Putting the Church Back in the Game by Dr. Greg Linville
Foreward by Andre Thorton
I trusted Jesus Christ as my savior at seventeen years of age in an era when it was uncommon to see or hear Christian athletes share their testimonies or speak about their faith in a church ministry setting. Over the course of my twenty-year career as a professional baseball player, I had the opportunity to speak in hundreds of churches and attend many sport-related, para-ministry events. One in particular afforded me the privilege to serve as the chaplain at the CSRM International Sports Outreach Summit where I first met Dr. Greg Linville. During our time together there and in various subsequent conversations over the years, I have felt his passion for helping churches understand and develop methods for using sports as a tool for missions.
Early in my Christian faith journey, a friend and mentor, the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee, said these words to me, “André, the Lord has given you the opportunity to speak all over the world, and the truth of the word of God will always give you something to say.” He went on to say, “Stay connected to the “True Vine” and grow in grace and in the knowledge of the word of God.”
As I now reflect on entering my seventh decade of living and trusting Christ as my savior in over fifty of those years, I have experienced many of the challenges Dr. Linville brings to light in this book. Looking back on my life as: a professional athlete; an elder in a large evangelical church; a businessman; serving on boards; financially supporting para-ministry sports outreach ministries; and as a speaker at many Christian churches and groups... I believe this book will be a blessing to both local congregations and also to sports-related, para-ministries. I found this text engaging in two distinct ways.
First, it shed light on the past failures of some of these ministry efforts. Our society has marginalized the Christian message and many are rejecting the relevance of religion in their fast-paced lives. In the last thirty years we have seen the highs and lows of sports personalities being used in Sports Outreach Ministries. We witness large crowds attracted to hear sports personalities share a verbal testimony about their faith but sadly, all too often, their lives do not glorify Christ. It is also apparent that our churches have not adequately equipped their congregations for Sports Outreach Ministry nor do they understand the mission field that sports in America and around the world is today.
Furthermore, over the years I have had the opportunity to speak with many athletes who professed faith in Christ. It was apparent that a number of them were not connected to a local church, not studying the scriptures nor growing in their faith. In many cases, by default, para-ministries tried to fill the gap of offering some discipleship training. This hit and miss growth pattern has left many of these athletes ill-equipped to adequately be effective ambassadors for Christ. The fact that many of the above mentioned athletes or sports personalities are not fully prepared leads me to the next point.
Secondly, Dr. Linville stresses the importance of those involved in local church Sports, Recreation and Fitness Outreach Ministry to be grounded in the truth of the Gospel through local church participation. I can’t begin to express my thanks to my friends and mentors who gave me great advice from the beginning of my faith journey, to always be engaged in local church worship, even when I was out of town and unable to worship in my home congregation. The benefits are: I am worshipping God; I am glorifying God with other believers; I am being equipped through the scriptures; I am being held accountable to walk worthy in my Christian living; and because Christ is set apart in my heart, I am always ready to “give an answer to anyone for the hope that is within me.” (1 Peter 3.15) This mindset has helped me encourage other athletes and participants in Sports Outreach Ministry who might find it awkward if church participation is new to them.
I have spoken with a number of church leaders who have asked how they can get athletes to come to their church to attract more people. This book challenges church leadership as to their purpose of how Sports Outreach Ministry can be used reach not only the youth of their communities but also to all generations.
It also challenges church leadership on staffing and methodology of incorporating sports, recreation and fitness into their church ministry and missions outreach. We would not send missionaries to the mission field ill- equipped for the country, the culture, the language and the knowledge of how to be an effective witness for Christ.
Church leaders must know this is the ministry area to which God has called them. This book gives them a blueprint on how to prepare and equip those called to the mission field of sports, recreation and fitness ministry outreach. We can take courage in the words of Christ to his disciples: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ... Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
The scriptures reveal to us the gospel and as Dr. McGee reminded me years ago, the “good news of the gospel”, will always give THE CHURCH something to say to the world!
— André Thornton Former Cleveland Indian & Chicago Cub All Star First Baseman, Church Elder President & CEO of ASW Global
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