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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. Answer_to_Peace

    Please practice your faith privately. Yes, we know you love god and that you are so insecure about it you must broadcast it to the rest of the world... kind of like Muslims. blind-faith = blind-obedience = morals blinded.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Tatia

      Just don't read the article. It is really that simple.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  2. skeptic

    It's sad how much people care about a really old fictional book.

    Life and the world are so beautiful. It's depressing to think how much time people spend thinking about stuff that doesn't even exist.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Glenn

      skeptic how do you KNOW God doesn't exist? And please don't retort with some sophmoric line like "well prove that he does". Quite simply no one knows for sure either way. I am sure you can give me lots and lots of evidence but in the end no proof

      August 16, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Dave

      Do you believe that Santa exists, just because there is no way to "prove" he doesn't either? Skeptic is trying to say that you can appreciate all the beauty in the world without all the make-believe.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Dave

      Yet here we are thinking about it and posting responses to people who talk about their faith and belief. Atheists never cease to amaze me. They spend so much time trying to tell us someting is not real. Why? I cannot understand. Like I said before if you do not believe it you don't. Why bother to validate something with your comments? Or is it because you secretly believe, wish it were not true and you hope that if you discredit it enough it will go away? Hmmm...

      Pssst...I have news for you...it is true and it's not going away no matter how much you try. Remember Nietche, who said "God is dead...? well Nietche is dead and God is still alive so get over yourselves.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  3. Brett

    The coach wants to play for the glory of God? What year is it?? Don't they know science has obviated religion for logic? Ugh.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Sandra B

      Christianity is not a religion, it's a belief.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  4. Bob

    This being CNN, this article meets what seems like a naturally positive thing with skepticism and doubt – most likely since it deals with something christians are doing. However, we all know if this were about islam and muslims, you wouldn't hear one dissenting opinion expressed throughout the entire article.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Phil

      Bob, you nailed it. Here I was, with the CNN home page popping up, and I see this image of the team and think there's probably a great, inspiring sports-related story, and of course it ends up being another carefully planted, subtle, anti-christian article. It's just thrown in there to allow the minority atheists (who are their own religion now) a chance to attack and spread hatred.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  5. Jim B

    Hell No they dont mix! I am so mad about this. I hate how Christians try to push their views into everything we do now adays

    Take out "In God We Trust" on the money even if it costs millions to remint,
    Take out "Under God" in the pledge of Allegiance. This nation has never been under God just look murder and disease is rampant
    Finally if anyone dare own a christian bumper sticker get those people pulled over and given a ticket. Preaching on the streets is illegal

    This was purely sarcasm. I am a christian. I just wanted to get this out there before some hateful atheist comes along and does it before me.

    God Bless The United States of America.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • ben

      You seem like the hateful one to me. Check your sarcasm at the door, no one needs to be insulted. SHeesh, more of your christian love, I see.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  6. stevie68a

    Brian's quote is the best! "Wait for the Muslim team and see if religion and sports mix". Priceless! Whose imaginary god is best?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Tudor

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      April 4, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  7. Tesla50

    I have also noticed the CNN homepage having more and more to do with christian ideals. What gives CNN? There is a even bigger push in politics to return to Christ. Watch out folks they'll be burning books and having us march to their belief before you know it. I find it funny how the folks who claim to be so close to God are the ones who need to constantly remind themselves that they are.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • pat carr

      Good point Tesla. This kind of junk is appearing more and more on CNN. has it become christian news network somehow? Perhaps i should just visit BBC from now on instead of this garbage posing as a news network

      August 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Phil

      You guys obviously don't have the intelligence to see that all these Christian articles are actually subtle attacks on the religion. CNN isn't siding with Christianity, they're setting them up for the hate attacks of the atheists, who are another religion in their own.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Sandra B

      That's right Tesla50, we Christians do have to remind ourselves everyday that we are close to God. Why? Because we ALL have sin nature, believers and unbelievers, so we check in daily to name those sins privately, we pray everyday (John 15:7), we read God's word daily (Acts 17:11), we obey God moment by moment (John 14:21). Much like the unbeliever might check in with the worldly news everyday, or t.v. or the newpaper etc. Difference is, we want to live God's word as it is written, which means it's all about what I can give, not what I can take., it's not about me, it's about the one who created me. We all live in a selfish world, everything begins with 'I' & 'my'. Belief in Jesus takes a totally different approach to living, where we are not in charge, but God is and yes, his children need to check in every day to make sure we continue on the right path, especially because we are all living in such a carnal world. He would love for you to join us!

      August 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  8. Ricky Bobby

    Help me baby jesus! Help me Jewish god! Help me Tom Cruise!

    August 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  9. hurleyburley

    Christianity teaches “peace, humility, putting others before yourself.” Since when?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Bates

      They started teaching all that AFTER the Crusades. >.>

      August 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Robert

      It has *always* taught that. People haven't been very good at living it.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • AviRaider

      Yep that's what is taught amongst others. I know alot of Christians who practice that.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  10. Boney Lee

    You're all insane! God doesn't care about soccer! He likes hockey.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  11. Tatia

    There needs to be more morals in sports. Children look up to the men and women on these professional teams, but many times these sports stars are horrible role models. The do drugs, they drink to excess, they are selfish, they are hateful, and they are abusive.... The list goes on and on. There are sports stars that are good people and good examples of role models, but they are few and far between. As a culture we have embraced everything that is hateful, selfish, and nasty. We glorify it. It is time that morals are reintroduced into sports. Even if you are not religious you have to admit that going on as we are is only destroying ourselves; we need to start playing sports with integrity and good morals. We need to carry those lessons into the world outside sports.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • ben

      You are totally insane. Athletes aren't role models. PARENTS should be. If you are expecting your child to learn morality by watching a soccer game, not only are you a fool, but you're a terrible parent. I feel sorry for your children, who will most likely be horrible human beings because of your foolishness.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Stan

      Ben you are an idiot

      August 16, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Tatia

      Ben, you assume too much. My kids hate sports. I am my kids role model, but many parents today push their kids into sports. Their kids are in sports 12 months out of the year. They watch sports on television because mom and dad say they need to grow up and make millions like that professional sports person. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see morals on the sports field. If you don't want to see people on the sports field behaving with morales then there is something wrong with you. It does not have to be Christian morals, any good morals would be a 100% improvement.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  12. ben

    there are no gods. These clowns are bringing glory to themselves. Their arrogance is astounding. Just play the damn game, leave the preaching for church.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Tatia

      Who cares what their religious beliefs are, they are proving you don't have to act like a beast on the playing field. They are showing our children that they can play sports and not act like raving lunatics. In a time when parents get into fist fights at children’s sporting events it seems only right that we start taking the Neanderthal type behaviors out of sports.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • ben

      Sorry, hun. Sports are actually competative. You might want to actually play one some time. Your philosophy that football doesn't need to involve hitting people, shows just how clueless you are.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Mike

      Ben something tells me you're 4 foot 5 with a 3 foot lift on your truck that requires a step up

      August 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Tatia

      Ben, you are a fool. You are hateful and a very good example why people need to teach their children better values. To bash someone's children and call them horrible human beings only proves that the person here is you and not I. You only made everyone who is crying over a religious angled article look like hysterical fools.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  13. hmmmmi

    if they put all their energy into doing "God's" work then go feed the hungry! that was what was revolutionary about christ. God! these people make me sick.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Sean

      THEY DO!!!! I live in Charlotte, they go to schools and teach soccer, they feed the homeless, they do all kinds of wonderful things for our community. GO EAGLES!!!!

      August 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • ben

      Yes, and think how much MORE good they could do if they dropped the whole christianity thing....and JUST helped people. Every minute they spend preaching, is another hungry mouth that doesn't get fed. They should sell their church, brink by brick, and make a million buck, and give it ALL to the people they want to help. Instead, they pocket a bunch of it, to spread gods "word". How selfish and disgusting.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • mif991

      @ hmmmmi. That's Obama's job (according to some) which he seems not to be doing such a great job at.
      Anyway, why would such an unimportant article generate such abrassive responses? Just enjoy life, respect other people's views and do care for other people's misery.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Julio

      are you doing that? are you feeding the hungry yourself?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Tatia

      Ben, you are selfish, hysterical, immoral, and extremely dense!

      August 16, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • AviRaider

      Hello...read the article, they are doing that. If they are supporting their church financialy then are supporting such causes as feeding the poor amongst others as well.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  14. ole74

    For everyone who is against this team, one question.. how is team effecting you in a negative way? Where is the harm is a professional team wants to live out their faith? If there was a soccer team, or any professional sport team that wants to be known as a Muslim team or an Atheist team, putting their beliefs in front of the game, that's awesome! And I say that as Bible believing, church attending Christian. The last time I checked, we have freedom of religion here in the USA (at least for now...)

    August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • pat carr

      "And I say that as Bible believing, church attending Christian. The last time I checked, we have freedom of religion here in the USA (at least for now...)"

      Is that right? do we really? Do you really not know how aggressive, arrogant and obnoxious, your religion is?

      Do we need yet another "evangelizing" force out there?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Tatia

      Well, if you do not want to read about God, then do not read the article plain and simple. The ONLY conclusion that a sane person would draw from all of these anti-Christian types throwing hysterical, incoherent tantrums over this article is that they read it knowing what it would be about so that they would have something to throw a fit over. HOW PATHETIC! I am not a good Christian, but I really think it is really funny that people throw fits over reading an article that they could have just skipped over. LOL

      August 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Tatia

      If you see the word Christian in the article don't read it if you are anti-Christian! It is so easy! If you really believe in live and let live, then act as you preach. I don't care if you are anti-Christian. I don't care if you are any other religion. I do get sick of people throwing tantrums just for the sack of causing a stir. Why don't you leave the religious people alone and work on improving your faults?

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

      They aren't affecting any of us negatively at all, but many people believe that christianity is harmful. So if these people dedicate themselves to spreading christianity then they are harming others.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  15. Pastafarian

    I had to check my browser. I thought I had gone to The Onion by mistake. Is this silliness seriously something for the front page of CNN???

    August 16, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • pat carr

      Well said Pasta. What is this religious crap doing on the HP of cnn?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Bates

      First time visiting the CNN web page is it? LOL.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  16. Charles in Des Moines

    Seriously.....I just threw up in my mouth a little. As a gay man, I am constantly reminded by people not to wear it on my sleeve, by a couple of good litle christian women in my office. Yet, they walk around with WWJD litterally on their sleeves, and constantly gong on and on about the "glory be God". So tired of hearing, I really don't care, but just tired of hearing about it and having it thrust upon me daily. I do not talk about being gay except to once in awhile mention what my partner and I did over the weekend-you know, shocking stuff like painting the house, taking our dog to the park, having people over for a bbq, and that is wearing it on my sleeve, but they see no problem with their cubie walls being covered in religious materials and constantly talking about their beliefs. I don't really mind though, I kinda giggle at them, they both dress pretty racey and one of them is a bit of a player, if you get my drift. But what ever gets them by. I do have to agree though, I really do doubt that God cares if any team wins, he would be kinda busy probably to care, besides, I am sure that Sports Center in Heaven if there is such a place!

    August 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Pastafarian

      Well said!

      August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • LC

      I'm a Christian. Both you (gay) and me (straight) are both God's idea so you won't find any condemnation. Please don't lump us all together. My stepson is gay. No one "made" him that way, he just "is". WWJD? Love unconditionally.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Arvin Huac

      Yep, Christians are hypocrites. They endlessly shove their invisible friend down everyone's throat, but they are the first to tell others not to shove their views down people's throats.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • pat carr

      "Yep, Christians are hypocrites. They endlessly shove their invisible friend down everyone's throat, but they are the first to tell others not to shove their views down people's throats."

      How true. as an atheist, i am constantly told to keep my "non-beliefs" to myself, yet have to listen to endless attempts at "witnessing" and other obnoxious garbage. christianity has had control for centuries, and yet still plays the "persecution" card when it's believers aren't allowed to push their junk on us

      August 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • mif991

      Hi Charles in Des Moines. I am not surprised at your experience with professing and hypocritical religious types. The Bible does speak harshly at those ("Christians") who mock Christ this way. I am also in agreement that their behaviour is obnoxious and often innappropriate in office spaces. But one thing is for sure, I have been rescued by God who helped me out of my misery and pain and now I do share the good news respectfully to whoever wants to listen in spite of those who wish I didn't. Take care of yourself.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  17. Linda

    My son, a pitcher, took his tiny Christian high school baseball team to the CA state finals and won the championship in the division. They only had 18 in the entire graduating class and couldn't find 9 ball players so they asked another student -who had never played- to join so they could field a team. When anyone got hurt -whether on their team or the opposition- they dropped to their knees and prayed. Traveling to play gave them the chance to spread the gospel. It also didn't hurt that they were on the front page of the Sports section in many papers. This team grew some great young men. It taught them to give an honest and compassionate effort in anything they did.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Bates

      You and your son are tools. 'Nuff said. No one wants you to spread the "gospel" while playing sports, just play the damn game, and go the hell home.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • skeptic

      Which high school? What year?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • pat carr

      "Traveling to play gave them the chance to spread the gospel."

      you mean spread the mental infection that is christ's insanity

      August 16, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • LouAz

      Guess if the other team also prayed . . . the game would still be tied . . . in the 2,346,963 inning. Why ? Because you tell us your god loves everyone and couldn't "punish" one team by allowing the "other team to win. You christians are loudmouths when your team wins. Guilt is a powerful emotion, but is no way to inspire or motivate children.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  18. Al

    Will their cheerleaders be nuns?

    August 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  19. Bates

    Way to fail and tie the game you losers! God told me he hates you because you tied the game, some glory you bring to him.

    Want to bring God some glory? Do it in your own homes where no one else has to see or hear you.

    As a great profit once said: "Tell me I'm a sinner I got news for you, I spoke to God this morning and he don't like YOU!" – O.O.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  20. Brian

    Wait for the Muslim team and see if religion and sports mix.

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

      Your little one-liner kind of says it all, doesn't it! Good post!

      August 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Robert

      Christianity != Islam in any way, shape or form.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:33 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.