The Saints Prison Ministry uses athletics as a means to gain the attention and respect of inmates in order to share the Gospel. At each game, one player shares his testimony and another player gives the Gospel message. Those present are given response cards to fill out with the options of…

  • Today I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.
  • I am not ready to make a commitment but would like more information about becoming a Christian.
  • I am already saved.

A space is also provided for prayer requests. These cards are collected and a follow-up packet is mailed to every person who completes a card. While the packets contain different information based on the response given, all of the packets contain the first lesson in our Bible Correspondence School. In addition, each inmate’s name is entered into our data base so that we may send him a hand-signed birthday card.

We currently field three softball teams, one basketball team, and both indoor and outdoor soccer teams. The Saints also conducts multiple crusades each year that are open to new players.

A Matter of Priorities

by Dale M. Johnston, Executive Director

In our last issue, I devoted my column to our need to attract more Christian athletes for our sports ministry teams. Each year, we turn down dozens of invitations from prisons around the country for one reason – lack of manpower. More missionary athletes would mean more athletic teams, and more teams would mean more prisoners being exposed to the gospel.

Because our ministry is so dependent on recruiting new players, what I am about to say may seem a bit contradictory, at least on the surface. But I’m going to say it anyway, and trust that I won’t step on too many toes in the process.

Beware of youth sports! There, I said it. Sounds strange, doesn’t it, coming from a man who makes his living as the director of an athletic prison ministry? Yes, a man who loves playing all kinds of sports himself, and who has enjoyed coaching his sons’ and daughter’s teams for many years.

But in those many years of coaching – from tee ball through American Legion – I have noticed the “good, the bad and the ugly” of youth sports. In my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad, which is why I continue to encourage my kids to participate and why I continue to coach whenever my schedule permits.

There is no substitute for the positive lessons to be learned from youth sports – teamwork, sportsmanship and a solid work ethic. Learning to win with humility and to lose with grace are character traits that will serve children well throughout their lives.

However, there is also a “dark side” to youth sports and I am not just talking about out-of-control parents or coaches obsessed with winning at any cost. Rather, I am talking about the pre-eminence youth sports have taken in our homes.

In their proper place, youth sports help parents raise well-rounded kids. But when youth sports take priority over family time and church attendance, that’s when I start to blow the whistle.

As director of the Saints, I am privileged to speak in churches throughout the MidAtlantic States. Far too often, I see vacant pews that should be filled with entire families worshipping together. Instead, half the family is at Johnny’s soccer game while the other half is driving Suzie to cheerleading practice.

Scripture clearly teaches that we are not to forsake the assembling together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). And before I get accused of being a legalist – yes, there are valid excuses for not being in church on Sunday morning, illness and family emergencies among them. But does a baseball game – even a championship one – really meet that criteria?

I have a dear friend with whom I have discussed this issue many times. During one such conversation he said, “Dale, you’re right. I’m raising a good athlete but a mediocre Christian.”

No matter what our aspirations are, the harsh reality is that very few of our children will go on to play high school sports let alone compete at the college level. And even the most talented of our kids has a better chance of being struck by lightning than of earning a living playing professional sports.

Conversely, our goal as parents should be for ALL of our kids to grow up to be “professional” Christians. Not necessarily to serve in full-time ministry, but rather for them to put God first throughout their adolescent and adult lives.

So, rather than throw the youth sports “baby” out with the bathwater, I think it is wise to re-evaluate the priority we are placing on them. Because, for better or worse, our children will adopt that same value system and will raise their kids in a similar fashion.

Please believe me – I’m not just trying to fill those church pews for my next speaking engagement. Rather, my heart breaks for a generation of young kids who are being subconsciously taught by their well-meaning parents that sports are more important than church attendance.

Like so many things, youth sports are great in moderation and in their proper place. May God give each of us the wisdom to know where that place is and the courage to act accordingly.

Dale Johnston
Executive Director
djohnston @ saintsprisonministry.org

The Saints Prison Ministry, Inc.
1863 Junior Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30329
Phone: (404) 636-6827 – Fax: (678) 898-9234

Third Reformed Presbyterian Church www.third-reformed.org
Calvary Bible Church www.mycalvary.com