God and Athleticism: Reaching Students Through Sport
This month we sat down with Geneva House leader Joel Seigel to talk about Queen's Fitness Fellowship, a growing ministry of sport in Kingston.
You are a leader with Queen’s Fitness Fellowship (QFF), part of the ministries at Geneva House, our MCM location at Queen’s University. Tell us a bit about your role at Geneva House and QFF.
Joel: I’ve been a part of Geneva House for about 4 years. I’ve also had the privilege of living at Geneva House for most of that time, which means that I’ve had the opportunity to watch the ministry change and grow! I’ve volunteered with Geneva through leading and being involved with Huddle small groups, leading undergraduate bible studies, and assisting with various Geneva outreach events.With QFF, I help to organize and coordinate events. I’m also a very enthusiastic (and sometimes competitive!) participant in our events.
What was the heart and thought behind creating QFF?
Joel: QFF was created by my friend Samara Culyer, who also previously lived at Geneva House. The vision was to create a community that brought people together through something that so many people can relate to through sport and physical activity. Queen’s students from different campus ministry groups who might not overlap, St. Lawrence College students, and young professionals in the workforce can all come together.
Sports and physical activity are just a great medium for bringing people together since they encourage teamwork and community naturally, and for us it’s something enjoyable, so bringing fitness and faith together seemed like a great idea!
What impact have you seen through reaching students through sport and exercise?
Joel: While not directly faith-related, one of the biggest benefits has been community. Since sports naturally fosters togetherness, it’s been a natural outpouring of the ministry. What this has looked like is watching teams huddling together to come up with a new, never before seen strategies for Ultimate frisbee; creating new Spikeball dynamic duos and watching teams experience the ups and downs of games, shouting in joy or dismay; or handshakes and “good games” being said at the end of events. Seeing young adults experiencing quality involvement and interactions in a positive setting has been one of the largest impacts.
QFF has also been a great jumping off point for developing relationships outside of the events that QFF runs. Making new friends or reconnecting with old ones encourages building those relationships by doing other things like getting together for coffee, having faith-related discussions, or just having a movie night with a new friend. QFF has helped to catalyze discipleship beyond just fitness or sports.
How do you see the connection between sport/athleticism and spirituality? How do they impact the other?
Joel: In scripture, a clear connection is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25Every athlete exercise self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
A second connection is 1 Timothy 4:8: “8for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for this present life and also for the life to come.”
And a personal take of mine: Almost like the parable of the sower sowing seeds into different kinds of soil, there are people who train for different outcomes. There are people who train for aesthetics (making their body appear a certain way), people who exercise for performance (e.g., strength or endurance), and people who are physically active for health (e.g., improved longevity and quality of life).
People who train for aesthetics are like people who have a faith in God that is appearances based. Fitness-wise, these people care more about what other people think of them rather than about the fitness that is a result of their training, such as how muscular they are or how toned their body is. This results in people who are misdirected about fitness and who have a very shaky motivation for being physically active. Likewise with faith, some Christians care more about doing all of the “right” things and the appearance of things (i.e., going to church, volunteering, praying with others) than actually developing their relationship with God. It’s clear that this is based on insecurity and is not built on a solid foundation.
People who train for performance (how fast they can run, how much weight they can lift, etc.) train with the outcome as their main motivator. Faith-wise, this can look like trying to follow God so that you can “get something” out of God such as possessions, goals in life, or even security. But for an athlete obsessed with performance, when something gets in the way of their competition such as an injury, their whole worldview gets impacted. Similarly, when life happens and something gets in the way of one of those things that they want, their faith is shaken.
Finally, people who train for longevity and quality of life are living out Matthew 6:33: 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” These people often exercise in a well-rounded manner with cardiovascular and muscular strengthening exercises and often exercise with others out of enjoyment. Often, improved physical appearance and performance are a byproduct of their enjoyment of exercise. And this type of balanced exercise is optimal for health and will help them to have both a longer healthspan and lifespan. Similarly, when our relationship with God is our priority, we can see a similar benefit for our own lives.
Now, this analogy certainly isn’t perfect, but it can prompt us to think deeper about our motivations for being physically active and for completing spiritual disciplines.
How do you see this ministry developing in future years?
Joel: Hopefully, in future years, I can see this ministry joining even more different groups together. Mostly operating during the COVID-19 era, getting QFF off the ground was a touch difficult, but growth was still happening. It would be fantastic to get regular games of pick-up soccer, ultimate, or other sports going on a regular basis to foster community and relationship building. Something else that I think would be a great addition to more intentionally implement faith would be a prayer time before and after events for those who feel comfortable. Finally, some new volunteers to help schedule and organize events would be helpful with behind the scenes operations that are necessary to make things happen!
Do you have any advice for other campus leaders looking to add an active component to their programs?
Joel: Definitely! For a more small-scale implementation, anything physically active makes for a great icebreaker and is a way to get people mingling with those they might not know as well. A sport or active game that gets people moving also helps them to loosen up and be more comfortable in a new setting. Use sports and active games to bring people together, make them more comfortable, and as a spring-board for helping people develop deeper relationships with others!