Former professional footballer, BBC Sport pundit and now church pastor; Gavin Peacock continues his brand new Cross The Line column with a corker! Gavin reflects on how he represented Christ in the dressing room and offers some practical advice as to how we can represent God in our sporting teams, today.
A football dressing room can be a dangerous place. I remember when I wore a new pair of shoes into Chelsea one day. I came off the training field only to find my stylish loafers filled with biscuits and orange juice! Dennis Wise had struck again! Anything new or different is fair game in the dressing room.
Being a Christian is different and new for your team mates. And there is a kind of banter that you face for your faith, some of which can be harsh. When I was saved at 18 I was quite open about the fact with my fellow QPR players. And it wasn’t long before the whole club knew I was a Christian and of course, I received the usual mickey taking.
People hear things like this and often ask me, “So is it hard being a Christian and a footballer?”. And my answer is always, “It’s hard being a Christian in any walk of life.” But there are unique pressures as a professional player. You are under scrutiny from the watching world and your teammates, and the football culture can be cutthroat and tough.
So, you must be able to handle the dressing room if you are going to make it on the field. Many good players came to Chelsea, but because they were unable to handle the dressing room banter and criticism they failed to produce the goods on a Saturday.
But for all Christian sportsmen and women the dressing room, whilst not without challenges, is a gospel opportunity. How should we handle the dressing room? Here are 7 brief things to remember:
- Remember to fear God more than your teammates (Matt. 10:28). God is in control and he must be bigger than people in our vision. Then we will act according to God’s Word and not in fear of a team mate’s reaction when we tell them we are followers of Jesus. Cultivate this reverence and love for God through regular times in the Word and prayer. This, along with being part of a healthy church, is your base for Christian fitness and usefulness.
- Remember to pray for your team mates (Col. 4:2-4). Realise that God is sovereign and only he can save anyone. Also, he opens doors for the gospel. Ask him to give you love for your fellow team mates created in the image of God. Ask him to provide those opportunities and that you would speak clearly.
- Remember to give an answer for the hope that is in you (I Peter 3:15). Not every conversation will be the one where you share the gospel. But every conversation has meaning and can be preparation for that day. So be ready. Whether it is issues of sexual purity or issues of stewarding money, you can show how being a Christian and having your identity in Christ impacts all of your life – your goals and your decision making.
- Remember what evangelism is and is not (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Telling your teammates you are a Christian is good, but it’s not evangelism. You have evangelised someone when you have told them the gospel. The gospel is the good news of what God has done to save sinners through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Unpack this in terms that your teammates can understand but don’t water it down or you will lose the gospel. Remember Jesus saves. Our job is simply to present the gospel.
- Remember to watch your life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). Practice what you preach. It will speak volumes to your teammates and may gain you a hearing. You are together with your fellow players for a common cause. You speak the same language as it were and you have access to them in ways others don’t. It’s a unique mission field.
- Remember the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:23). Being a Christian means taking up your cross and denying yourself. It means sacrificing and being ready to suffer for the name of Christ; even suffering an unkind response from your teammates to your witness, in the hope that some may be saved.
- Remember the goal and the reward (Hebrews 12:2). Keep eternity in view. Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him. As the British cricketer turned missionary, C. T. Studd, once said “One life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last”. The reward is great. Remember God’s promise, “Those who honor me I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30).
So be encouraged. God has his designs for the dressing room. You may never know the fruits of your labours in this life, but one day you will.