The student-athlete has two full-time jobs — that of a student and that of an athlete. With the burden of these jobs, it is a struggle to find balance between training/practicing, studying and maintaining a social life.
As I look back on my first March as a college basketball player, I remember spending more time on the road than in the classroom. When we did make it to campus, it was to take any tests we needed to make up, attend whatever classes we had time for, do a little laundry and then head back out on the road.
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On one occasion, I got off the bus with my teammates and headed straight to class. Halfway through the class the thought (or rather smell) struck me that it had been two whole days since I had showered because, yes, things were that busy. When you’re committed to such a pressing schedule, it’s easy for other important things to fall by the wayside, such as your spiritual life. When you’re dog-tired from studying, traveling and competing, it’s easy to choose sleep instead of church or picking up your Bible. For the Christian, however, neglecting your spiritual life can prove more detrimental than neglecting your sport or studies.
The story of Samson illustrates the danger of failing to seek the Lord. In the Book of Judges chapters 13-16 we learn that Samson was a man of supernatural strength.
During his lifetime, Samson defeated entire armies all by himself and delivered Israel from the grip of the menacing Philistines time and again. However, we never read of Samson seeking the Lord. He neglected to seek God for direction as to what to do with his great strength. This led to Samson’s making several mistakes that ultimately cost him his life. Sometimes we can get so caught up with using our gifts as a student-athlete that we never seek God about how He wants us to use our gifts for His glory.
When we neglect to seek the Lord, our gifts can become the very things that destroy us. It is necessary for student-athletes to intentionally build space in their lives for regularly worshipping and seeking the Lord. An effective way to do this is by plugging into a solid local church. More than just providing music and a sermon on Sunday, a good local church can act as a spiritual clinic, helping you to prioritize your spiritual health. And yet, finding a good local church can be challenging. Where should you begin? What are some of the things you should look for?
A good fit
First, begin by asking around. Although the number of people who claim any religious affiliation is decreasing in the world, there are still enough people everywhere who attend church regularly or semi-regularly that you can ask for recommendations.
Make a list of churches others on your campus or in your circles are attending and give them a try. Take your time. Don’t rush into joining the first church you visit. While it is necessary for you to find a good church to be a part of, don’t feel pressured to join the first one you come across. Take a few Sundays to explore several options.
So you’ve visited several churches and you think you’ve found one that is a good fit. What next? Well, it’s time to dig a little deeper into what that church is about. Consider these aspects of the church:
View of the Bible
There are a lot of different kinds of churches out there. Some are very traditional and formal while others are pretty laid back and casual. Some have very upbeat and contemporary music and sermons, while others are more subdued with hymnals and quieter preaching. Both styles of church are perfectly fine and completely up to your preference. What is important and not a matter of preference is the church’s view of the Bible.
As you listen to the preaching and teaching on successive Sundays, ask yourself, “Is the teaching coming from what is explicitly taught in the Bible, or is it mostly from the opinions or worldview of the pastor or preacher?” The Bible is an ancient book, yet it contains timeless truth. The skillful teacher/preacher will explain the timeless truths within the ancient text and help you see how it is applicable to your life.
Be wary of any church that assumes that the Bible does not matter for how you live, or that certain parts are to be rejected. A great resource is the church's website. Websites often provide detailed information about the church’s doctrinal beliefs, giving you a good understanding of how they view the Bible and what it teaches about God and life.
Accessibility to you
As a student-athlete who has likely found it difficult enough to get to church regularly, you want to make sure that your chosen church presents as few hurdles to attendance as possible. Choose a church that is accessible to you based on your ability to get there within reason. By reason, I mean, if you don’t have a car, is it within walking distance or within distance of public transportation? Do you know someone who attends that church with whom you could consistently get a ride? If you have a vehicle, is it realistic for you to get there regularly considering gas, distance and the state of your vehicle?
Guidance through prayer
Once you’ve gone through this checklist and you feel like you have some good churches to choose from, pray. Actually, pray throughout the entire process. Pray that the Lord would lead you to some good churches and that He would give you an undeniable peace about the one that He desires you to be a part of.
Commitment and service
Although you have freedom to search for a church that suits you well, the church is not a place designed to meet your every need and desire. The local church is not an all-inclusive resort or party (though some may feel like it). Your relationship with your new church will be a two-way relationship. While the church exists to challenge and strengthen you spiritually, you exist to lend your gifts and talents in order to make this challenging and strengthening a mutual thing. Also, keep in mind that the church is not perfect. If it were, neither you nor I would be allowed. Be prepared to extend grace and forgiveness when you inevitably experience others’ flaws.