There are so many great things about being immersed in student sport; the friendships, the banter, the competition. But there can be tricky moments too. In the culture of drinking, sex, and changing room chat, how do we live distinctively and speak about Jesus boldly? 

The answer to sharing Jesus in university sport isn’t simply ‘try harder’; Christian athletes need to remember who they are.

A new identity

Sportspeople are used to pushing themselves to get results, basing their identity on their performance. With all of university’s academic, social, and sporting opportunities, this temptation to derive value from achievements is particularly acute.

Christian athletes need to remember who they are.

But our identity is based in Christ. As Paul writes, “everything I have I count as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Our performance is not what defines us; we’re defined by being made right with God through Jesus’ sacrificial death. Our identity is ultimately found in Christ, not in BUCS table places or a new PB.

This identity completely frees up Christians to play without pressure to perform!

Instead, we work hard on the pitch to glorify God for the gifts He has given us, not to impress the captain. The official’s unpopular decision or an intimidating opponent can be treated with grace and respect as the Christian is unaffected by the pressure. An unexpected defeat won’t be crushing, but instead can be used to point people to an identity which is secure in Jesus.

Acting up

With their identities found in Christ, those trusting in Jesus also don’t have to feel the pressure when it comes to an off-field staple of student sport: socials.

Our performance is not what defines us; we’re defined by being made right with God through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

In the eagerness to make friends and fit in, socials can be tricky to navigate. But events like initiations can actually be a great chance to live distinctively for Christ from the very beginning. Being intentional in not getting drunk or caught up in inappropriate jokes can make people stand up and take note, often leading to great gospel conversations.

Rugby player James noticed this in his first year:

“I’d seen how the boys didn’t respect people who skipped initiations and thought, ‘I want to really be part of this club, but to stand out’. One thing I tried to set a marker with from the very start was talking to the social secretary ahead of events so I didn’t get dragged into things I didn’t want to do. The boys saw then that I really wanted to stick to my guns as a Christian and we’ve had some great chats off the back of it.”

Although it can be hard, attending socials can help Christians show their commitment to being there as a friend, and can also make inviting teammates to Christian events where they can hear more about Jesus much easier.

The power is in His word and thankfully not in ours, no matter how eloquent or how bumbled our answers are.

Speaking out

Spending lots of time with teammates at socials and long trips to matches can allow them to ask harder questions they may have around what it means to follow Jesus. Fielding these graciously can be great opportunities for Christian athletes to speak clearly about the gospel.

Another way that students can boldly speak of Jesus is by hosting evangelistic events, from sports quizzes with a talk to squad dinners with a slot for questions about Christianity. Hockey player Colette was surprised by the team dinner she hosted:

“It was amazing to realise that people had genuinely thought about it. They’d thought about Jesus, about God and the big questions. To see the engagement in the room was so encouraging.”

And hosting events or being proactive with fielding questions doesn’t need to be the end of the conversation; opening God’s word with those who are interested is the best thing to do. The Bible is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). God will always work through His Word to show us His greatness, so opening the Bible with a teammate is the best option every time. The power is in His word and thankfully not in ours, no matter how eloquent or how bumbled our answers are.

It can be tricky to navigate the student sports culture with integrity, but this doesn’t mean that Christians should withdraw and hide. Rather, because of who we are in Christ, we can step out boldly to live and speak distinctively, confident that God will use us to show Christ to a student world of sport desperately in need of Him.