Brett Davis on the State of Action Sports Ministry
Brett Davis on the State of Action Sports Ministry
What is the state of action sports ministry?
I’m speaking as an insider. In 1972 I decided to become a surfer and for surfing to come, God had to go. In 1977 I decided to become a Christian and for Jesus to come, surfing had to go. These worlds did not coexist in the counter cultural 70’s! Fortunately God was bigger than all of this and once I surrendered to God, then returned my surfing in the form of Christian Surfers, a mission started by a ragged bunch of 18 year old fellows seeking to make sense of their following of Jesus within the surfing culture. 38 years later I’ve just come home from our 11th International Conference in Costa Rica and the future is bright!
Tribalism is on the rise, particularly amongst the youth culture. The action sports lend themselves to this with an emphasis on individualism, adventure, adrenaline and identification all wrapped up in a lifestyle of playing within ones environment. In fact most activists in the action sports cringe at referring to their activity as a ‘sport’ because it is far, far more than that – it is a lifestyle typically built around weather patterns and shared experience and passion and community. Only an outsider would call it a sport.
I love the theme of the book of Acts contained by Jesus words in 1:8, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” God is on the move, never content to settle for any man made limits, not even the 21st century tribes riding wind, waves, mountains or cityscapes. The traditional church has typically been slow to embrace these sports that our youth culture has.
Our God is on the move. From isolated ragged mavericks who are viewed with suspicion by the church (and sometimes by their own sport) there has become legitimate expressions of mission. Who would have imagined the Association of Surfing Professionals would have accepted chaplains on the pro surfing tour? Or that a teenager could choose from multiple skateboard ministry internships for a gap year? Or pop up churches in the snow community would occur each season led by seasonal snowboarding and skiing missionaries. Or that some of the most closed nations on earth can be freely accessed with a surf or snowboard?
So it goes on. Christian Surfers International (CSI) had 25 people at their first international gathering in 1993 and 28 nations at the same gathering in 2014. Snowboarders and Skiers for Christ (SFC) are growing chapters across North America as we speak as well as expanding globally hosting their international conference in Japan! Christian Skaters International is doing skate mission trips to Ethiopia, Mexico and China. Established mission organizations like YWAM offer all kinds of action sports Discipleship Training Schools. Just last month another group was invited by the North Korean government to introduce action sport to their local people! Even those more traditional agencies are coming around to action sports ministry, for example the Bible Society printing surfer and skater evangelistic New Testaments. Even our conservative Southern Baptist International Missions Board has taken off the limits for dedicated surf, snow and skate missionaries to be sent out as legitimate missionaries.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the slow removal of the secular-sacred divide. There used to be a time when Christianity was lived out in ‘sacred’ times, activities and places but not in the secular world. I see a season emerging where people are radically and intentionally living their faith in the midst of their world, even their action sports world whether they belong to an intentional organization or not. The seed of permission, the realization of God given identity, the acknowledgement of the established church; all this has, and is, releasing more Jesus followers to see part of their identity and their calling is their action sport.
But there is still a long way to go! Formal action sport ministries are lagging way behind the rapid expansion of the sport. There is still a perception within churches that you can’t really be ‘on mission’ playing at a sport you love!? Most of our missions are struggling to grow a depth of mature leadership and structure – in fact sometimes the culture kicks against this! Even the secular governing bodies of the action sports are so poorly organized and political we struggle to connect with them. There is often an initial buy-in of faith, but poor discipleship. We have too many messy mavericks in our ranks shooting us in the foot! I could keep on writing as I’m so aware of our struggles.
Am I optimistic about the future? Yes! Action sports are going to be major influences in defining the coming generations of youth culture. God is on the move, and is never behind the times. He is the God who leaves 99 secure sheep to go after the one lost one, you know the one with a tattoo, maybe a shaggy beard, or orange hair, probably carrying a board of some sort and definitely having fun in a semi destructive obsessive way.
Be praying for these action sports ministries and be praying for this culture.
-Brett Davis, Founder of Christian Surfers International