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Football: goal is helping players live out their faith

Christians in Sport work supporting professional and elite-level footballers in the UK has been growing considerably in recent years.

Bible studies, contract renewals and career-threatening injuries can all be part of this varied but rewarding work. Here, two members of  the CiS Performance Team explain how they are encouraging the next generation of UK footballers.

RUSSELL BOWERS

Russell played for Lisburn Distillery, Dundela and East Belfast before moving into coaching aged 30 and gaining his UEFA A Licence. He is back coaching at Dundela for a second time, having also coached Glentoran’s under 18 development team and Knockbreda’s first team.

How would you sum up your role?
My role is to provide ongoing support and training for Christians who are involved in elite football throughout Northern Ireland, equipping and encouraging them to live out their faith through the sport. I also seek to come alongside those who have never thought about faith, to explore the Bible and what Jesus says.

What have been some recent encouragements?
These would involve two particular players. One is not yet a Christian, but we meet up regularly to read the Bible and seek to understand what God is saying to us both. The other is someone who has grown in faith and matured and is actively using his sport as both worship and witness.

What have been some recent challenges?
One challenge is to always remember that this is God’s work. He is the Lord of the harvest and it’s God’s timescale and not mine. Another is to work in partnership with Him, while seeking to invest fully in the right people who have a heart for kingdom work.

What are your hopes for the future of this work?
I hope to see a movement within Northern Ireland of elite men and women footballers living out their faith with boldness through their sport and impacting teammates and staff with the good news of Christ. I hope to see people coming to a living faith and many more opportunities to grow the Christians in Sport work.

LINVOY PRIMUS

Linvoy played professional football for Charlton Athletic, Barnet, Reading and Portsmouth. He has been an ambassador for Portsmouth FC, helped run the charity Faith and Football, had a year in business and is now back at Christians in Sport for a second spell. He works alongside fellow staff members Graham Daniels and Junior McDougald within English football.

How would you sum up your role?
I support and mentor elite athletes, most of whom are footballers. At the moment, I’m overseeing England, Wales and Scotland and partnering with Russ in Northern Ireland if he needs any support. My focus is on the four English leagues and anybody outside of that I can support as well – often that will be phone calls and Skypes. Mentoring takes different forms, but we always go to the Bible. Having previously received Christians in Sport support, Junior’s experience provides valuable input.

How do you work with club chaplains?
I encourage them in relationships with players and offer to speak to groups of players (academy or first team) about the football journey and how chaplains helped me. I identify Christian players and initiate an introduction between them and the chaplain. As players move from club to club, I signpost them to chaplains.

What have been some recent encouragements?
The obvious one is the number of players who are professing faith that I have been able to get to know. The second is the gatherings that are taking place. There’s a real desire to meet as a group, but there’s a real sense that this is bigger than just meeting up. We’ve had them in the West Midlands and London and hope to have more and more.

What have been some recent challenges?
One is to make sure that you’re meeting the guys regularly because there are a quite a number of them and we want to make sure we have regular contact. It’s a good challenge to have.

What are your hopes for the future of this work?
I would love to see more people on our team. It would be great to see the gatherings running themselves as the players take ownership of them, so we can support them rather than leading them. I would love to see more gatherings across the UK and something happening on an international scale in a few years.

FIND OUT MORE
Training and playing commitments mean it is often difficult for professional and elite sportspeople to be regular members of a local church. The Performance Team support and mentor many of these athletes to help them live for Christ in a place the local church can find hard to reach.

For more information, visit christiansinsport.org.uk/performance

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