Extracurricular activities are huge in a student’s life. Friendships are forged during the many hours of practice these activities require. How can you help your students see these friendships as an opportunity to share Jesus and encourage fellow Christians in their faith?

Eric Miller, director of ministry operations for CE National, talks with Michael Voss, women’s soccer coach at Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana, about how you can encourage your students to see their activities as a ministry.

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Michael has been the women’s soccer coach at Grace College since 2007.  He’s led breakout sessions at Momentum Youth Conference on sports as ministry for the past few years.

Michael spent 10 years in California with his wife working at a church and school. They felt God calling them to become missionaries. That was the transforming part of forging a path. They came back from the mission field not knowing what to do. The mission’s board president encouraged Michael to look at Grace College. Michael prayed about it and began the interview process. Through the process he found out that his heart for missions combined with a desire to play soccer came together at Grace.

Michael is passionate about bringing Christ into the conversation because through sports, Michael became a believer.

How did God draw you to Himself through sports?

Michael was the crazy kid that trained all the time. After practice he would stay after and work out. Through the process of competing, God continued to teach and reveal Himself to Michael. During his sophomore year of high school, he was presented with the gospel. Michael didn’t see how God was pursuing him until he was presented with the gospel.

Why are sports so addicting?

From a personal level, some people are just wired that way. Recently Michael had surgery and had to sit for three weeks. He went crazy because he couldn’t be active. There are people who need a healthy outlet for physical activity. For some people it’s a gym, others it’s rock climbing. It’s addicting because some people are wired that way. We’re wired to compete and work hard. It’s an enjoyable process.

On a secondary level, we have to check ourselves. It’s addicting because we want our kids to succeed. This needs to be checked. Parents will think, “I didn’t make it, so our kids need to make it.”

What are some of the ways you’ve seen sports become an idol?

When sport is out of balance. When you’re completely forsaking anything else. A skateboarder doing a trick and will not let it go. There’s a part that’s good in developing discipline, but when you completely freeze out your youth group, going to church, or getting into the Word, you’re out of balance. You’ve started down a path that can be toxic. Balance is what’s required.

What are some of the things you’ve seen God do in your sports teams?

To a life that is resigned to glorify God, you see radical stuff happen. Click To Tweet

To a life that is resigned to glorify God, you see radical stuff happen. Stuff you can’t even make up. When Michael started coaching the team wasn’t very good. But they grew to where they made it to the national finals. Grace College was playing in the finals against a team that won the NAIA tournament the last year. Every kid was doing everything they could. The game played out exactly like it should and Grace was ahead toward the close of the game. Michael turned to his assistant coach and said, “We’ve won a national championship.”  Then the lights in the stadium went out. That disrupted the flow of the game and the other team came back and tied the score. The game went into overtime and Grace lost in the shootout.

God used this heartbreaking event to show his players many things. One girl admitted she was prideful. Another said she wasn’t willing to step up and take the penalty kick. She said she knew she was supposed to take it, but didn’t say anything. Michael asked her why she didn’t step up since she was the captain. The girl said she was afraid. Now, in her adult life, she doesn’t back away from challenges. The girl who missed the final kick is now a solid believer. Losing the game because God turned off the lights became a learning experience for the team

What are other themes, characteristics, or biblical principles that you want to instill in your students?

Growing is the principle we focus on the most; grow your faith, grow in soccer, grow in your spiritual walk, grow in relationship to teammates. It’s so deep that when you have that commitment to grow, you’re suddenly open to things.

If it’s wrong, repent and move forward. Be excellent. If you’re going after excellence and you’re finding that you’re failing, that’s a good thing. Be a willing participant in understanding that you might not do it well.

Praise. We live in a culture where I’m supposed to knock down the other person and use them as a stepping stone. Can you watch their opponent score and think that’s impressive and still compete with them? Define a relationship by calling out praise. Encourage each other. One of the phrases we use is ‘call out praise’. Michael has seen kids on a national level call out praise and it’s weird. It’s countercultural. That happens in church, why not in sports?

How do we help our adults encourage their students to think of sports as a mission field?

That’s a challenge for parents. Initiate a conversation with them. Ask your kids how it went. Tell them you love watching them play. Feed them when they’re hungry. If the moment presents itself, be there for them. Failure is a great talking point for you to turn negative scenarios into teachable moments. Look at the people of Israel. They were saved out of slavery and still complaining. Be gracious in failing and succeeding. Don’t force, just be present. Support and encourage them to promote growth. Encourage kids when they’re young to set up patterns of showing that they are believers with healthy ways of practicing and communicating. They aren’t always going to do it right, but keep encouraging them.

How can a parent help their kids have good boundaries when it comes to balancing church and sports?

Be in the Word yourself, pray, fellowship, and be at church. Communicate with your kids. Tell them that going to church is important. There’s a lot of demands with a kid in sports. How do you handle driving three hours for games, three times a month, on Sunday morning? Michael knows a family who made the commitment that their kids aren’t available until noon on Sunday. If they traveled across states, they found some way to attend church even if it was online. If it’s at home, their kids were available at noon. It’s not going to be perfect, but as the parent, teach them what’s acceptable and not acceptable.

For youth pastors, engage kids especially when they’re gone during a sport season. Pursue them. Show up at their games to still keep in contact. Be engaged so that when things break down or even go really well, you’ll be there.

What are tips to help a student build a spiritual community and impact unbelievers?

Michael challenges his team and kids to look at this individually and corporately.

Individually: Determine what your sin is. if it’s mouthing off to an official, find scripture that deals with that situation. Create a biblical response for it. Memorize scripture in order to combat sin. Michael’s players will write words on their hand or their knee as a reminder. When something goes wrong, you’ll see a player pull down her socks and reveal what has been written on her knee. They check themselves.

Corporately: The question is, “How is your team going to go wrong and what is your response?” What is the whole team bad at and how can you be an influence for good? If you’re on a super negative team, and you start to give praise, you’re labeled a weirdo.  But eventually they’ll look to you as a leader. You can still have that influence. Even if you’re a marginal player, you can have a biblical influence on them. Instead of alienating themselves, join them.

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