There are very few ministries marketed to the local church that truly embrace the concept of living missionally. Those which do are often corrupted by the consumerist mindset that is so very difficult to escape in our culture.
For years we have hosted Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at First. Each year has been eventful and fun. Children have played basketball and cheered in our league who otherwise would never have had the opportunity. Some have excelled and gone on to play on our local junior high and high school teams. Families have come to church. Some for the very first time. Lives have been transformed as some have come to Jesus Christ as Savior.
Has Upward been successful at First? Well, sure. . .on some scorecards. How could anyone say that children coming to know Christ personally and families being engaged for the sake of the Gospel is bad? It is not.
Last year, our Upward Basketball and Cheerleading sports ministry was shelved for a year. There were numerous reasons, primarily based upon the lack of registration and scholarship funds available. It frustrated some, angered others and disappointed many. As I look back, it is clear (remember, hindsight is 20/20) that cancelling Upward last year was the very best thing to do.
Why? This clearing of the calendar has allowed us to take an honest, focused look at the ministry. Evaluation of the "why" of Upward has been essential.
We are starting Upward up again this year. I'm pretty excited about this reboot.
We are not rebooting the ministry based on the desires of Christians who want a league for their church-attending children (though, we desire that many in our church participate.)
We are not starting again just to add something else on the calendar. That actually goes against our core beliefs. Remember, busy-ness is not God's business. Burned out believers are not our desire.
We are not beginning again just to get the next Upward shirt for our personal collections (though I actually like those coaching shirts.)
We are intentionally and strategically rebooting Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at First as a missional expression. How can this be? The term "missional" actually describes the church, being the church, outside the building in which it gathers. It would be missional for believers to volunteer to coach in a local sports league such as OPAA or FIAA (which we encourage.) But, to create a "Christian" version of a local sports league does not actually fit nicely in the missional box. . .in most cases.
So, why do Upward again? How can it be missional?
We are in a unique situation in our community when it comes to this league. While the majority of churches (based on discussions with leaders at Upward and other churches) tend to only gather church kids and friends in their leagues, our league, based on our connections with local schools, has actually been effective in bringing in children and families totally disconnected from church.
Is that missional?
It can be, but it requires intentionality and strategic planning.
If Upward is seen only as a children's ministry for kids in the church. . .well, we need to shelve it again. That does little more than prop up Christian consumerism, which is the polar opposite of missional living. However, if we understand and remember that Upward is one of the greatest connecting ministries with our local community, we must move forward. Very few activities at the local church actually draw unchurched people from the community. Upward does. At least it does here.
As we move forward, pray for the leadership team guiding this endeavor. Pray for the children in our local schools and neighborhoods who need to know Christ as Savior.
The harvest is ripe. Workers are needed. Pray that God's people will respond and step into this opportunity to live missionally (and have fun in the process) by serving and volunteering in Upward this season.
Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. John 4:35 (ESV)