Posted by: Philip Rushton | April 24, 2010

Why Being a West Coast Sports Fan Can Be Both Good and Bad For Your Soul.

When I got married, Julie was surprised to discover that I am an avid sports fan. She thought she was marrying an artsy intellectual type, but found that more often then not I was perched on the edge of our couch, fully engaged in a sporting event. With the NHL playoffs in full swing Julie is again reminded of this time consuming past time of mine.

The question I want to ask is, where do sports fit within our spiritual life? Is this something that we ought to be spending our time with or not?

One of the positives I have found about being a west coast sports fan, is that it gives regular opportunities for us to make sure we are not being idolatrous. What I mean by this is that pretty much every year the teams I cheer for don’t win. The Seattle Seahawks, and the Vancouver Canucks (my two favorite teams) have never won a championship. It seems that every year I have to come to terms with the fact that sports teams are going to let me down. So perhaps us West coast fans have a healthier soul then those who cheer for the New England Patriots, or the Detroit Red Wings, because we know not to put our hope in local sports 🙂

Kidding aside, the other positive thing I can see about engaging with sports is that it can bring people together and foster social connections. For example, I have been much closer with our neighbors over the last couple of weeks then I have been in the past year because we get together to watch the NHL playoffs. So if we are going to watch sports lets do so together!

On the other hand, watching sports can be a big time waster. Perhaps we should evaluate how much time we spend watching sports in relation to how much time we are spending with our family, church, or with the spiritual disciplines. Ray Vanderlaan, a prominent biblical studies teacher that leads trips through Israel, decided at one point to give up watching football on Sunday’s and replace that 4 hours with reading the gospels. He now reads all four gospels every week because of the time that has been freed up.
Another issue with being a sports fan is that it can quickly become idolatrous. If sports are what we turn to to find hope and fulfillment in life, I suspect we will be left unfulfilled.

My friend Dave posted a great quote on his blog from Ben Witherington III:

“Someday archaeologists will be digging up the once great American landscape and they will find gigantic concrete sports stadiums, with all sorts of luxury boxes. And then they’ll find churches made out of plywood and press board and siding. And homes made out the same thing. And they will ask—- why did they spend more money on entertainment than on food, clothing shelter, and God combined? And in the end—– who won???”

You can visit Dave’s blog by at


  1. At a recent conference I asked the speaker, Tom Sine, how we can regain an appreciation for liturgy in our evangelical culture. He said we need to realize that our lives are already organized around liturgy. The question we have to ask, he suggested, is which liturgy do we choose. He went on to describe that for many North American’s, sports “liturgy” is more determinative for how we live than the church’s liturgy. So true!

    I found his comments both challenging and encouraging as I wrestle with what defines my life.

  2. As a recovering sports participant and coach I see one of our major conflicts revolving around youth sports. In an effort to give my boys the best opportunity to excel in basketball, we were involved in Y-ball, tournament teams, school spring and fall leagues, camps. And then there was soccer, youth football, baseball and water polo. All of these are good things: they teach great principles of leadership, teamwork, hard work, dedication, good health.

    Looking back over those years, there were great times together, but I do wonder if it really was worth all of the time, effort and costs. The huge downside does come at the expense of not having time for church activities and also the focus of life being all about sports. Not only for them, but for me as a parent as well. I see now that a healthier balance is necessary.

    You can say that no one had a gun to my head to actually do all those things, but in reality, there is a huge pressure put upon young athletes (and parents) that says if you don’t do all of these things, you won’t make the grade, or if you make the team, you will get no playing time.

    Phil, I do believe that sports is one of the major idols in our society today. I do want faith in Christ to win out.

  3. Thanks Randy,

    I appreciate, as always, your responses! I appreciate your balance on this too. On the one hand sports can be a great thing – promoting health, friendships, work ethic etc. I definitely think playing sports has a lot more going for it then simply watching sports. On the other hand it can be raised to an idolatrous level.

    One of the benefits I do see with participating in sports in the community is that it draws us into relationships with those outside the church as well. I know that a lot of my contact with people from different backgrounds came when I played basketball in high school. So perhaps there is an incarnational opportunity in our sports activities. A way to live out our faith within contexts outside the church.

    You used the word “balance” – which I think is key here.

    • Phil,
      You’re right that being involved in/with sports presents a whole level of friendships that can be a natural lead to live out our faith with those who may have questions about faith. Some of our best friends have come from having kids on the same teams. Sometimes we can get a bit isolated and insulated by only hanging out with Christian friends or folks from church.

  4. I don’t see why sports would be any different than any other activity. It can be a negative if you get too wrapped up in it but that’s true about anything.

    Randy does bring up a good point about youth sports though. I find it disappointing how many people say they can’t make church events because of sports. How many people say they can’t do sports events because of church? I know there are some because we have done it but being on the church end I mostly see the choosing sports side. It often feels like Christ is put in a box and as long as nothing better is going on people will enter the box.

  5. There are some great points here. I really appreciate the challenging remark Bruce made about families choosing sports over Church activities and not the other way around. But on the other hand, as Randy eluded to, sports can be a time to be around those outside our “circle of Christians”. As Pastor John would say, we need to go outside our comfort zone of our church family to truly be missional.

    In golf, they say you can truly have some wonderful conversation in a place where one’s soul is exposed. There’s numerous times when I’m playing with a stranger or even friend and we’ll talk about the economy, politics, family, etc., but what a great time to share our faith. I know I have a LONG way to go in doing this, but I just wanted to say sports can be a wonderful way to share our faith.

    For men especially, we do our best conversating while engaging in sport/game. It’s how we are wired. Embrace it and use it for God’s good.

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