“This community speaks the language of sports and fitness. In the same way, a missionary learns the language of the culture they are witnessing to, if we want to reach people where they are with the love of Christ, we need to speak their language.”
Sam Barnhill, sports ministry intern at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio (Rick Nuzum, lead pastor), knows about this necessity to speak the culture’s language intimately – he and his wife Ashley served as missionaries in Madagascar for nine months but were brought home suddenly when serious on-field issues arose.
“God brought us over 9,000 miles back to Columbus,” he recalls. “We were unaware of it at the time, but God placed us back in the States at the same time they were looking for someone to lead Grace Powell Sports.”
Grace Church, Powell, likewise had been actively seeking God’s guidance for almost two years – before deciding to start a sports ministry. This past March, Barnhill came on staff to help support the sports ministry under the oversight of Jeff Stimpson, teaching pastor at Grace Church. Along with his previous ministry experience, Barnhill brought plenty of knowledge in the sports arena as well, including a degree in exercise science and a certification as an exercise physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, as well as experience as a personal trainer and coach.
Grace Powell Sports (GPS for short) was specifically designed as an outreach ministry, with hopes to attract an unchurched, unbelieving population. This June, the church ran three elementary school summer camps for their kickoff: soccer, lacrosse, and multi-skills camps. At each of the camps, daily lessons were taught from a specific Scripture verse.
“At the camps we took a theme each day, shared what it means and how it can be applied, and ended by sharing the message of Jesus,” explains Barnhill.
More than 70 children participated this summer, and according to Barnhill, five different families have expressed interest in attending Grace Powell as a result of the introduction through GPS. Barnhill has big plans for expansion in the future of the ministry, which will in coming months offer fitness programs, leagues, personal training, and a broader age range of sports camps, creating multiple points of contact with families. “There will be something for everyone,” Barnhill notes.
In today’s culture, sports are characteristically viewed by Christians as an activity that is unconnected, even diametrically opposed to, a well-lived Christian life. Barnhill hopes to change that:
“We have seen many families torn between their sports and fitness interests and their time with God and their family. We want to end this pattern. We believe God made sports and fitness for the purpose of glorifying Him. Our goal is to redeem people and families through sports. In doing this, we hope to take back the purity that should surround athletics as well.”
“We hope that through our ministry, we will connect our community to Christ through sports. That is our ultimate goal.”
[Connect:] Send Sam Barnhill a letter of encouragement firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Feature photo: This summer, Grace Church, Powell, Ohio, held three sports camps to elementary age children, garnering over 70 students.)
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.