Let’s make this clear right out of the gate: I don’t know Bryce Harper or Mike Trout personally. I don’t know anything about where they stand spiritually. I don’t assume to know what they will do—or won’t do with the insane contracts they just signed. This is actually not for them at all. It’s for us, the church, and why discipleship (and contextualized sports ministry) still matter deeply.
If you haven’t seen the news, Mike Trout is close to signing a 12-year, 430 million dollar contract. This came on the heels of the 13-year, 330 million dollars contract Bryce Harper signed a few weeks prior.
Though I try to diversify my social media streams as much as possible, a large majority of the people I follow fall somewhere in the categories of sports and Jesus. After the announced contracts, my feed was filled with “what ifs” from people within this community.
What if Trout would take the $66,000 per at-bat he is making and pay my salary for a year?
What if he tithed of this money? After all, a monthly 10% tithe off his new contract would be around $260,000 each month.
What if he used that money and planted a church each month for the next 12 years?!
I completely get it. It’s fun to dream what God could do with resources like this at our disposal. For Harper, Trout, and the other athletes who get paid an enormous sum of money for being great at what they do, they have the ability to fund entire ministries for decades with their generosity. And it’s not entirely wrong for us to play the “what if” game. A leader’s job is to imagine a different future and then align people to that vision. But I have a different “what if” challenge for all of us to consider.
What if Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were discipled in high school or college by a Godly man who imparted to them the importance of generosity?
What if someone pursued Trout in high school (he didn’t go to college) and Harper while he was at the College of Southern Nevada?
What if both of these men were receptive to sitting down on a weekly basis with someone who promised to invest in their spiritual well being?
Or, what if they both understood the Gospel and how everything they could ever want is given to them through a relationship with God?
Yes, God can use specific moments to bring about radical changes in people’s lives. But there is a reason Jesus chose to invest the majority of His time by spending it with twelve men. It’s because discipleship matters deeply to God. Jesus took twelve jacked up individuals and through a three-year process of relational connection to Him, they began to change. In fact, it wasn’t until after Jesus died, resurrected, and ascended into heaven that his disciples aligned the entirety of their lives with what Jesus called them to.
Contextualized ministry matters
What do I mean by contextualized ministry? Simply put, it means presenting the Gospel in a way that they can understand—or in a language that is familiar to them. It is a way to engage with a category of people that reduces hindrances to them getting to know you—and more importantly, getting to know Jesus.
Don’t hear what I am not saying. I am not saying the local church is not important or effective. I firmly believe the local church is God’s “plan A” to reach the world. But contextualized ministries have the advantage of know the people group they serve so well that they may be better equipped to bring these people to the church than the church itself.
Most athletes are resistant to meeting new people outside of their athletic community. Why? I have worked with Athletes in Action for over a decade and I can tell you based on my experience, most athletes interactions with people outside their sport brings up the same question “What do these people want from me?”
Most people look up to athletes. They want to meet them, take pictures with them, get their autographs. It’s no wonder athletes gravitate towards distrust when it comes to relationships outside of their athletic circles.
Sports ministries like Athletes in Action, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Upward Sports, and The Increase provide safe spaces for athletes to connect with staff members and other athletes who see them as people first and athletes second. Can you imagine if there was an FCA group at Trout’s high school (maybe there is, I have no idea)? What if there were an Athletes in Action presence at the College of Southern Nevada?
As stated before, discipleship in these athlete’s lives is critical. Contextualized sports ministries often provide the least amount of friction for athletes to connect with a potential discipler.
What about you?
Yes, you can hope that Trout and Harper will choose generosity. You can pray that charities and ministries will benefit from their new contracts. You can even tag them on social media and make a direct ask.
Or, you can commit to discipling young men and women who will one day be in their shoes. You can trust that imparting a Kingdom mindset to today’s athlete will lead to future generosity toward Kingdom missions.
Who is in your sphere of influence that you can move towards today? Do you know a young athlete from church? What would it look like to start a huddle group with FCA at the high school level? Have you considered volunteering with Athletes in Action? Maybe the athlete God is calling you to disciple is your own kid!
Imagine a future where athletes everywhere have older men and women speaking the truth of God’s word into their lives. The lives you invest in today could be the future Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. Even if they don’t rise to that level, they will have influence. Our culture continues to give it to them, whether they like it or not.
If you choose not to get involved in discipleship, what would it look like for you to invest some of your own money into individuals and ministries who are pursuing athletes like Harper and Trout? Instead of wishing that these athletes would give, what if you decided to give to the missionaries called by God to reach them?
It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: Our motivation to invest in men and women cannot be perverted by what they could do for us in the future, but what God could do in and through them—for their sake and His glory.
P.S. If you want me to send you some free resources (including the first chapter of my book The Assist: A Gospel-Centered Guide to Glorifying God Through Sports, subscribe below and I will send you some great stuff! I promise not to spam you either:)