More than twenty years ago, one of the spiritual sages in our community, Rev. Charles Munson, was putting the shovel in the ground as Park Street Brethren Church was having their groundbreaking ceremony to build a family life center that would house their new gymnasium. As I enjoyed Charlies’s humor-filled vision-casting speech, it was at that moment that God birthed in me the vision to pursue the development of a sports ministry.
As I watched more and more athletes become skilled at their sport(s)-of-choice, I began watching sports become their god-of-choice. Homes and churches were becoming vacated as families traveled on weekends to sports clinics and weekend tournaments and countless travel leagues. Instead of getting mad about this like I used to, God called me to take His gospel message to where people were playing their sports. Take the church to their turf.
Many times when God calls us to do something for Him, we are not ready to do it. He must develop changes in and around us for the timing to be right. After moving back to the Ashland community in 2006, I gathered some of my soccer-loving spiritual friends and began sharing the vision to develop Spirit-Driven Soccer. My boss told me that if you call it “Spirit-Driven Soccer” then no one will come.
What unfolded over the next 8 years was a continuous flow of soccer lovers who came to play their sport-of-choice with family, friends and teammates. We began offering Home Field Advantage groups to help people grow spiritually. We invested in missional causes to change lives around the world as the gospel was shared and practical, urgent needs were met. We offered sports minister’s training groups. And we watched the Holy Spirit bless this ministry. Many broken lives were healed. People who were initially resistant to God as we shared halftime “Soccer Talks” eventually came to Christ.
God surrounded this ministry with people who prayed and began forming relationships for kingdom purposes. We formed an oversight board and obtained our 501(c)3 status as a non-profit ministry. Teams multiplied, and now we stand at a turning point in this ministry where we are asking the Lord, “What’s next?”
Our passions were given to us by God to determine where we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We are usually surrounded by people who love to play and do the same things that we love to do. As many churches have declined, it seems that the best way to form relationships and share Christ is through our commonly shared sports and passions. As this ministry unfolds, I envision passion-based ministries developing as people take seriously God’s call on their lives to make disciples of our people groups. And because of God’s Spirit driving and directing this ministry, people will get energized as they serve through their passions, and people will come to Christ while enjoying what they love to do.
Spirit-Driven Soccer was birthed in 2007 when a group of 30 young people began playing futsal in the Conard Indoor Rec facility at Ashland University. We discovered during this winter pilot project that people love to play the game of soccer whenever given the opportunity. We also discovered that most young people needed some help learning to have faith-based conversations with their peers.
When the AU Rec Center was built, we were offered space to play indoor soccer if we could bring 6 teams. God provided 6 Christian coaches who formed teams with the intent of building God’s Kingdom through sports ministry. In fact, we were given the freedom to start our own league, make our own rules, freely share the gospel, and the rest is history.
Each year we have added new players and new teams. Our ministry has doubled in size. Last season we had 12 teams in our league. Most of the older players retired. Many of the younger players graduated from high school and went off to college. This co-ed league has brought friends and neighbors and teammates together to have a blast playing competitive soccer in the off season. Some of our younger players have waited 7 years to play in our league, and they’re finally in high school. We’ve had newcomers to the game, family members and relative playing with and against one another. We’ve also had extremely skilled high school and collegiate athletes who have played soccer all their lives. When parents moved from cheerleaders and critics to getting into the game, they’ve developed a whole new appreciation for their children and the intensity and skill required to play this amazing game.
Though the vision remains the same, we has transitioned from an inter-generational soccer ministry to a high-impact relational ministry where tools and groups are being developed to restore people.
Many people in our community have been referring to our ministry as “Spirit-Driven.” While many of our relationships were built through sports, so many more of our relationships have been built through other avenues. God’s Spirit is at work above, in, and through us. So we’re being sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit as He engages people’s hearts in ministries throughout the world.
We are ready to start into a new season of on-going conversations.