“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law...”
(I Corinthians 9:19-20)
The Gospel is the most important message to communicate to people. It is the message that, while we have broken God's heart and are deserving of God's perfect justice and wrath, He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins so we might be reconciled to Him and declared righteous in His sight. It's important to communicate that to our friends who are lost, and it's important to communicate that to one another, because we are never beyond our need for the overwhelming grace of Jesus Christ.
Just don't start sharing about the Gospel on 4th and 1 on what could be a game-altering play. At least not with a passionate fan of the team playing.
Of course, I'm somewhat joking (emphasis on somewhat). We never want to shy away from opportunities to walk through open doors to minister the gospel and point one another to Christ. And sometimes, for those of us who follow Jesus, the call of sports idolatry is a real thing. Sometimes I need to shut off the TV and love my wife, play with my kids, and put their needs before my wants. But sometimes I think we try to force doors open rather than seek to help open those doors through how we relate to people.
I was recently watching a football game that I really was excited about, and invited friends over to watch it with me. And here we were, sitting on the couch, and play after play was another deep, provocative question that had nothing to do with football.
In seeking to serve him, I missed a number of pivotal moments in the game, and rather than including these friends into something I enjoy, it became less of an opportunity to welcome these people into my life, and more of an opportunity to entertain questions that I didn't really want to think about until after the game.
Now, I need to constantly lay down my life. But it gave me a thought. When we are seeking to minister the Gospel, sometimes we put ourselves in this mode of, “I need to ask this person questions all the time, because this will love them.” That may be what you want to do, or it may be what you feel pressured to do. However, sometimes the best way to love a sports fan is not to ask a bunch of questions, even about the game. Instead, it's a great opportunity to enjoy something that is loved by that person.
This is true with anyone we want to love. There is a time for deeper questions. Sometimes it does present itself while a person is sharing their loves with you. Sometimes, we force the issue, and we actually miss an opportunity to actually help open a door to deeper conversation.
With that being said, here are a few ways to love a sports fan:
1. Don't expect a lot of initial conversation – The person wants to watch the game WITH you. They don't want it to be background noise to conversation. To us, it's the main event, much like a long-anticipated movie. It doesn't mean you can't have the occasional thought or question, but also be sensitive to different moments within a game. Timeouts and commercial breaks are good to figure out how serious the fan is, and what they want or don't want to talk about.
2. Don't rely on the other person to explain every aspect of the game – In general, I love explaining things about football. So asking questions is good. But answering the same question about why there is a holding call gets hard, or why the uniforms are that color, or... you get the picture. Take five minutes to get a little handle on some of the rules, the teams that are playing, and who the star players are. If someone who knows nothing about football comes to me and says, “I hear that JT Barrett is a pretty good QB,” my excitement to share something that means a lot to me goes through the roof, and trust is instantly built.
3. Let them share their excitement about specific plays, players, or moments that they remember - Sometimes, we have very specific memories, because we love our team. We can feel like we are part of the team (for good and for bad). Letting us share our memories is not meaningless, you're actually getting to know a part of our soul. It's something the Lord has allowed us to love. Sometimes we love it too much, and there's a conversation for that later. But letting us share about these seemingly meaningless memories actually gives you a picture of some of the great joys and sorrows of being a fan.
4. Marvel when God opens doors to deeper conversation – As trust is built, and as you become a 'sports fan' to another sports fan, it really builds trust to deeper conversation. When Heather waits to talk to me about my frustration until after the game, I'm much more apt to share and confess that I may have been hoping too much in my team. When others take the time to enjoy a pasttime that I've enjoyed for the entirety of my life, it deepens trust to talk about spiritual realities. That's a work of God, and we should marvel when God uses something as trivial as a football game to minister to the soul.
This is true of every passion out there. If someone loves art and music, invest in what they love. If someone loves to cook, be willing to be their assistant for a day. If someone loves coffee houses, go with them to their favorite and try their favorite thing on the menu.
And consider your loves. What are the things that people can do with you that will deepen trust?