Sports OutreacH Fundamentals
By Dr. Greg Linville
Paul Kobylarz, former NCAA Hockey player & Sports Ministry Missionary to Sweden
Church and Sports have played a significant role in my life...
I grew up in one of the hockey hotbeds of the world, Detroit, Michigan, otherwise known as “Hockeytown”. As a child growing up I played at “The Olympia,” home of Gordie Howe and the iconic Detroit Red Wings, one of the Original 6 NHL teams and one of the true dynasties of the NHL. I began playing hockey at the age of 3 and by the time I was 5, was on the “TCHL All-Star” team traveling to places such as North Bay, Canada to compete. Our 14-year-old Bantam team won the Quebec Bantam tournament, the only American team to have done so, which legitimized us as the best Bantam team in the world. Being named to the All-State High School team led to scholarship offers from many major D-1 programs and eventually a scholarship at the University of Michigan where I was a four year letterman and team captain. I was privileged to be invited to try out for the 1984 Olympic Team (just after the USA won the Miracle On Ice in 1980) …and then to sign with the New Jersey Devils in 1985. My professional career continued in Sweden within the Modo organization, another of the world’s hockey hotbeds which has produced more NHL players per capita than any other town in the world. I have also worked as a talent Scout for the Minnesota North Stars, and the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL.
I share this only to communicate that my identity was grounded in hockey, or at least it was until my performance-based identity crashed when I “failed” at the Olympic try-out and various family challenges led me to burn-out. Ultimately however, I thank God this all led me to a personal faith in Christ in 1982, for which I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to athletes at the University of Michigan who shared Christ’s saving grace with me while attending there. My parents had been diligent in building a church foundation in my life but my faith never became transformational (2 Corinthians 5:17) until I lost my motivation to play hockey my sophomore year after my Olympic tryout. What was the most difficult year for me as a player, turned out to be the most important year of my life because of my new found faith…and identity…thanks to athletes who saw that I was hurting and knew that I needed Christ. Discovering my faith helped me build my identity in Christ as opposed to a fluctuating sports career, and I learned how to compete to first honor God, not a human being. People can trade you, bench you, write good and bad about you in the newspapers and make you a hero today but a scapegoat tomorrow. My faith empowered me to deal with the pressures of sport and to care more of God’s opinion of me than what any person thought about me. I realized that God’s gift to me was my life, and what I did with my life was my gift back to God, out of gratefulness for all He’s done for me. At that point, I began to see hockey as a gift, and what I did with it and through it, became my gift back to God.
God’s plan for me and my hockey continued in 1989 and a hockey mission trip which was used to help 1500 people come to a personal faith in Russia, Sweden and Finland. This was followed by becoming a professional coach to stay in Sweden to work as a School Evangelist in the local high schools and play on the local pro team. Church and Sport did not easily coincide in Sweden during that time. The culture in Sweden was such that churches struggled with sports clubs and athletes competing on Sundays; not to mention the ego, sex scandals, and steroid abuse in sports. Conversely, sports clubs did not understand the resource that the church could be in dealing with bullying, identity issues, injury and the need for ethics and morals in sports. Thus, I spent the next 20 years as a Sports Missionary in Sweden, working to help the church and sports world better understand each other, and work together for the good of the Swedish communities.
During that time, I was hired as Sweden’s first ever Sports Evangelist by a local church, and we saw how God used sports ministry to ignite revival in our community. This local outreach program shaped sports ministry and became a focal point for the birth of church based Sports Missions throughout the country, which 20 years later became a nationally acclaimed Sports Ministry known as Sport for Life. This pioneer work became so valued and appreciated throughout the country, that Swedish Immigrations changed a law allowing missionaries and athletes to reside longer in Sweden based on sports ministry’s demand and purpose. Sport for Life’s stated purpose was to connect people and athletes to Christ and to the local church through … consulting with churches; sports camps; chaplaincy program and building a network among Christian Athletes around Sweden and Europe for the purpose of discipleship and multiplication. Sport for Life was the catalyst for thousands of kids coming to a personal relationship with Christ and are now leaders in their respective communities, reciprocating and implementing biblical principles to others through sports clubs, businesses, schools, etc.
Since moving back to America in 2009, I was hire by two churches to build sports outreach programs, where we have connected, discipled, equipped, and released people/athletes to connect with and serve our communities through sports outreach… including one that ministered to roughly 60,000 people a year.
Through this spiritual journey, I have been privileged to have partnered with several Christian Sports Organizations, all of which God has used to be a blessing to athletes and sports clubs. However, there is only one that I can point to that has been solely focused on empowering the local church. Some ministries have a division that helps churches, but there’s only one that is laser-focused solely on the local church - CSRM.
I believe Dr. Linville is one of the few ministers in the world that understand the dynamic, difficulties, challenges and opportunities of local congregations, and how Sports Ministry plays a unique and vital role between Church and Sport…seeing both the need, and the current state of the Local Church, and the platform that Sports Ministry provides. Dr. Linville is a true pioneer for Sports Recreation and Fitness Outreach Ministry, has become a dear brother in Christ, and is one of my true role models. His love for Christ and his understanding of the Sports Outreach Movement and its needs is rivaled by few people that I know around the world. Dr. Linville’s life and commitment to Christ and His bride (The Church) has been as impactful as it has been God honoring. It is because of this that I am honored to write this foreword. In my 30 years I have seen evidence of the work God called Dr. Greg to are as blessed and fruitful as any I have seen anywhere in the world.
Dr. Linville’s work, and this, his most recent book Sports Outreach Fundamentals, couldn’t come at a better time, because of the challenges that the Church, and Sports Ministry currently face. In the western world, church attendance is at the lowest point in well over a century. In America, 28 million people have left the church this past decade. 72 churches per week (which translates into 3744 per year) permanently close their doors. As hard as it is to believe, the USA has the 3rd largest population of unreached people in the world, and as unbelievable as it may seem, America is now considered an unreached missions field!
Furthermore, the fastest growing religion in America is Islam, and it is estimated that less than 22% of the un-churched have ever been invited to church. In many international locales, the Church is being persecuted to near extinction. Church leaders are desperate for biblical models from which they can envision and implement strategic, relevant and effective connections with those who are in need of the transforming power of the Gospel. Additionally, Sports Ministry is either misunderstood, or not understood at all by many churches around the world. Many Church leaders are not aware of, or are naïve to, or even unwilling to understand or embrace the power of sports ministry and the ability it has to shape culture, transform lives, communities, nations, and used as a catalyst for revival and church planting. Everyday, we see the lack of and the need for greater character in the sports world. We read daily of sex scandals, recruiting violations, steroid abuse, racism, and bullying. What many churches fail to realize is the huge mission field the sports world is and what a strategic platform sports offers us to reach people and win them for Christ. Consider that in America, 40-50 million kids between 5 -18 yrs. participate in organized sport in America, and more people engage in sport yearly than in Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The church needs to be available to connect with and embrace these people whose hearts open through such proclamation, and disciple them. Sport is also a universal language which transcends social, political, and ethnic barriers, unites people and changes culture. While the challenges of church and sports ministry have never been greater, there has never been such a great opportunity and need for collaboration between church and sport as there is today.
It is to this great opportunity that Dr. Linville’s book Sports Outreach Fundamentals speaks as it provides proven principles that can bring a larger perspective and application to sports ministry’s purpose in the Local Church; help mission groups plant churches where there are none; assist struggling and hurting congregations to gain momentum; and encourage strong and healthy congregations to enhance and expand their impact through the powerful tool of sports ministry.
As someone who has played the sport of ice Hockey at a Division One Collegiate, and Professional level, and has served as a sports Minister in local, national, and international theater, I can assure you there has never been a more important time for Sports Ministry Fundamentals. Dr. Linville’s book serves as a beacon of light to a very discouraged ecclesiastical (Church) world. This seminal work provides a blueprint for how The Church can engage a world with the transforming Love of Jesus in and through the world of sport.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that Dr. Linville’s books have become a significant force in shaping the Theological, Philosophical, and Methodological foundations of the entire sports Outreach Movement. His ability to connect theology and Philosophy to Practical Ministry is only surpassed by his ability to create the very language which has become the standard of The Movement. Words like “Christmanship”, organizational principles like “The 3-tier paradigm”, rubrics such as the “Ologies of Sports Outreach” are all now standard terms used throughout the world of Sports Outreach, and they are revolutionizing and empowering the Sports Outreach Movement.
I strongly recommend Sports Outreach Fundamentals as a book to empower church leaders, sports ministers, and sports club leaders to become more indoctrinated as to how Church and Sport can work together for the growth and good of our churches, sports clubs, and communities. My prayer is that this book inspires churches and church leaders around the world to implement these principles and strategies, and to value athletes first for who they are, people created in God’s image and likeness, rather than what they do (performance based/conditional love), and to ignite revival via sports ministry throughout the world!