingdom will be when we pour into the same communities and people, and allow those relationships to grow in depth. Lipscomb Athletic Missions work with nine host partners domestically and internationally.
These strategic partnerships allow short-term teams to return to the same communities and invest in the same people, and as a result, create long-term relationships and eternal impact.
One example of this is our partnership with Marte Missions, a ministry working to love people and develop future leaders in Jesus’ name in the Dominican Republic. In July 2014, the Lipscomb women’s basketball team had the opportunity to help Marte Missions build a basketball court and work alongside a local church. In December 2014, the baseball team returned to this same community to help build a baseball field and invest deeper in the lives of the locals. In August 2016, the men’s basketball team also helped Marte Missions build a playground and share the love of Jesus with the children and families throughout the community.
“These young people who consistently come and invest in these kids makes a huge impact; the children feel like someone cares for them and loves them,” said Kassie Marte, missionary and host partner. “To have that level of investment, to let them know that someone loves them – we can translate that into God loves you, you are worth something and you have value.”
Shift in Culture
Within Athletic Missions we work to provide opportunities for our athletes and coaches to participate in the Kingdom of God, living in the unforced rhythms of grace. This way, they see their lives in light of a greater story and become fully alive in the purposes of God. Every person has a significant place in the story.
We believe by embodying the character of Jesus, and participating in the story of God, each person has the ability to flourish.
This is exactly what we have witnessed in Lipscomb Athletic Missions as a result of these opportunities. Not only have the number of trips and participants grown exponentially each year, but the entire culture of athletics has been affected.
“I’ve always heard people saying how they see God working through something or someone, but in those moments it often doesn’t even cross my mind that God is present,” said Cam Miller, a member of the Lipscomb men’s basketball team. “After experiencing a week in the Dominican Republic, and building relationships with the community and with my teammates, I can say with full-confidence that I was able to see God working in their community, in my life and in this team. I have been able to recognize His presence, which has reminded me to fully trust God with my life.”
Our student-athletes and coaches are becoming more aware of God through these opportunities, and as a result, lives are being changed.
We have seen this play out as our cross-country and track program have been serving together for the past seven years in a row, and our women’s soccer program has returned to El Salvador the last five consecutive years. As prospective players are being recruited into the program, having the opportunity to serve on these mission trips with teammates and coaches is a reason they are choosing to attend Lipscomb University over other schools.
Heartbeat of Lipscomb Athletic Missions
These opportunities reveal how our story is not the only story. The people we meet, the things that happen, the moments we experience; God uses everything to show us how our lives are part of a greater story; His story.
The heartbeat of serving on an athletic mission trip is to know Jesus and make Jesus known.
Since the inception of Lipscomb Athletic Missions, an extraordinary amount of athletes have given their lives to Christ in baptism, many of whom have chosen to do so in direct response to an experience on a mission trip. Our hope is that athletic mission trips will not simply provide a “great experience” for our athletic teams, host partners and people in the designated location, but rather that hope would be restored and Jesus would change lives.
After serving with host partner Project 658 in Charlotte, North Carolina, former cross-country runner Alex Tate comments, “When our trip had come to an end and we arrived back at Lipscomb, we came together to reflect and pray. Klotzy left us with some great last words. He said, ‘The way you feel right now, the way we have been living this past weekend, is how God intended it to be.’ I love these words. This is the only explanation why, after a whole weekend of early mornings, exhausting work, and busy days, we, as a team, felt so fulfilled. Our hearts were full because we spent a weekend living how God intended us to live: loving and serving others. I can’t help but ask myself how euphoric it would feel to commit myself to living my entire life like this. What a perfect note to end on.”
Christopher Klotz, Director of Spiritual Formation within Athletics