Can Our Obsession With Sports Co-Mingle With Faith in Jesus?

Can Our Obsession With Sports Co-Mingle With Faith in Jesus? January 4, 2024

Every new year brings a firsthand glimpse of the incredible obsession many of us have with College Football (and, honestly, sports in general). 

The college football national championship game is expected to reach more than 24 million people this Monday night. That’s a stadium filled with lunatic fans, living and dying with every play for the chance to be a part of a team that earned a national title, and another few million stopping every other part of their lives to tune in and watch. 

I am fascinated by college football—for a variety of reasons. I played football in high school and coached high school players and often had the privilege of attending college games, practices, and special events. And my fall weekends are almost entirely consumed with keeping track of the games. I absolutely love the game—there is just something about the purity of watching “kids” play on a national stage.

It’s a beautiful thing. And for many, it’s an obsession—even to a fault. But it’s not just our obsession with watching college athletes a few times a year. It’s professional sports (more than half of the U.S. population will watch the Super Bowl in February) and our obsession with youth sports. Every soccer mom knows what I’m talking about. 

With so much focus on sports, it raises an interesting question about how sports impact our faith.

So, Is The Obsession with Sports Detrimental to Our Faith?

More than 60 million kids participate in youth sports each year—a 40-billion-dollar industry—not to mention the countless hours and money soccer moms, racing moms, and dance dads spend on their kids’ athletics.

When I was elbow-deep in youth ministry, teaching students every day, living in the trenches with them day in and day out, I was convinced that youth sports were robbing kids and parents of their life inside the church, a life of kingdom service, missions, and the kind of discipleship guaranteed to make disciples who make disciples. My answer to any parent who would dare live with the skewed properties of travel soccer over Jesus was nothing short of disdain and judgment.

“Shame on you for denying your kid the opportunity to learn more about Jesus from me and hang out with other like-minded people.”

I harshly judged and accused parents of living vicariously through their kids. I assumed that more sports meant less church, less Jesus, and more sin. What could be better than a church youth group filled with students committed to worshipping Jesus? I may have just heard a faint yet distinct chorus of “Amen” even as I write this.

But I was wrong. Really, really wrong. 

What If Our Obsession with Sports Helped Create The Right Opportunities?

There will always be an advantage and benefit to fully engaging with a community of God’s people—whether church on Sunday, youth group, or mission trips. I would never devalue time spent in the community around other followers of Jesus. It is essential, critical, and entirely necessary to grow in faith. But there is something sports (and other activities) can provide your kids that church simply cannot.


It’s an opportunity for our kids to live on a mission and be a light. Jesus, very clearly, calls each of us to go and be witnesses, make disciples, and be the light. They can’t be the light with a bunch of other lights. It’s counterintuitive and unnecessary. If a room is already lit, you don’t turn on more lights. 

But they are kids; how can they be prepared? Shouldn’t the church be teaching them? What happens when the world corrupts them?

Those are all great questions worth asking. But if your home is properly centered on Jesus, then you are already engaged in the necessary preparation your kids need to face a world that hates Jesus. And remember, even the smallest, dim light shines in the darkness. 

So, allow me to offer three reasons I choose to invest the time, energy, and money so my kids can race, play soccer, enroll in dance, etc. 

1. Obsessing Over Sports Can Help You Obsess Over Jesus. 

My grandma always said, “Everything in moderation.” As parents, we must draw a line in the sand and provide our kids with an appropriate balance between sports, school, church, friends, and family. Too much of one thing means we sacrifice something else. So, of course, too much time spent in sports and other activities can suggest far less time in church, youth group, and Sunday School. These are vital to helping our kids grow spiritually and engage them in a healthy church community.

But if that is true and balance is the goal, then we can conclude there is a moment when too much church can throw our kids off balance. At first glance, that sounds wrong. It took me a second, too. But think for a moment. What did Jesus command us to do? Go and make disciples. Go. He didn’t say stay and hang out at church. He said go. The activities we put our kids in—and dare I say it, the money we spend too—can be missional—putting our kids and ourselves on the front lines of ministry.

So, do you see the balance? On the one hand, our kids need guidance and direction, training and reassurance of truth—at home and church. But they also need the time and opportunity to take those skills into the world and make the kind of impact Jesus expects us to.

2. Obsessing Over Sports Can Create Gospel Opportunities

One Saturday afternoon, my son and I waited in line at the racetrack to check in for his race. Like everyone, you eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. The family in front of us thoroughly described an on-track incident with all the colorful language via adjectival f-bombs one might expect from the racing community. My son smiled at me and kindly ignored them. But he later told me how stupid they were.

Right there. God gave me a golden opportunity to show my son what being like Jesus should look like. I am absolutely sure that he learned how to treat others in a Sunday School lesson along the way, but that lesson was made clear and very real on that afternoon. He was given an opportunity to practice.

Whether it’s the football field, racetrack, or basketball court—these are places filled with people who desperately need Jesus. And we might just be the only Jesus they ever meet and the only Bible they ever read.

Remember, Jesus spent countless hours teaching the twelve about what it means to live as a citizen of the kingdom. But he also sent them out, allowing them to experience what that means. Sports can be that opportunity for our entire family if we are willing to look for it.

3. Obsessing Over Sports Can Teach Your Kids to Live In Faith Rather Than Just With Faith

There is a subtle difference between living a life believing in Jesus, going to church, being a generally good person, attending Bible studies—you know, doing all those “Christian” things we do. It’s all of those things that we do together to support one another by praying and worshipping. All of which are reflective of the New Testament church. So what’s the problem? If this is where we stop, we are missing a critical piece, and we are just living with faith. It compartmentalizes our faith. In other words, we go about our daily routines with a marginal faith, not really allowing what we believe to penetrate every part of us and those we encounter daily.

Conversely, living in faith puts it all together. We take the truth of Jesus and live it to the fullest. However, living this way requires intentionally putting ourselves in the company of non-believers. This is where the magic happens; you guessed it, sports can be an ideal training ground.

Be Obsessed, But Be Painfully Honest, Too

I promise this is not permission to ditch Wednesday nights for anything else, all in the name of Jesus. As parents, we have to be painfully honest with ourselves. Are we putting our kids in sports because they genuinely enjoy it, and because they do, we want to honor that and use the time to do the kingdom work we are called to? Therefore, we will assume full responsibility for their faith development while participating. Or are we pushing our kids into sports because we have somehow wrapped our own identity and worth into the athletic success of our kids? I know that’s a hard question. But you need to honestly consider the options and everything in between.

So, take a step back and consider the motivation, and then, as a family, plan how you will use this time to be Jesus in the lost world he put you in. And as you enjoy the College Football National Championship game this Monday and the Super Bowl next month, take a moment and consider how you are using our crazy obsession with sports to build a bridge to the gospel with those God has placed in your life. 

And with any luck, Michigan will lose.

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