Tim Keller, the Missional Church, & Sports Ministry

Tim Keller has released a new book called Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City . In it, he outlines the marks of a missional church. Here it is (from Patheos):

1. It must confront society’s idols (esp self-actualization as the absolute).
2. It recognizes that most of our recently formulated gospels fall on deaf ears.
3. It knows all Christians are on mission in every area of their life. (Here “mission” is the transformationalist model of influencing culture.)
4. It is a servant community in the community as a counterculture for the common good.
5. It must be “porous”: the line between believers and nonbelievers/seekers/etc is not determinative for all the ministries of the church (here he sounds like the recent post I had about Andy Stanley).
6. It practices Christian unity on the local level as much as possible.

It’s amazing how sports ministry can be such a great tool and avenue to further these ideas. For example (in reference to the marks above):

1. Sports ministry should address the brokenness and idols in sports and offer a way of pursuing sports in a redeemed, God-glorifying way. Churches have an amazing opportunity to offer a different way to play, coach, and spectate sports. This is why our mission statement is: To redeem the idol of sports by leading a global movement of local church gospel centered sports ministries

2. We are in a post-Christian culture. Our practiced gospel presentations from the last 50 years don’t connect with the lost world because people are no longer engrained with a Christian worldview (there is a God, there is sin, there is an afterlife, etc.). Fifty years ago, even if someone wasn’t a Christian, they probably believed some of these things or at least understood the notions behind them. Not anymore. To reach someone now there is more leg work needed. There needs to be time and relationship to communicate the full message of the gospel and create disciples. Sports provide a great context for this because it’s a universal language.

3. Mission is not just things that happen inside the walls of the church or internationally in 3rd world countries. We are always on mission, always engaged in ministry (at least, that should be our mindset). The work place, the neighborhood, and where we recreate (sports) should be seen as a mission field.

4. Something that can be totally countercultural is how a church operates a sports league. Or, how Christians in a community/secular league handle themselves. These things speak loudly.

5. I’m not exactly sure what Keller meant by this point and having not read the book, it’s hard for me to understand completely. I think what he means is that some ministries of the church should have a good mix of believers/non-believers and others shouldn’t. I could be wrong. What I know for sure is that sports ministry provides one of the few contexts where Christians can develop relationships with non-Christians.

6. Sports can definitely bring unity within your church and unity in cooperation with other churches.

I hope this doesn’t come off as saying sports ministry is the answer for engaging your community missionally. Why it may not be the answer, it certainly is an answer. Certainly, not every church is called to have a large, centralized, programmatic sports ministry. However, every church can at least be involved in an organic, de-centralized sports ministry. The principles are the same regardless of the context: Use sports as a bridge to reach people and as a laboratory transform them.


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