God over sports, Jesus over hockey - an interview with Pastor Justin Kim
Judy Lee | AUGUST 14, 2019 | 5 MIN READ
Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series about how Christians should view sports.
Sports is a topic that’s about as foreign to me as Ancient Greek. But I have lots of friends who care about it. Sports are a source of local pride and a cultural bridge across continents. Whether seen live in a megastadium for millions or streamed into living rooms, the latest games and scores bring people together. Participating and watching sports brings joy, recreation, and stress-relief to kids and adults, men and women alike.
So how should Christians think about sports? What should be our relationship to them, whether we are participating or watching? Is it okay for Christians to miss church to watch an important playoff game? Should Christians behave differently when they are on the court? What are the heart issues involved?
To kick off this series, I talked to Justin Kim, senior pastor of Bethel English Church and a member of the SOLA Council. Through his love for sports, and more specifically, his love for hockey, he shared his view on the integration of sports and faith.
Judy Lee: How did your love of hockey begin? What drew you to the sport, and keeps you passionate about it?
Justin Kim: I first fell in love with hockey when my youth group teacher invited me and a few others in his Bible study to watch a hockey game. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, we rooted for the Washington Capitals. Today, it’s my favorite sport!
My love for both hockey and for the Washington Capitals grew with the rise of their superstar player, Alexander Ovechkin. He's led the Caps to become an elite team and in 2018, the Washington Capitals won the Lord Stanley Cup finals for the first time in their franchise history. It was so thrilling to see my favorite player and my favorite team win it all!
JL: Did you ever find sports to be an idol to you personally? What do you think is the line between a healthy love of sports and an obsession/idol?
JK: I think a lot of people would acknowledge that at one time or another, sports was an idol. These days, I am absolutely passionate about my hockey team. But I know that it's an idol when I'm thinking about hockey most of the day. Even on a mission trip to Japan, I was constantly thinking about hockey and how my favorite team was playing.
I think a lot of people can relate who are passionate about their favorite teams. It’s okay to be passionate. But our love for Jesus must always be preeminent and supersede any other love for anything else, including sports.
I remember seeing guys get so angry on the basketball court. But winning can be an unhealthy obsession because winning isn't the most important thing. You can win a game but lose your witness for Christ. Playing with passion and playing with the right attitude helps us to play sports in a God-honoring way. One can play sports for God's glory. One can be thankful to the Lord for the ability to exercise and to celebrate their physical health. Sports are a gift from the Lord but not when it replaces Jesus as the center of one's life.
JL: How do you think sports can be used as a ministry/fellowship to serve God and the community of His church?
JK: Sports can be a powerful tool to reach people both in and outside the church. It's challenging to connect with others over politics or religion. But sports is a safe way for people to connect and have fun together. Whether it's rooting for the same team or playing sports together, it's a wonderful way for a group of people to bond.
More recently at my current church, a group of young adults met together to have dinner and go watch the LA Dodgers play. From what I heard, it was a blast, and watching the game together helped them connect. I’m willing to do anything to reach the unchurched and dechurched. If we can use sports to do so, why not? The reality is that many people love sports. I think the church should take advantage of it and redeem sports to reach more for Christ.
JL: Do your kids like hockey? If so, is it difficult to teach them the same balance of participating in sports without letting it become everything?
JK: My kids are still young and they are slowly learning about the sport. They know that their daddy loves hockey. My three-year-old lost his front two teeth, so he looks like a hockey player already. My other son loves rock climbing, and my daughter is into softball.
I’m trying to teach them to do their best in sports and to play with humility and passion. I remind them of 1 Corinthians 10:31: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I want them to go out and do their best, and play for God's glory. I want them to have fun.
But I also remind them that sports aren’t everything. God is everything. My wife and I apply this by not allowing our kids to miss Sunday worship no matter what. If they have a game that conflicts with Sunday worship, they can't play. It's just a conviction that we have as a family that God comes first. We believe that the corporate gathering of God's people to worship Jesus is more important than any sporting event. We want to teach our children this conviction and principle early, while they’re still young. God over sports. God over everything and anything. Worship of Christ always comes first in our family.
My wife and I also try to help our children find a balance of participating in sports without letting it become everything by reaffirming their identity in Christ. We encourage them to find their identity, their worth, and their security not in their abilities or in their achievements in life. We encourage them to find their ultimate identity in Christ. So win or lose, it doesn’t matter. They are already winners because of Jesus and who He says they are in Him.
JL: How, if at all, do you see sports as a "gift" from God? How do you think Christians can apply this?
JK: I believe sports can be viewed as a gift from God. Through sports, one can learn and grow a lot in many ways. From learning about friendship, teamwork, sacrifice, and hard work, God can use sports to sanctify His people. Even the grief of losing can teach us about humility and idolatry. I think about "Tebow Mania" and "Linsanity" where Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, both notable believers, use their platforms to exalt Christ. Sports can also be a lot of fun! It helps us take care of our physical bodies that God has given to us.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." This verse hangs above our door so we see and read it every time we head out of the house. It reminds us to view and play sports in such a way that God gets the attention and the glory. We play sports in a way that draws attention to God's greatness instead of our own.
Sports are used repeatedly in the New Testament as a metaphor for perseverance in our faith: running the race for “the prize” and exercising “self-control” (1 Corinthians 9:24); competing “according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5); and pressing on towards “the goal” (Philippians 3:14).
All these metaphors strive towards the same end - “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). We seek this goal, not an Olympic wreath or trophy.
Earthly crowns can glorify God if we humble ourselves and point our successes back to Him. But in those moments of personal victory, it can be so easy to forget who allowed us that victory. That’s why even in something as seemingly “worldly” and “unspiritual” as sports, we need to remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors in every field (see what I did there?).
What does that look like practically? It all depends on our own sports practices. We know where our own temptations and hindrances lie. We must remind ourselves of the Gospel commission to strive for a greater goal when we send our kids to league games or root for our Super Bowl team. We must think about how we behave on the basketball court or cheering on the sidelines. In playing, in watching, and in supporting, we are striving for a greater goal.
How we go about sports matters because we are the ones representing Christ through them. Remembering that identity first will help us to show more grace, more patience, and more humility in the midst of thrilling competition.
Judy Lee is a English Writing major at Biola University. She serves for the Youth Ministry at New Life Presbyterian Church of Orange County, and is a lover of all things Shane & Shane, iced coffee, Asian food, and the color peach. She is currently working on her first novel. Her fashion blogs and writing can be found on her Instagram and website, The Urban Royal.