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Learning from the Olympics

How the qualities on show in the Games relate to our church life. By Bill Eugster 

Rio Olympics 

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.                      
1 Corinthians 9.24-27

 
“The Greatest Show on Earth”, the Rio Olympics, has, as always, given us some fantastic insights into what human beings are capable of. And they symbolise some of the tasks facing Crossing Places, a small but significant rural missional initiative in beautiful Glendale. This is an area which is struggling economically, socially and spiritually, but has a strong sense of community in which relationships matter greatly.
 

  • Humanity: Two athletes helped each other having fallen in the women’s 5000m race. The US runner Abbey D'Agostino encouraged New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin as she lay dazed on the track after the two entangled and fell "Get up," she told her. "We have to finish this." Then Hamblin herself hung back to encourage the American, who if anything probably needed more help. D'Agostino eventually hobbled over the line in last place. Our monthly Café Church contains people who have fallen in life’s race and they are well placed to help others struggling to find faith. We call the gospel “Good News” because we believe it will make lives (and the world) better.  So we talk about it, as people who have fallen, to people who have fallen. This is how the seed of the gospel is sown.

 

  • Discipleship: All of the athletes have spent four years training for this opportunity to be best in the world at their sport. They know that the training, repetitive and exhausting as it may have been, will better their chances when the real rest comes. Our weekly small group is about understanding and rehearsing/training for the test of our everyday lives.  Because we know people are watching us and longing for someone to show a real and different way. This is how we grow together to form a community of missional disciples.

 

  • Community: There’s an ambivalence to the games. Everyone and every team compete to be better than all the rest, but there is also a “fellowship” in sports which, for example can lead to campaigning against drug cheats or for better funding. Our work, both as individuals and as a group, in serving the community around us, whether in providing a low-cost gardening scheme, playing games with dementia sufferers, volunteering in local schools, driving for the RVS, working in complementary therapy, cleaning or serving in a shop, etc. has the aim of making people’s lives better. This is because we have begun to learn the power of what Jesus said about him bringing “life in all its fullness” – which can carry the meaning of “becoming fully human as God intends us to be”. And we are called to be ministers of this gospel. This is how we serve the Kingdom of God in the streets around us.


So, please pray for us as we seek to fulfil our three aims of sowing the gospel (humanity), forming community (discipleship) and serving the Kingdom of God (in the local community).


Picture: Fernando Soutello/Rio 2016 Olympics


Bill Eugster is the Community Minister in Glendale, Northumberland, with Glendale Crossing Places Trust. This is a rural missional initiative, set up in 2010 and is supported by Home Mission.

 

This reflection originally appeared as part of the Northern Baptist Association's prayer relay, which involves each of the Association's churches taking a week 'with the baton' and hosting prayer and mission during that week, and is republished with permission.

Baptist Times, 01/09/2016
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