Competition and the Kingdom

An IYM Blog Series

From time immemorial, youth workers have lamented the fact that sports tend to draw young people away from worship on Sundays. Because of this conflict, there was a time when youth sports leagues tended to avoid scheduling games or practices on Sunday mornings. This is no longer the case, and leagues have become nearly as willing to play games on Sunday as on Saturday. The tension between sports and sabbath has become particularly palpable during the past 20 years. More and more, youth workers see young people (and their families) forced to choose between attending church or playing sports. They don’t feel like they have time for both.

At issue in the conversation about youth ministry and sports is nothing less than how we understand worship, evangelism, and the role of the church—for both families and society-at-large. Too often, we think of church the same way we think of sports: as a meaningful extracurricular activities that can both help to shape young people and look good on college applications. Is this what church actually is, and if so, what does this say about our understanding of God’s kingdom?

So—what can we learn from sports? What can they teach us, and how must we change what we think about church?

Nothing New Under The Sun

When sports and youth ministry compete, who wins? And, more importantly, do they need to compete? These questions are not new—they’ve been asked before.

Commitment and Reward

Both sports and youth ministry demand a commitment and promise a reward. So what’s the difference? What type of reward and commitment are worth promising and demanding?


One of the places sports and youth ministry can agree is the importance of community. Whether partaking of communion or returning kickoffs, it is important to build community with those alongside of us.

Ritual and Liturgy

Ritual and liturgy are both words that sound more at home in a church than on the track or a sports field. Yet every athlete knows the rhythm of practice and games, and this rhythm forms certain expectations.

Celebration of Human Capability

Sports teach us to celebrate what human beings are capable of doing. A fantastic play, a record setting time—these remind us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This awe we experience, directed properly, can lead us to deeper worship of our Creator God.

Open Letter to Church Leaders

Practically speaking, what can we do when our young people use their Sunday mornings to play sports? Of course, Sundays aren’t the only time to learn about Jesus, and church isn’t the only place to practice faith. How ought we to respond?

Open Letter to Parents

Of course, parents and families are also affected by youth sports. As youth workers, part of our job is to serve families, so how can we serve and minister to parents of young athletes? Part of our job is helping to remind them about the importance of sabbath rest.

Open Letter to Athletes

Just as important as competition and athletics is camaraderie and rest. Part of the draw of sports is that it can offer nearly all of these—yet doesn’t emphasize rest. Having a community that values sabbath rest is just as important as one that values human capability.

Sports As Mission

It can be so frustrating to try and teach young people about God when they’re playing sports instead of attending church. But what if they understand themselves as missionaries? What if they’re where God wants them to be? How can we serve and support them and their mission field?