Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com
I think I may have done significant damage to my hip. My back is in knots. My right forearm seems to have some kind of a strain or tear. If I had gone fifteen rounds with my martial arts hero, Chuck Norris, I would probably not be in as bad a shape as I am now.
All because of basketball.
Basketball and the gospel, actually.
For five years at our church, every Thursday night from seven to nine we used to rent out a local gymnasium, open it up to the public, and have what we dubbed the Basketball Outreach. We would open in prayer, then play ball for about an hour, then I would preach for about ten to fifteen minutes, then we would play for another hour. We did this up until eight years ago, when for a variety of reasons it became necessary for us to bring it to a halt.
But I never forgot it and never stopped dreaming of the day we could start it up again.
And then last year we finished our own family life center/gymnasium on the church property, complete with a regulation sized basketball court. This past Thursday as I write this, we started the basketball outreach up once again.
Fifteen young men from various places showed up. Everyone made introductions, we prayed to begin, and then we tipped off. And I, I did what I had promised myself I would not do; I played the first three games.
As I think back over eight years of hiatus, I realize that much has changed. Back then I was a lean 180 pounds and as quick as a cat. But for the past seven years of no basketball (little cardio of any kind, actually) I have been power lifting and am now a solid 205. Back then I was forty, now I am forty-eight. And I have found that, in the past eight years, humanity has all apparently gotten much faster, and gravity has apparently gotten much stronger.
This is to say that, in reality, I am old and very well passed basketball prime. My son, the disrespectful whelp, ran circles around me all night long and laughed about it. He even outscored me. And out rebounded me. And, well, I think you get the point. Jonathan, his 100 percent cowboy buddy from our youth group, also outplayed me.
And to add insult to injury, all of them left walking just as quickly and smoothly as they arrived. I literally hobbled to my vehicle, after hobbling into the office looking for pain reliever. Then I winced my way home with every gear I changed, and hobbled to the Jacuzzi tub to try and soak the pain away.
A lot has changed in eight years.
But what has not changed, except to perhaps grow more pronounced, is the need for churches to do this kind of thing to begin with.
When last we did this, a troubled young man came out week after week, played ball, and listened to the preaching. Many of his friends came with him, and some of them truly began to follow the Lord. But the young man, I still remember him vividly, ended up getting shot and killed in a bar brawl.
I often wonder if we could have done more. But I also rejoice in those we were clearly able to help set on a different path.
The hope the gospel gives ought to be preached in church services, yes. But not only should it be preached in church, it should be preached outside of church as well. Jesus preached from a boat to those on the sea shore, Phillip preached in the desert to a crowd of one, Paul preached to some women by the river, and Stephen preached at his own execution.
Simply put, not all sinners can be reached “in the rut.” Most of the young men in our gymnasium hearing me preach have not yet ever been to one of our church services. While never being sinful and while never becoming like the lost to try and win the lost, it is incumbent on believers to use what tools we have at our disposal to get the gospel to those who need to hear it.
And so we play basketball. When you think of us, pray for this relaunched ministry. And whenever you have an ache or a pain and reach for the Tylenol, think of me and pray for me as well; my life’s verse is now the first part of Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old…”
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org