Using the beautiful game for God's purposes
Former Premiership footballer Linvoy Primus believes churches can use football to reach out to their communities just as they did when the first teams and leagues were formed in the 1800s.
Many famous clubs have their roots in churches, like Aston Villa, Everton and Southampton.
Speaking at the Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE) this week in Esher, Surrey, Primus told his personal story of how he found fame and money through football but still felt that something was missing.
"If we have all we want and we're still not happy, there's got to be something more," he said.
He encouraged churches to get more involved in football because people come together around sport, especially young men.
"If we are to reach our communities we must do it with an agenda that meets a need in the community," he explained.
Primus is using the beautiful game to reach young people through the charity he supports, Faith and Football.
The charity uses football as a platform for building relationships and providing young people with positive role models.
"Sport captivates a huge number of people. Young men, in particular, are drawn to football. We need to get back to the basics," he told Christians at the CRE.
"Even if your church doesn't have enough people to form a team you can still go out to the parks and support and bless those who are playing. You could even run a free tea bar for the players and supporters."
He added: "Through football you build relationships. Churches should seriously consider going to local parks to support local players. That's mission in action."
Prominent Bible teacher David Pawson discussed his views on the "End Times", saying there were four indicators to look out for: disasters - natural and manmade, persecution of the church, the rise of the Antichrist, and signs in the moon, the sun and the stars.
He said only the first condition had been met and that while Christians are being persecuted in some parts of the world, in the Western world Christians are largely free.
His advice to Christians was to "watch and pray".
The CRE brought together over 400 exhibitors, from puppet and clerical vestment suppliers, to church furniture makers and mission organisations.
The exhibitions were complemented by seminars and workshops, film screenings and drama performances.
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Other guest speakers included Andy Peck, of CWR, and evangelical author and writer Tony Campolo.
In a seminar on discipleship, Peck encouraged Christians to imitate and be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Being "imitators of God", he said, could be understood as "living your life as Jesus would live it", with the help of the Word, the Holy Spirit and gifted people.
Campolo, former spiritual counsellor to Bill Clinton, said that young people had dropped out of Sunday services but had not become less spiritual.
He argued that the reason why young people were no longer interested in Christianity was because they were not seeing what was preached on Sunday being lived out in the lives of Christians.
Youngsters are more interested in discipleship and concrete commitments, than lists of beliefs, he claimed.
"If you see Jesus in the way I live, you can call me a Christian," he said.
Campolo continued by saying many Christians were still not prepared to give up everything to meet the needs of other people. He said Christians needed to be more willing to empathise with others to the point where they had exhausted themselves and the sufferings of the other had become their own suffering.
"We're ready to be believers, we're not ready to become disciples," he said.
"Blessed are those who have had all the good things but are willing to sacrifice all you have to meet the needs of others ... Jesus says these people are blessed."
He told the moving story of a young student who had sought him out after a lecture but he had been too busy to give his full attention to him because of a meeting he was due to attend. Campolo told of how he hurriedly answered the question put to him by the young student while actually wanting him to go away so that he could prepare for his meeting. Twenty minutes after leaving his office, the young man took the elevator to the top floor of the building where he lived and jumped to his death.
"When you are filled with the Holy Spirit you don't only hear what people say, you are able to hear what they don't say," he said.
"You so empathise with them that their suffering becomes your suffering. You're bearing one another's burdens to fulfil the law of Christ."
Regional CREs are due to take place in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Peterborough later in the year. For more details visit http://www.creonline.co.uk/