Book discussion: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer, chapter 5, part 2
In chapter 5, Michael Spencer spent some time talking about the “spirituality of sports”.
He accurately notes that in the south, you have a Christianized-spirituality “sanctioned” in sports. High school athletics is noted here, with such specific examples brought forth as teams praying together before games (public schools, to boot), teams having chaplains and holding devotions, athletes giving testimonies.
“This spirituality places Christ and the experience of being a Christian in the context of sports culture,” says Spencer, who then asks “How similar is this spirituality to the spirituality of Jesus? And is it possible that it’s tied much more closely to the American Christian idea of what it means to be a good high-school athlete?”.
- What kind of spirituality does this cause a person to value?
- What kind of mission is this type of Christian on?
- What kind of community does this create?
- How does it read and apply the Bible?
- How does this lead to an authentic experience with God?
Spencer argues this sports-related spirituality leads one to “believe…God is overly concerned with the outcome of a game…or injuries to key players.” and extends the analogy to styles of music, popular musicians, church camps, speakers that people can believe are places where God “really ‘shows up'”.
Christian culture, Spencer argues, shapes Christians with different agendas and methodologies that he doubts have “much to do with Jesus”.
Sports. Multi-level marketing. Militarism. Settings where everyone is nearly the same in all senses of the word.
“…what would Jesus have to do with any of it?” Spencer asks.
The five questions I mentioned earlier serve as a good barometer for sports-influenced Christianity.
I have been involved with church athletic teams in my past. I was looking for fellowship and a way to connect into the church and with other Christians. Here’s some of the things I learned from my experiences:
- Church softball leagues are not completely Christian. There are pagans on teams who quite frankly don’t seem to even comprehend the idea of what being a Christian is like
- Winning isn’t everything…but it sure is the biggest thing
- If you get your church’s softball team in a league, you better be able to play if you want to get on the team. Otherwise you’re gone, and don’t be surprised that you got used
- Also, don’t be surprised if you get on a team and the one week where most of the team is on a mission trip and you feel like you could play you get sit down by a bunch of ringers who are the friends and relatives of the one couple who stayed in town
- Co-ed softball can be competitive
- Men’s basketball can be really competitive
- It’s about winning, baby
I don’t think anyone in the church has really thought about applying Christian principles to church sports leagues. The churches I was involved in would encourage Christians to be a Christ-like example to other people.
Ironically, the church sports world seems to be sorely lacking in that regard. But even if the cleanup hitter is a jackass, being in the league itself is a ‘witness’ and he’s welcome to play…especially when he’s hitting .600 and slugging it over the fence..right?
And Spencer brings up high school sports.
That could be an entire blog post on its own.
I will say that Spencer was a teacher at a small eastern Kentucky boarding school that athletically is nowhere near the private schools that are always contenders for state titles in the different sports.
He probably speaks from experience watching his school’s sports teams, and those of the public high schools in his portion of the state. I wonder how more strident he would have been on this topic if his little boarding school was competing for state championships and sending players in multiple sports to NCAA programs year after year.