By Jonathan Hodgson
S.O.S. Communications Manager
I firmly believe that it was God who put a story in front of me, and did it twice in a short time period, so I couldn’t miss it, and part of it is it's relevance to what we're doing at S.O.S.
It's the Bible story about the paralyzed man at Capernaum with the four friends who lowered him from the roof of a house to Jesus’ feet.
“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven!” Luke 5:20.
Jesus saw the faith OF HIS FRIENDS.
Your faith can positively impact the relationship with God and the lives of your friends and those around you.
So, let’s look at this through the personalized lens of sport officials. As Dan has brought up in past pieces, you interact with many people through your job who have different roles. Number one among them is your crew mates.
There’s no need to be overly forceful with your faith to your colleagues, but I would encourage you to be genuine with it and not hide or compromise it. Be open and conversational with your crew mates about what and why you believe (“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” - 1 Peter 3:15).
Pray before the game and invite your crew to join in and let them know that you are available and care about them as people off the floor or outside the game.
But it doesn’t end there. Living out your faith ‘in the game’ might simply mean shaking the hands and saying ‘thank you’ to the arena or ballpark staff who serve you. Or having a 30 second conversation with the table staff in basketball. And yes, even taking whatever small window you might have with the athletes and coaches. Leave it to God to work through your actions. Maybe somebody noticed that the way you interacted or conducted yourself within the game was different and causes them to wonder what it was. Or maybe it prompts somebody to engage with you in conversation about God.
Confession time, and maybe I should have led off with this.. I’ve been saying “you” and not “we” because I am the only non-sport official on Team S.O.S. My experience in sports comes from growing up in baseball clubhouses and working in press boxes. (So I grew up with the player, coach, media and front office perspectives on umpires... What's that line about God using unlikely people... yep, that's me!) Every summer from age 11 to 23, I was part of a summer-collegiate baseball clubhouse. Initially as an honorary gesture from the team that took me in, then invited to stay by players and coaches who evidently saw something in me, and later becoming a team broadcaster and communications staffer, with the privilege of developing relationship with players while serving them in that role.
Through those years, I went through several stages of life and attitudes towards what the game meant to me. There was a time when I was not an active follower of Jesus, so the game was all there was. There was a time after I recommitted to my faith where I pursued Jesus outside the game but was careful to not let people know that was a Christian. And finally, I realized that God wanted to be equally involved in ALL parts of my life. Once I did this, opportunities for deeper relationship opened up and God began to use me to impact others. Not by being a Bible-thumper; that doesn’t work so well in most sports locker rooms, but by letting God guide how I went about my business, being genuine in my relationships, and ready to share my faith with those who asked.
I’ve had players, who I always considered teammates, tell me they saw something different about how I carried myself, and I’ve had players come to me when their heart was ready to learn more about Jesus, because they knew they could have that conversation with me.
As I learn the officiating life through S.O.S. team members, I see potential opportunities for you to do the same as officials. You have a team; it’s just much smaller, which actually makes it more important to have a close team dynamic.
I am humbled beyond words when I reflect on my experience with S.O.S. ever since Dan shared his heart with me for the vision of S.O.S. in 2018. Dan and I went to college together, which established the relationship and laid the groundwork for this several years later. Through my own efforts -my resume- I probably would have no opportunity to speak, never mind become friends with Pat Fraher, Darron George, Ted Barrett or the rest of our team. But because of God laying the groundwork through my baseball career and placing Dan in my life years ago, here we are.
Pulling the curtain back a bit; these guys have been, and are brothers to me in every sense of the word. Of course, I have tremendous respect for their work as officials, but that’s not what they are to me; they’re my brothers in Christ.
From them trusting me with their personal testimonies to allow me to write stories about them, to Pat texting me regularly when I was dealing with the loss of a friend, just so I knew I had a brother standing with me when I looked and saw ‘Pat Fraher’ on my phone. (And as time has gone on, the ability to have honest talks about real things in a hotel lobby till all hours of the night after REF Conference, and picking it up at coffee the next morning.) Or an hour long phone conversation with Ted after calling him up for an interview that after five minutes just felt like a chat with a friend.. and later when the first anniversary of my friend’s passing came, texting him about it and him letting me know that his crew would pray for my friend’s family before the game that night.
Those are the larger impacts that our work can have. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” - Colossians 3:23
So, all that to leave you with this thought to ponder. As you go about your business as a sport official, how will you encourage the faith of those around you and lift them up when they need it, and how will you serve the people you come into contact with so that God might have a door into their life?