In the Spirit of the Game
“If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5).
Few athletic achievements speak louder than the elusive Olympic gold medal. In fact the gold medal often represents a lifetime of achievement in a particular sport. At the 2000 summer games, with the whole world watching and the United States national anthem playing in the background, current Dallas Seminary student Brandon Slay stood on a raised platform in Sydney, Australia, and received a gold medal for freestyle wrestling—a dream he’d had since he was eight years old.
As a wrestler, Brandon finds numerous similarities between training to compete and striving to balance holiness and grace.
“Athletic preparation on the highest level requires discipline through multiple training sessions a day, and detailed study of your sport, yourself, and also your opponent,” says Brandon, who is studying for a master’s degree in theology.
Born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, Brandon went on to graduate from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He closed out his career wrestling record with 141 wins and only four losses.
“As Christians we train by reading the Word daily, comparing ourselves to it, and being aware of our opponent who wants us to fail,” Brandon says. “Christians must have an eternal perspective and not let the daily, worldly struggles keep us down.”
When he’s not studying, Brandon hosts wrestling clinics or speaks to youth, churches, and companies across the country. Check out his ministry, Greater Gold, at www.brandonslay.com.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
David Klingler set himself apart for a lifetime of athletic competition early. In his hometown of Houston he earned ten varsity letters at Stratford High School in basketball, baseball, football, and track, as well as all-state quarterback selections in his junior and senior years.
From there he played quarterback for the University of Houston and was “this close” to winning the most glamorous prize in all of college football—the Heisman Trophy. His on-field accomplishments that filled the pages of the National Collegiate Athletic Association record books were what nearly won him the award. In one college game alone he threw for 716 yards, and during the 1990 season he tossed fifty-four touchdown passes, a mind-boggling eleven in one game.
David, who is now a Dallas Seminary PhD student, went on to play for the National Football League from 1992 to 1997, first for the Cincinnati Bengals and then for the Oakland Raiders. In many ways he believes that his past athletic training mirrors working in ministry and living the Christian life as both an individual and as a community of believers.
“Discipline, accountability, perseverance, and the realization that the ramifications of my actions affect not only me but also my whole team are just a few of the realities I learned while playing football,” David says. “If I didn’t prepare or if I didn’t perform on game day, then not only I but my whole team suffered. In my studies at Dallas Seminary I have come to realize that my life and ministry affect me, and that my actions affect the body of Christ as a whole.”
“And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25, nasb).
In addition to serving as captain of her Cedarville College basketball team, Summer Sipes scored more than one thousand points in her storied career, earned a spot on the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-Star team, and was honored as a first-team selection at the 1996 National Tournament for Christian Colleges.
Today a mother of two, Summer earned her Master of Arts degree in Christian Education from Dallas Seminary in 2001, and served as junior high director at Frisco Bible Church in Frisco, Texas, for several years. Summer sees many similarities between athletic training and the believer’s daily walk with the Lord.
“Long hours are required for both, with a focus on the goal, which continues to motivate you even when the going gets tough,” Summer says, adding that the Christian life also is not a solo sport but a team effort.
“On one hand you have a team of players, coaches, and trainers. On the other hand, you have parents, spouses, church staff, and friends,” she says. “And all lend themselves to equipping and spurring you on to do your best. Both take lots of hard work and discipline.”
And Summer says that her athletic training has conditioned her for being a mom in many ways.
“The first is an ability to play with my boys and to teach them fair play, to teach them to play with their whole heart, and to teach them that Christ comes before all of it,” she says. “The discipline and ability to stick to a game plan even if the going gets tough is a benefit that has followed me into motherhood, as I desire to train our boys to be righteous men of God. It is so hard sometimes not to give in because the task of parenting seems overwhelming. But I believe God continued preparing me for this time and place by allowing athletics and the disciplines associated with it to be a part of my life.”