Texas Rangers Players Use Their Sport for Ministry
GRAPEVINE, Texas – The game is over. One team has won and the other has lost. But for Faith athletes, interaction with the other team does not stop when the final whistle blows. The sight of our guys huddled up with the opponents to pray after a game has become routine. Some may think sports have no room for religion especially in a country that is so obsessed with sports. However, for many Christian athletes, competition is a platform for their ministry.
Sports Can Be a Platform for Ministry
According to Coach Hogan sports provide “a more attentive audience than almost any other platform” and “it’s one of the best ways to reach the masses.” From his perspective as a coach he realizes that his athletes want to be at practice and games and participate in the sport. Their desire to be there makes them more receptive, and people are typically paying more attention at a sporting event because they do not want to miss something important.
In the professional realm of sports, athletes have an increased influence. “As a platform there’s no comparison…in the big leagues that stage is huge, especially when you play well,” says Rangers’ outfielder David Murphy. Coach Postema adds, “When you’re successful, you earn a platform.” The Rangers’ recent success has brought them a national following. “There are a lot more eyes out there,” says Murphy’s fellow Ranger Craig Gentry. “They’re watching your every move. You’ve got teammates, the media, all these different things come into play. This team’s done really well over the past few years, so we have a lot of people watching, and, from that standpoint, we have a great tool,” he says.
While thousands more may watch nationally televised competitions, even on a smaller stage athletes can use their gifts and talents for Christ. Across the nation collegiate and even high school athletes utilize athletics as a mission field.
Athletic Ministry at Faith
At Faith, students are used to the Christian music playing at games and the prayer on the field before and after; however many do not realize how big of an impact those things can have. Craig Gentry also went to a Christian high school and had a similar experience saying , “It was always good to get that involved in athletics and be able to use that as another tool for witnessing.” While many athletes at the school may not think their actions are noticed, they are mistaken.
The Varsity baseball team played Keller over the summer, and after the game, as usual, they asked the other team to pray with them. It was a shock to many who thought of the prayer as just another part of the game when one of the Keller players asked, “What’s praying?”
Coach Hogan wants the coaching staff “to utilize our discipleship plan and engage the students where they are.” While the athletic field is primarily a place of competition, it is also to be used as a mission field. Coach Postema wants to “make sure every athlete leaves knowing God,” and wants to see growth amongst his players. Hogan adds to that, “We should never be satisfied with where we are.” The seasons should be and will be competitive, but the coaches want to see them have an impact on players as well.
David Murphy attended Baylor University, where he was saved, but before he came to know Christ, it was the attitudes and examples of those around him that got his attention. “Looking back, I appreciate the type of students that were there and how the university is Christian based and just how the example of those students can bring others to Christ,” he says. So what athletes do on the field, even at the amateur levels, can make a huge difference in the lives of others.
Attitude Makes a Difference
“I’m always trying to have fun,” says Craig Gentry, “…that guy people can talk to, that guy who’s always happy and always brings a good attitude, I feel like that can go a long way. I don’t know if it does…but I hope so. That’s the point. The whole point of being here in the Major Leagues and having this spotlight on you is so that you can influence other people towards going the right way.” Attitude can be read from a mile away. A positive attitude draws people to you so that you can speak to them more. That attitude is made up of two parts: Respect and Effort.
Coach Hogan requires respect of the officials, the opponents, and the rules. “Treat your opponent with class,” he says. Murphy would second him saying, “First of all, play the game the right way.” A part of respecting your opponent is giving full effort all the time. Coach Postema frequently talks about “tempo”. He wants his team to always be giving their best effort on the field, even if it is just running out to your position instead of walking. David Murphy again says, “Play hard and everything will pay.” Rookie pitcher Robbie Ross feels that the best attitude to have is one that’s consistent and relies on God. “You’re gonna have times where you’re not gonna understand what’s going on and you’re gonna be frustrated and upset, but God’s not gonna change, so that’s one of the biggest things—understanding that no matter what goes good and what goes bad, He’s gonna be the same, and that’s the biggest thing I can focus on.” Gentry says, “We realize that God blessed us with these abilities to do things, these talents, and me personally I don’t want to take the credit for things because I know it’s not me out there.” Ross adds, “The best way to do it is to just give Him all the glory through all of it.”
Integrity is Integral
David Murphy says, “I don’t think it should be me trying to act in ways that show the Gospel. I think that it should be more along the lines of preparing my heart to live a life that shows the Gospel in all ways, not just on the baseball field. I want to be a man of integrity in my faith, so I want my faith to be shown when I’m on the baseball field as well as when I’m with my family or even when I’m by myself.” Ross agrees saying, “It doesn’t have to be a thing where I switch my approach to how I take Christ or involve Christ in my life. I think it should be a thing where it’s consistent and staying the same and living my life upright.” Postema says, “We want to have unchanging character or at least minimize change.”
However, how many fans get to see behind the scenes and witness this integrity? Most of an athlete’s ministry involves actions and setting an example. “Sometimes the anger can get the best of you. Try your best not to let any of that show,” Gentry says, “I feel like actions speak—the way you carry yourself day in and day out, through the best times and through the worst times. How you handle it when everything’s wrong and everything’s not going right shows your true character and your faith. It’s easy to smile, have fun, and be happy when everything’s going right, but when everything’s going wrong, that’s when your true heart comes out.” Integrity is vital to having the ability to witness, but a simple slip-up could damage what seeds had already been laid. It always helps to be able to refocus on something else when you get upset and that involves having your priorities in line.
Get Your Priorities Straight
“There’s more to life than just playing this game and understand that one day it’s not going to be there anymore,” says Robbie Ross, “Sometimes you get consumed with something and, just getting into baseball, you can be consumed with wanting to do well, wanting things to go well, wanting to do better, and you can get so caught up in yourself that sometimes it’s hard to remember there’s a bigger picture.”
For these Christian athletes, baseball is about more than winning or losing. “We might play a bad game, but be able to have a good conversation or an uplifting conversation with a friend or a teammate and just show them God’s love through it,” says Ross.
The biggest part of having one’s priorities in line is having humility. Murphy said he and his pastor were talking and he said, “If I didn’t have my priorities straight I could be thinking about making David Murphy famous, but I need to go out there every day with the intent of making Jesus famous.” Athletes in ministry take the focus off of themselves and put it back on God. “Personally, I don’t want to take the credit for things because I know it’s not me out there. I didn’t get to where I am today by my own stuff. God blessed me a lot,” says Gentry. Ross said the biggest thing for him was when he stopped putting pressure on himself and let God take control “even though that can be hard to do sometimes.”
“There’s not a whole lot of time to do much when you’re a professional athlete because it takes so much of your time. I probably only make it to church five times a season,” says Murphy, “Everybody likes to talk about how awesome it must be and the lifestyle of a professional athlete, but it’s not very easy on a professional athlete’s wife and I admire her for enduring all that she has and being so selfless.” Murphy feels like it should be his focus in his free time to make sure his family knows how much he loves them. “My kids are five, three, and one, and with as much as I’m gone, it’s kinda hard for them to understand what’s going on,” he says. He spends time taking his wife and daughters on dates just to spend time with them. Athletes have to make sacrifices. Sometimes he gets up very early after an extremely late night on the field. But the sacrifices that their families make cannot be overlooked. Their sacrifice is as much a ministry to the athletes as the athlete’s is to the fans, their teammates, and their opponents.
Ross explained that “a lot of times our ministry is just to speak to fans and show them love. Another thing is just being able to tell the people just a kind word and approach them with more of an open heart.” Players will serve at local organizations and help out the areas around them that are in need. “I try to make myself available in the offseason. During the season the schedule’s so hectic, but I try to make it a point to make myself available.” Interaction with fans gives the players an opportunity to share their stories.
Murphy once met two stock boys at the grocery store, the first one knew who he was and the other did not. Both wanted an autograph so he obliged them. When he came back the next week the second stock boy was proud to tell him that he had looked him up and been following him. “I guess he was just looking for encouragement, so he asked me what my motivation was, and I told him my motivation was the Lord,” said Murphy. Murphy ended up having about a 20 minute discussion with the stock boy about Christ. “Everybody needs to be told at some point in time. It’s not like I can stand there every single day saying, ‘Does everybody know who Jesus is?’ and take 20 minutes individually with everybody, but if I do get those moments I would say those are great opportunities.”
There are a number of other subtler ways to bring up Jesus as well. The players each have individual songs that play for them when they enter the game. Using Christian music “can maybe get people asking the right questions,” says Gentry. Players often write scripture references with their autographs as well. “That’s something I’ve done all the way through the minor leagues all the way to here,” says Ross. “I just want people to know there’s more to this than just baseball,” he says. “If I have those opportunities here and there to share my faith then that’s awesome because that is exactly what I’m supposed to do in terms of using this stage to share my faith,” says Murphy.
Now Back To Faith
“We’re second to none because of our intentionality. We have a plan in place,” says Postema. Coach Hogan agrees that Faith is above average in its athletic ministry capabilities, but he adds, “We have room to improve,” and again, “We should never be satisfied where we are.”
“I’m glad my sons are at Faith to be under the leaders that they have. This is the best place I’ve been in my 18 years of coaching,” says Posteam. However, Hogan adds, “No platform can be successful without a desire to learn from the listeners, and the heart of the listener is their own personal responsibility.”
“I think that’s the biggest thing—being able to be a friend to all of us and just being able to push each other in the right direction. That’s what I’m here for, is to be a part of ministry and show people Christ,” says Ross. And Murphy adds, “At the end of the day, you shouldn’t have a problem sleeping at night.”
Originally published in the Grapevine Faith RAWR student newspaper