This next season it is estimated that some 30-45 million Americans will participate in a fantasy football league of some sort or another. Leagues are formed all over the country through work places, neighborhoods, and family gatherings to give sporting fans a competitive means to be involved in the sport itself. To the world, fantasy football has become a billion dollar idol in which many find identity, purpose, and mission.
While some Christians may ignore this opportunity for community or reject fantasy sports altogether, fantasy football should not be dismissed as a pointless activity. With a mind and heart for the gospel, we can use the tool of fantasy sports as a missional activity for the sake of sharing the gospel with unbelievers. Here are a few ways we might go about that:
1. Participate in a league with unbelievers.
Often our tendency in thinking about activities such as fantasy sports is to compartmentalize who we participate with. How many churches have formed their own softball leagues (or play in church softball leagues) when the cities they inhabit already have leagues? Instead of being missionaries into those leagues, we build a Christianized version of the same thing and insulate ourselves from the lives of unbelievers.
Fantasy football is another opportunity for us to think about gospel-intentionality. Form up a league at your office or workplace where you can spend time with your coworkers (off the clock of course) building relationships and developing a deeper understanding of their lives.
2. Be present at the draft and other activities that involve your league.
Don’t be the guy who allows the computer to draft the team. Show up at the draft party and spend time beyond picking a team to really get to know the members of your league. If you are new to these people find out a little bit more about them such as their vocation, family status, where they live, and other important relational information. Do everything you can to be friendly and interested in their lives. Show up early for the party and stay late.
One of the ways that Christians demonstrate the goodness of the gospel is by being present in the lives of unbelievers. We show them the God who “dwells with us” (John 1:14) by being with them in the ordinary activities of their lives. Offer to meet with the other league members on Sunday afternoons or for Monday Night Football to watch the game and share life with the other members of your league. Find ways to get to know them better so you can naturally share the gospel with them.
3. Host the draft party or game party yourself.
One of the clear marks of the gospel’s impact in the life of a believer is the demonstration of hospitality (Hebrews 13:2). Instead of having the draft at a local restaurant or sports bar, invite the members of your league over and throw the party at your home. Provide plenty of food, drinks, and comfortable places for the members of your league to enjoy one another and the process of drafting a team.
As a way of showing the gospel, don’t go cheap on the food and drinks, either. Provide the best. Invite your community group to throw an amazing draft party for the members of your league, and involve your Christian community with the overall activity of the league itself. These acts of kindness will only further adorn the gospel of grace (2 Peter 2:12). Additionally, invite members of the league over to your home to watch the games and participate in the weekly rhythms of the football season.
The more hospitality and generosity we show toward unbelievers the more we receive opportunities to share the hope that we have in Jesus. As you establish these rhythms and patterns, invite league participants into your regular community group to see Christian community lived out.
4. Don’t cheat or be dishonest with league members.
Nothing hinders the display of the gospel more than someone who isn’t trustworthy and honest. Proverbs 12:26 tells us that “one who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Jesus himself is “full of grace and truth.”
One of the temptations in fantasy sports is to manipulate and/or cheat fellow owners through transactions and trade offers that are one-sided and sneaky. Like anything remotely competitive, the desire to win is a strong impulse, but this impulse does not give us permission to be dishonest or underhanded with fellow league members.
Make trades that are fair to both sides. Don’t withhold information (such as player injuries) that would get you ahead in a trade or transaction but would leave your fellow league members in worse shape. Use every opportunity to be honest, fair and respectable towards the members of your league. This includes being an active participant the entire season, even if you haven’t won a game and have no hope of making the playoffs. An active, honest, fair, competitive league member will be one that gains respect among the league and opens doors for the gospel to be shared (Titus 2:10).
5. Pray for the members of your league.
While fantasy football in and of itself is enjoyable, it is not an ultimate thing. Winning the league championship or making a deep run in the playoffs certainly makes it more fun, but our goal isn’t to ultimately be kings of the fantasy sports world. Our goal is to build relationships in which we can live with gospel-intentionality.
Furthermore, the reception and transformation that the gospel brings is something we cannot do through physical means. Gospel transformed lives are the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life. To this end, we should pray for the unbelievers we are in relationship with. Paul urged Timothy to pray for people so that the gospel would advance (2 Timothy 2:1-3).
I know it is not the most natural thing in the world to pray for our opponents in fantasy sports, but if we look at fantasy football as the entry point in which we gain access to the lives of unbelievers for the sake of the gospel, we can see that it would be foolish not to pray for them.
6. Clearly, boldly talk about the gospel with the members of your league.
I’m not talking about some sort of cheesy or unnatural talk that sounds like, “My QB scored a touchdown and saved my season, but he’s nothing compared to Jesus who died and saved my life.” I’m talking about moving beyond the sport and talking with your league members about what really matters.
Take a member out to lunch or invite them over to dinner. Spend some serious time with them and lay out your life before them. Let them know that you gather with others on Sunday mornings to worship Jesus and then hang out with friends (like them) to share life and the gospel of Jesus. Invest in their lives beyond fantasy sports and look for ways to meet needs, share life, and live the gospel before them as well as clearly speaking the gospel to them.
If we focus on being intentional with the gospel, we can use leisurely and fun things like fantasy football – which the world idolizes – to be missional tools for us in building relationships for advancing the gospel. My hope is this season that fantasy football won’t be a consuming time idol of sports but a means by which Jesus is introduced into the lives of many who don’t know him.
Jeremy Writebol is a Christian who has played fantasy football for almost 20 years. He is the husband of Stephanie, daddy of Allison and Ethan, and lives and works in Wichita, KS as the Community Pastor at Journey the Way. He is the director of Porterbrook Kansas and writes at jwritebol.net.
For more resources on how to share the gospel authentically, check out Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson.
For more free articles on making the gospel part of your everyday life, read: The Neighborhood Missions Startup by Seth McBee, Messy Discipleship by Jake Chambers, and Plant the Gospel, Plant Churches by Tony Merida.