Solas has a growing relationship with Sports Chaplaincy Ireland through Philip Mitchell, one of its leaders. Solas had been talking to Philip about how we can help and support Sports Chaplains in the evangelistic component of their role within sports clubs for some time during lockdown – which led to our participation in their National Conference, which was the first time they had all met together since Covid.
I ran two 75 minute sessions in which I explored how we communicate Christ in today’s sports environment. We looked a little at the changing context for evangelism in Northern Ireland where Christianity is moving towards the margins in what is increasingly becoming a post-Christian culture. In that context people’s objections to Christian faith are moving from the older accusation that it is “irrational” and “irrelevant”, towards the new charge that it is “immoral” or even “harmful”.
We looked together at how chaplains might effectively begin to communicate in this context through the relationships we have – specifically in terms of conversational evangelism. I explored some of the dynamics of 1 Peter 3 which was written to Christians who were marginalised. Peter’s teaching there includes not being afraid, setting apart Christ as Lord in our own hearts and being convinced in our own minds that Christianity is true and beautiful, and not separating our evangelism from our own personal discipleship. We then considered the practical challenges of being prepared to engage with people’s questions. Then finally we looked at the tone and character of our evangelism, making sure we do it with gentleness and respect. Part of what that means today is not taking offence at people’s genuine questions or not short-circuiting their real concerns and difficult experiences when it comes to faith.
Even though some social distancing measures were still in place which limited some of the conversations which were able to take place, it was a very encouraging event. There were about 75 sports chaplains present over the two sessions who were really positive about the event.
I was encouraged with the levels of engagement from the chaplains, and I believe they left with a sense of being equipped because many of them felt that there has been something of an evangelistic gap in their chaplain’s role. It is a difficult thing for people to navigate and they want to do it carefully and sensitively – they are there at the invitation of the club and they don’t want to compromise or lose the position that they have. Nevertheless they want to take seriously the command to share the gospel and the practical dynamics involved as well.
Sports Chaplaincy is a great organisation who I love serving alongside, they have some inspiring people doing some great work and I look forward to having the opportunity to see them again.