Soccer team 'not about winning'
August 16th, 2011
10:20 AM ET

Christian pro soccer team: ‘Scoring souls, not goals’

By Elizabeth Johnson, CNN

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) - With 12 minutes left in the game, the Charlotte Eagles are losing 2-0. The North Carolina humidity hangs thick in the evening air. The home crowd becomes restless as the opposing team's goalie blocks kick after kick.

But the team gets a big break in the 78th minute and scores twice in two minutes against the Rochester Rhinos. This men’s soccer match ends in a tie.

Did God bless the Eagles with those goals?

“I don’t think God cares if we win or lose,” Eagles captain Josh Rife says, shrugging.

Coach Mark Steffens agrees: “Our No. 1 goal is not winning games. Our goal is to bring glory to God.”

It’s an unusual stance for a sports team, but the Eagles aren’t just any soccer squad. Members of the United Soccer Leagues’ 12-team professional division, they’re the only ones who say they care more about Christian values than about winning.

The team was established in 1993 after a “sports junkie fell in love with God,” Eagles co-founder Brian Davidson says. But if he was going to continue being involved in soccer - where he saw players cheating and sneaking fouls past referees - he needed to find a way to live out his faith on the field.

He had two goals for his ministry. First, teach men to live for God on the field by playing fair. The second: Send team members into the community - both locally and “to the ends of the earth” - to teach impoverished children and refugees about soccer and to use the sport to attract people who wouldn’t normally visit church.

Like any high-level competition team, the Eagles have regular practices. They sweat in the scorching heat. They win games. They miss goals. They hear lectures.

But the organization also focuses on character by investing in the players and the community.

Steffens, Eagles coach for 15 years, uses what he calls an “in-reach” plan, mentoring and building personal relationships with the 26 athletes on his squad and setting up accountability groups within the team.

“My ministry is to grow 26 guys into men,” Steffens says. “Men who do the right thing.”

That goes for both on and off the field.

On the field, the men are expected to be above reproach. They know better than to tug on an opponent’s jersey, run out the clock or take a dive to fake a foul. As Christians, they say they hold themselves to a high standard. They challenge each other to work harder and play better.

But is that enough?

Some observers say Christianity and sports are a questionable mix.

Shirl Hoffman, author of “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sport,” says Christianity teaches “peace, humility, putting others before yourself,” while athletes are often more willing to cheat, hurt their opponents or take credit for their accomplishments.

“Sports don’t develop character,” Hoffman says. “They teach you to be selfish.”

Rife, 31, an Eagles captain and a midfielder for nine years, disagrees. He says there is a common misconception that Christians should be meek or passive. There were times when Jesus displayed meekness in his ministry, he says, but other times when he was confrontational.

Rife argues that sports are the “greatest teacher for wrestling with one’s faith.” Learning to strive together for excellence and unity in a competitive, challenging environment can help players grow and deepen their beliefs, he says.

As for whether God cares if a team wins or loses, he says that “isn’t a biblical view.” He cites the book of Job, in which God let a righteous man lose his family, livestock and health. God cares more about the bigger picture - the response of a man’s heart, as he did with Job - than he does about making sure they look good, Rife says.

Eagles co-founder Davidson says he realizes there may be few examples of godliness in professional sports. But like Rife, he says there are opportunities in a game when “we as Christians can live out our faith” - such as responding with grace to a ref’s bad call.

And when an Eagles player reacts to such a call with anger? Davidson knows it will be a learning moment and an opportunity for the player’s faith to grow. There’s a lot of grace and forgiveness in the Eagles’ locker room.

“We’re OK with failure,” Davidson says. “We just want to grow from it.”

Bob Schindler is a former pastor and current vice president of church mobilization for Church Sports Outreach, an organization that helps churches use sports as a tool for spreading the gospel. He believes the sports realm has strayed from God’s intended purpose, but that the problem is limited to selfishly motivated individuals. Competition itself is not the problem, he says.

A key question from the Christian perspective, Schindler says, is whether there was competition in the Garden of Eden.

If the answer is no, then sports are a result of sin, and Christians should not partake in competitive activities.

But if the answer is yes - as he believes it to be - then Christians can take part in competition if they use it for the glory of God.

“The whole point of sports is to draw the best out of your teammates and opponents,” Schindler says. “I see that as very compassionate and grace-filled.”

The word “competition” is derived from the Latin “competere,” which means “strive together,” Schindler says. But he says athletes are indoctrinated with a self-glorifying mindset that has corrupted the word's original meaning.

Aware of the problem, Steffens, the Eagles' coach, regularly talks to his team about it.

“Guys, it’s not about you,” Steffens tells his players. “It’s about putting God first.”

During one pregame chapel service - a regular feature in the team's locker room - speaker Sam Blumenthal, a local businessman, reminds the team of this principle: It’s about “scoring souls, not scoring goals,” he tells them.

Through prayer - before and after each game - the team refocuses its attention on God.

“I think most high-level athletes pray to God for good individual performances and for their team to win,” Steffens says. “Our main prayer before games is for God to grant us strength and wisdom to play fair and Christ-like."

After the game, the team prays for its opponents and thanks God for the results, regardless of the outcome.

“We honor God whether we win, lose or draw,” Steffens says.

His players feel called by God to play for this team and want to “keep the main thing the main thing,” Steffens says. “And the main thing isn’t winning.”

“Priorities are well set and kept,” says goalie Eric Reed, 27. “It’s about living the gospel in a broken world - like in any job.”

The Eagles’ ministry can be seen in various ways around Charlotte, through weekly soccer camps, church involvement and inner-city ministry - as well as in their overseas tours.

This year, six players will travel to Trinidad to play soccer and do service work in the community. The team traveled to Jamaica last year, playing high-level opponents as well as spending time at an orphanage and a delinquent center.

Other recent destinations include Nigeria, Ethiopia, Colombia, Laos and Thailand. The team members who travel each raise a couple thousand dollars for the trips, believing they are preaching sermons through the way they play soccer overseas.

Locally, four players and two staffers have moved into four urban neighborhoods to lead the Urban Eagles, an outreach program directed at kids living in low-income housing.

“We’re a family,” Eagles forward and Urban Eagles volunteer Ben Page says. “The Lord has created this culture of love and acceptance, and the kids have responded.”

Page, 26, lives in Grier Heights in east Charlotte and has worked with the Urban Eagles since January 2010. Through this work, Page said he has realized that the unconditional love he is developing for the kids “is the love God has for me.”

In addition to soccer, the kids are taught basic manners and respect for one another. They learn how to struggle through difficult times and work hard.

“The world says they’re a statistic,” Page says, “that they’ll go to jail, or won’t graduate, or will cause trouble.” Urban Eagles teaches them that God has a plan and a purpose for their lives by pointing them to Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

“My goal isn’t to see their behavior change,” Page says, “but to see their heart change. And the fruit of a heart change is a behavior change.”

Page has played for the Eagles since 2008. He considers the team a training ground to learn how to care for others and find joy and purpose in investing in eternal things, such as sharing the gospel of Jesus with others.

“This environment where we’ve been coached by men who love the Lord - we’ve been cared about as people instead of just players,” Page says.

It’s an attitude that he hopes to pass along to the kids he works with off the field.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • North Carolina • Sports

soundoff (1,195 Responses)
  1. Mystikral

    It disgusts me that a team would be so intent on sending a positive message of fair play and good sportmanship. What is wrong with this world?! It's because their religious? This is sickening. This kind of positive message and "religion" has no place in this world and I'm extremely disgusted just like the rest of you guys. What kind of inhumane sports team would try to do such a thing?! I just vomitted in my mouth thinking about this again. Go find something more destructive and self satisfying to do.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Jon King

      Yawn, believing in a magical man in the sky is not a positive message. Its rather sad, yet humorous.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • suzique

      Yes, indeed – go do something destructive and self-serving. Love your sarcasm!!!

      August 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  2. Neil

    I have been a sports enthusiest my entire life andf have a deep faith in Christ. After a game/race, I praise him when I win and I praise him when I lose. Now that I am 48 yrs old with a deeper faith, I can look back over the years and better understand reasons for my wins and losses.

    I sat the bench once at a huge softball tournament, a tournament that I had played in a dozen times but never won. While watching the game unfold, I was content knowing that God needed to be the focus of my heart and I should not be so consumed with winning. Sure enough, one of our players was injured halfway through the first game and I was asked to step into his position. How did God reward me? We won the whole tournament (10 games) and I was blessed to pitch the championship game! Before that, I had only pitched in 3 games my whole life.

    Does he care if I win or lose? No more or less than a parent wanting to see their child do well in a sport. A true parent is not concerned with winning or losing but with how their child responded to the games outcome. The point is, God knows if players are giving him the glory or just giving lip service.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • LouAz

      So did your god "punish" all the teams that lost to your team ? Please explain why all those teams were NOT WORTHY of your god's favor ? Silly christians want it both ways about themselves . . . to hell with the other guy ! Kinds' like Repub TPers.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Pastafarian


      August 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  3. Nicole

    This story is AMAZING! I hope I can get ou to North Carolina and see them play! What a great team to support!

    August 16, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Boney Lee

      UGG. so stupid.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  4. Frogist

    Muslim boy scouts, christian soccer.. maybe that's what we non-believers need. Atheist bowling league, anyone? Eh! Whaddya think?!

    August 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • J.W

      I got an idea. Each religion, or non-religion, can have their own professional sports team in every sport.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  5. Su

    Oh puleeze! I am really getting sick of religion being mixed with politics (whatever happened to separation of church and state???) and now sports? Let's keep religion where it belongs: in the church.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Tommy

      Separation of church and state only mandates that the state cannot establish an official church.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • AviRaider

      Oh please...someone's faith does not start and end at the church door.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  6. Dave Hale

    As a former Chicago Bear, '69-'74, I have seen much of what sports has to offer–I've won some games personally that the team lost and vice versa...I've personally made a commitment to the Lord with my life and He has blessed me in many areas. There are obviously many sceptics about anyone who has a purpose–I simply ask "why are you alive? and to whom do you account?" Lastly, I've observed there is a 1:1 chance I will die, then what? You sir, or lady, strap on the pads and get ready to go up against the One who made you–His judgment of you will be exact. Congrats to these athletes who are putting their faith in shoe leather.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Arvin Huac

      You took too many blows to the head, Dave.

      Just to let you know, we don't look to football players for their superior intellect.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Neil

      Well said. When all is said and done in this life, God has the final judgement. When asked when they were told about following him, people may well be reminded of reading a simple post like this. I pray they realize how vital this decision is.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Tom in ATL

      Dave, thanks for your insight. As you can tell, the majority of people commenting on here don't get it. If the believers keep sharing our faith stories, it may reach someone. For all the non-believers, where did this hatred toward GOD come from? What is your purpose in spewing against the Creator of the universe? The day will come when you'll face Him. You know your destination.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Arvin Huac

      Tom is an idiot. Non-believers cannot hate what they do not believe in. That is like you saying that you hate unicorns and leprechauns.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • griz5106

      Dave: I am alive because my mother and father bred (a biology thing) and I account to myself, my spouse and family.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  7. LouAz

    "to the ends of the earth" ? I don't care if these men want to break a few heads, but don't start all that Crusades stuff again !
    We are still not clear of our most recent Crusade into Iraq.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  8. Laura

    THThite- you mean your lifetime without sufficient evidence to prove to you of his existence. It sounds like this team and thousands of others disagree with you. I see proof of God every single day. I also see desperate atheist trying with science to disprove it but failing miserably... there is always something else that cannot be explained or we find out that the numbers weren't quite correct therefore what they were so sure of isn't quite right either.

    I say after a lifetime of searching... where is the "missing link"? Where is the proof that life just spontaneously came into being? If this was possible, wouldn't new an interesting life be popping up every day?

    Sigh when will we quit try to disprove and just believe.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Huh?

      if every human had your mindset we'd still be living in caves and picking insects out of each others' hair. christianity has given society nothing but senseless bloodshed and psychological delusions that only exist in modern times because of narrow minded simpletons such as yourself that disregard common sense and scientific fact, and then spread it to your offspring (god forbid you should reproduce). get over yourself, you are not the apple of god's eye. the universe was not made for you. you are a semi-evolved hominid species living on a water covered planet that's been orbiting a star for the past 4.6 billion years. science is good, don't forsake it.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Pastafarian

      It is not science's job to DISPROVE anything. The blind faith required to follow something and devote your life to it with absolutely no evidence that it even exists is just foolish.

      And for what it's worth, new and interesting species are discovered every day. You clearly know very little about science or the world around you.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  9. RichWW2

    To me this is comparing apples to oranges. Christians who want to bring to God want to do that in all aspects of their life and not just in sports. As a christian, I am sure God doesn't care if my team wins or loses so its always seemed a little silly to me when people thank god after they win. Also, you never hear anybody thanking God after they lose do you? Whats up with that?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • LouAz

      Pro Beesball players do there criss crosses and points up to the sky when the get a home run. Why don't they give the "sky" the "finger" when they strike out ? Garbage in . . . garbage out.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Jared

      From my expirence, there is always a reason to thank God, even when you lose a game, or when you lose everything and it seems the weight of the world is crashing upon you. I doubt God cares about the outcome of a soccer match, but I bet He cares deeply about the way in which the people on the field conducted themselves, and that is the point.

      The biggest problem with Christianity is what you've described. Today's Christians compartmentalize their relationship with God. Meaning they do as you described and leave God out of areas of their lives. You'll find businessmen who goto church on Sunday and then treat their employees poorly. This is an example of compartmentalization. You'd have a lot less to complain about if Christians let Christ rule every aspect of their lives.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  10. cjr

    give me a a break- god has better things to do than hang around with a soccer tea or at least I hope so! creepy!

    August 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  11. Hal

    Great. Now religion is intruding on sports. When will humanity evolve to the point where we do not need a ficticious diety to give our lives any meaning?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • cgold

      Dunno, we appear to be in the middle of a de-evolution in the US, where religion is creeping into everything. Sad to see.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  12. Flappy Bob

    I love all the stories that CNN puts on this blog that are supposed to be uplifting stories of faith but are actually Christians being dumb-asses.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  13. scemcee

    Who Gives a Crap??! Seriously, this is not news. "Does belief and harping on a flying spaghetti monster matter in soccer?" Thats seriously the journalistic question youre trying to solve?? Garbage writing.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Non Sequitur

      What are Buddha's views on curling?

      Did Jesus bless the winner of the shin-kicking championship in England this year?

      Can a Wiccan dominate the NASCAR season?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  14. Dave

    response to reality...

    You seem like you have some serious issues. Jesus "thought"? He did not think, those things, he did them and they were reported by eyewitnesses. You were not there so you do not know and you can't say definitively that it did not happen. Now I wasn't there also but I would much quicker take the word of someone who was. Do you read the newspapers and listen to the news? I am sure you take their word for it...if we go by your rationalization, how can we be sure that what we hear did indeed happen?

    Here is news for you regarding someone who you describe as a "a first century CE, illiterate." His words and teachings are still inspiring and changing the lives of millions around the world today. Some illiterate huh? Name me one scholar who lived two thousand years ago who's doing that on a simiar scale?

    Because you are probably an illiterate who learned to type, do not dismiss what is true for millions over the centuries. Or are you the only enlightened one? Oh, by the way it seems like you do care. Otherwise you would not have taken the time to read the article and to post.

    You see like the saying goes, I do not believe in green men on mars so I am not wasting my breath trying to convince the world that they do not exist...hope all the atheists and unbelievers out there understand what I am saying?


    August 16, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Colin

      The big difference is that the bible claims Jesus did supernatural things – raise the dead, walk on water etc. I would not believe any newspaper report that made such silly claims either.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • MomOf3

      I can name you two – Aristotle and Socrates. Both had more influence in creating our modern society than Yeshua did...and they did it thousands of years before he may or may not have existed.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Arvin Huac

      While I agree with you MomOf3, Socrates and Aristotle came only 300-400 years before Jesus Koresh inflicted his madness on the world, not thousands of years.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Jared


      I've witnessed a number of miracles. A friend of mine was healed one day during prayer. He'd lost his hearing and a good chunk of his jaw after bouncing a bullet of his skull 20 or so years ago. I was standing beside him when he got his hearing back and watched as his jaw regrew over the next few weeks. You don't have to believe me, but I bare witness to it.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Jesus Koresh

      Of course, God sent that bullet into his skull in the first place. What a miracle that was.

      Yes, I know, you get to pick and choose what God did and what he did not do. That way it's a miracle and not just the coincidence it really is.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Colin

      The recovery of hearing is plausible. The re-grown jaw, sorry, I don't believe you.

      Some Iron Age sky-god from Palestine being behind the whole thing, priceless....

      August 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Fred Flintstone

      @Jared, his jaw grew back?!?!?!?!?!?! BULLSHIT! You are a total liar.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Jared

      @Jesus Koresh

      He pulled the trigger on that 30-30, not God. There is no picking and choosing here. You might give God the credit for it only inflicting the damage it did, or credit my friend with poor aim, your choice and I'd be inclined to agree with you either way.


      I'm not sure why you think regrowing bone is less plausible. It is possible to stimulate bone to grow. It is expensive and highly experimental right now, but possible. I've seen several articles on it in the last year or two. The damage to his ear on the other hand was very significant, but in an instant he could hear through it after having been deaf for 20+ years in it. The look on his face when he heard through it the first time, now that was priceless.

      @Fred Flintstone

      Believe what you want, but it is no lie.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  15. Bob

    Just another way to brainwash and control the weak. Those of us who are strong, and by strong I mean intelligent, do not believe the rhetoric and propaganda spewed forth by anyone of faith. We see for what it's worth; well crafted lies based on further lies. Religion is the reason there are so many problems in this world to begin with and the reason there is so much hate. Christians in this country (US) are the reason this country is going down the toilet. Everyone of them would rather put their faith in an unknown, unseen being and attempt to serve him instead of helping to serve their fellow man. For a group of people that allegedly follow the well crafted fairy tales in the bible, they sure don't believe in loving one another as their god said to do. So in reality, aren't christians just heathens and blasphemers because they ignore the instructions put down in their scripture by their god?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Colin

      It gets far, far worse. Have a look ta http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/08/15/exp.ac.tuchman.punishment.cnn?hpt=hp_c2

      August 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • glyder

      the lack of christianity is why the country is going down the toilet.it's been that way for decades now.better huh.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  16. Maxine

    Love that most readers see the hypocrisy ! A bunch of grown men being paid to play a child's game and they claim their goal is "Bringing glory to God" . Hilarious! Why would anyone want to follow a "god" who appreciates glory being brought to him by this method? Don't you think a true "god" would find some way to communicate that he would prefer good works among the poor, being your brother's keeper, helping others rather than amassing huge personal wealth at the cost of depriving others? Ooops, that "god" would be unacceptable to the Christian Wrong who believe they have the right to rule the world (see Bachmann and Perry re Dominionism).

    August 16, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  17. Brian

    I can't wait for the day when people look back into history and say, "What the hell was wrong with all of those people? Why were they always talking about this imaginary "God" person?". Too bad I'll probably be dead. I wish I could live in a world where people live to live and were decent for the sake of being decent.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Marc

      How decides what is decent?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Marc

      oops, meant who!

      August 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  18. john316

    There's a Cult for everyone ...... just ask John Travolta........

    August 16, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  19. hmm

    American soccer needs divine intervention. no passion for the game just passion for country and God. which explains the state of soccer in America today.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • 20

      If you followed the MLS or the US national team you'd know how much soccer has grown in the US in the last few years. In a few years it will be more popular than NHL, the average attendance is already higher than NHL and NBA

      August 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  20. Jay

    Either these people are attempting to use outlets other than religion to shamelessly promote their beliefs or they honestly believe that God will pay attention to them more and show them more favor for their efforts (of playing a game and doing the same job as ministers and missionaries). This just reeks of selfishness either way, even if the original intent was much nicer.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Uriah

      Try reading

      August 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.