What Is Sports Ministry? An Interview

man set to deadlift in a gym

"Sports ministry starts with using our passions to know God more - and ultimately the overflow of knowing God is ministry to others."

Numbered among YWAM Orlando’s many Discipleship Training School Electives is our Sports and Fitness program.  We thought it would be fun to interview two of our current Sports and Fitness DTS leaders to learn more about the heart behind the Elective, who it’s for, and how personal fitness can be used to advance the Kingdom of God.


During our interview* with Alastair and Hunter, they shared about what motivated them to take part in the Sports and Fitness DTS this year.  We discussed topics such as sports ministry, and the performance-based identity.  Our interview concludes with Hunter sharing his transformational testimony, and how he was able to testify concerning Jesus Christ on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior.


Tommy: Why did you want to be a part of the Sports and Fitness Discipleship Training School this year?


Hunter: Yeah, I love sports and fitness, and had no idea [they could be used] as a tool to know God more and make God more known until I was on outreach during my DTS, and everywhere we went - even though I wasn’t able to speak the language - I was able to play badminton and soccer and basketball, and build relationships through that.  So, that was where I was like, Oh, wow, God gave me these passions for sports [...] to use them to build his Kingdom; and then that's when I transferred to YWAM Orlando, because I heard there was a Sports and Fitness-themed DTS here, and I was like, Oh, man, I want to work with and go deeper in that, and then discovered that I could even get an Associate Degree in Sports Ministry from YWAM [...].


Alastair: I actually wanted to get involved in the Sports and Fitness Elective here at YWAM Orlando for a very similar reason [...]. In my DTS, I played soccer - I played any sport any time I could. I've always loved sports.  I've always been able to make friends through sports. It's been a huge medium in my life [...] to connect socially. So that was a big part of my DTS experience, and then going on outreach it was incredible to see just the impact of being able to play soccer with a South African kid, and the relationship that can form without language or words; but simply having a similar interest in kicking a ball together can open the door to someone's heart, and I think that opened my understanding to realize how powerful sports can be as a medium for ministry, and how relationships really can form so well through sports, and how God can use that to advance his Kingdom.


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T: What’s your favorite sport, Alastair?


A: That's a tough question. I love soccer. I love tennis, too.  In terms of watching sports, although I don’t do it nearly enough, rugby could actually be the number one watchable sport for me. So, I don’t know, one of those three; but most likely I would say soccer just because I get more opportunity to play on the day to day than the other two.  


players on soccer field under light


T: How have athletics impacted your life?


H: How have athletics impacted my life? Next to the Lord it's pretty much shaped my entire vision for long term ministry.  If it wasn’t for athletics I probably wouldn’t be including the physical aspect in our vision to deliver a holistic Gospel of how the mind - your mental and emotional wellness impacts your spiritual wellness.  And then your physical wellness can impact all that too, so it kinda comes full circle - the whole mind, body, spirit. Apart from athletics and fitness, what are you doing with your body? So yeah, at first it started out with, I want to be physically able to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and then it became more of like, Wow, this is a really great way to build relationships and know God personally for myself, and the fruit of that is making him more known.


T: Alastair, what does a week in the Sports and Fitness Elective look like?  


A: A week in the Sports and Fitness Elective would look like a very good balance between fitness and sports.  We would actually do both of those things twice a week - we would play sports twice and we would be in the gym twice, as well; and each week we would have a different sport [...], so rugby, soccer volleyball, basketball - we really want to throw the net as wide as we can in regards to sports, because we want to give people an international - and also well-rounded, varied experience - and then with regards to actually being in the gym, we also want that to be a well-rounded experience, so we don't dive only into Crossfit but we look into different types of fitness and different kinds of strength training techniques.  So, what does a week look like? Its a balance between sports and fitness, and it's a well-rounded approach to those areas, because they are so big that we want to give students a wide variety of experiences in the Elective.


T: Hunter, It’s pretty common for the Discipleship Training School to have some pretty interesting guest speakers come to visit.  Are you expecting anyone special this Fall?


H: Well, yeah we have tons of super awesome speakers within the DTS, but then we also have the privilege of having more specific influences within certain fields come to speak in the Elective times.  This Friday, actually, an Olympic chaplain [involved with three separate Olympics] is coming all the way over from [Europe] to share with us, to really take us deeper in our philosophy of sports ministry [...].


T: What exactly is sports ministry?


H: It’s actually really reflective [...] on the Ten Commandments, and how the first five are [about knowing God more] [...]  and the second five are more about your relationship with others. And so often we hear [people talk about the] audience of one, audience of one, but if we’re approaching sports ministry with that philosophy - then where is God? He's in the stands, and therefore we’re trying to perform for him, and we’re actually reinforcing a performance-based identity.  If we have the Holy Spirit, God is actually with us in what we’re doing, and we should actually be doing sports and fitness with God, so that we can know God more personally, primarily; and then out of that intimacy and relationship with the Lord - the fruit of that will be the evangelistic opportunities to make him more known in our spheres of influence. [...]  Our primary focus should be for us ourselves to know God more and to worship him in all that we do, and the fruit of that is making him known.


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T: That’s so good. I’m not going to use that saying anymore, audience of one.


H: Yeah, [...] there’s some positive theology to it, but there's a negative as well. We want to honor God and whatnot.  It’s not a very sound one [theology], I guess. The heart intends well when we say that, but we’re actually reinforcing a performance-based identity, because [think] we have to perform for him not only spiritually, but physically.  


T: The Sports and Fitness Elective isn’t just a stand alone program, it’s part of the DTS. The Discipleship Training School has an Outreach Phase. What will the Sports and Fitness Elective be doing during Outreach?


A: That’s a very good question, and it largely depends on the outreach location itself. [...] Quite often students from the Sports and Fitness Elective will go on outreach with students from other electives to, let's say, South Africa, or to Haiti or to India, or to wherever; and largely the way that they would be able to express what they learned in the Sports and Fitness Elective is by using sports as a tool to meet people on outreach.  That was the way that personally I was most impacted by sports ministry on my DTS outreach: actually playing soccer and meeting people; and I think that’s [...] one of the most beautiful ways, at least. To be able to use your passion, and to then become a vessel: you're doing something you love, then all of a sudden God is moving powerfully through that, and you're building relationships and you're praying for people and you're communicating through the language of sports or fitness.


T: Any stories and/or real examples of sports ministry that you’ve witnessed or been a part of?


A: On outreaches we’ve had many testimonies and many stories of teams being able to use sports and fitness as a way of sharing the Gospel, and I think one of the coolest stories is actually of a team that traveled to South Africa, and they were able to lead a whole church through a basic wellness routine, doing things like air squats, various stretches - things like that. [...] Twenty minutes before church started they were asked if they could lead the church through this wellness program, and the Sports and Fitness Elective prepared them for that. [...] It was a really cool way in which sports and fitness was able to impact people overseas - through leading that church through a stretching and wellness routine.


T: I love how surprising that opportunity was, too.


H: You never know what you're going to get on outreach.


T: In your opinion, how can personal fitness be used to advance the Kingdom of God?  Why does God care if I’m fit?


A: Going back to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and set them in the Garden, and he asked them to cultivate it; and the idea of stewardship was introduced early in God's Word.  And one of the primary things he's given us to steward, I believe, is our bodies. So why does God care if i’m fit? [...] Because it's an act of worship towards him when I steward what he’s given me in my body, and that involves eating well, that involves exercising, that involves overall general looking after my body and being a good steward of it. With regards to how personal fitness can be used to advance God's Kingdom, [...] some outreaches have traveled to the mountains of Nepal, and they’ve been able to carry bibles; and the primary reasons they’ve been able to accomplish those missions is because they were physically fit enough to be able to endure the task they’d been given.  So, I definitely think being able to reach locations that others can’t is a powerful way that God can use fitness to advance his Kingdom; but I also think that overall personal wellbeing can allow one to experience God in an incredible way.



T: Alastair, who is the Sports and Fitness Elective for, and what would you like to say to someone who is considering it?


A:  The Sports and Fitness Elective really is for anyone.  If you’ve never played sports, never been in a gym, but you care about your health and wellbeing, you can come into the Sports and Fitness Elective and learn about stretching; you can learn about nutrition, you can learn about how God made your body and how you can be a better steward of it. If you love sports, the Sports and Fitness Elective will provide endless opportunities to play various sports, including soccer, rugby, basketball, volleyball, American football, and many more; and if you love working out and getting fit, the [...] Elective will also give you many experiences in the gym, and [...] it will give you equipping and a knowledge base to better do those things in your own physical walk. So, really, the Sports and Fitness Elective can be for anyone, whether you love sports, whether you love fitness, whether you don’t love either of them, but you’re interested in health - I really believe the Sports and Fitness Elective has something to offer everyone. We welcome well-developed, hungry athletes that want to perform at a high level, and we welcome those who haven’t played a lot of sports, but are just interested and want to have fun.  


T: Is there anything else you'd like to say about Sports and Fitness Elective? Anything burning or pressing that we didn’t mention elsewhere in this interview?


H: I think sports and fitness is a really great platform and opportunity for people to grow in their passions and learn how to use their passions to know God more and make him known. And if you have an awesome experience with the Sports and Fitness Elective in the DTS, you can take it a step further and go deeper and join us in a Sports Ministry School where its one hundred percent sports and fitness DNA woven into all the topics and lectures and the outreach. You can go even deeper and learn how to better steward those passions and giftings for the Lord and to build his Kingdom.


A: I kind of touched on this, but [...] establishing a Godly culture is a primary objective in the Elective, and it's one that powerfully influences people, especially those coming out of high school sports or club level sports, because the way that our culture acts in those spheres isn’t necessarily anywhere near the culture that God would set in his Kingdom. Really being able to flip those worldviews upside down, and to establish a Godly culture is a huge part of the Elective, and one that gives us great joy.  To see students celebrating one another and really speaking life into one another - and the confidence and the freedom and in many ways the redemption that can come from that culture - is very beautiful to see.


T: I love that.  So, Hunter, in conclusion, I wanted to loop back around to a question from earlier to give you a chance to answer.  Do you have any stories or examples of sports ministry that you’ve been a part of?


H: I have a few, haha.


T: Yeah, I thought you might.  Want to share a good one?


H: Haha, are we going there?  Alright. So, yeah. As the Lord rescued me from a track record of fear, depression, and suicide, [he] showed me how to use my passions for sports and fitness in ministry.  I began doing ministry in Japan [...] and the nation is less than 1% Christian; and sports and fitness is a great way to build relationships there and to share the Gospel. I grew up watching this TV show:  American Ninja Warrior [...] actually I grew up watching the Japanese version; and so I was watching it a few summers ago, and was like, Wow, I could do this. And the Holy Spirit punched me in the stomach, and was like, Yeah, you can, and you’re going to use it to gain a greater platform and influence in the Japanese society. And I was like, Wow, okay, Lord.  Yeah, if you get me on that show, I promise I’ll give you all the glory. So, I began training like I was going be on the show: twice a day for about six months. And I applied, auditioned, and there were over 50,000 applicants for that season in 2015 - this was Season 7. [...] They only select 650 contestants per year, what are the chances? So, I fully surrender it to the Lord, and was like, Lord, I don't expect this, but if you want to do this, I’m ready; lets go. I got a call, was offered a spot on the show, was able to share my testimony - of how I surrendered my life to Christ and found a deeper purpose in life - and they showed that on NBC to over 7,000,000 people; and what I thought was a once in a lifetime experience: the Lord actually opened up the door for me to do it again two years later.  So, yeah, he's just so faithful in fulfilling the dreams and desires he puts on our hearts, and he's just so creative at using our passions and giftings to know him more and make him more known [...]. I still have a hard time believing it actually happened. Every time I watch the video, I’m like, Whoa, Is that really me?  Is that really you, God?  It was a great experience.


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In Conclusion

During this interview, we loved learning about how stewarding our spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing can be an act of worship toward God, and how sports ministry starts with using our passions to know God more - and ultimately the overflow of knowing God is ministry to others.  


We hope you enjoyed this interview as much as we did, and that it encourages you to know God and to make him known!


*This interview was edited for clarity.


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Interview Conducted by:

Tommy Rutt | YWAM Orlando Staff

Feature Image By: Victor Freitas of Unsplash