Home-Field Advantage

Sports ministries provide love, support and healthy competition

by Kelsey Pierce

Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM) is a non-profit organization created in 1998 by community leaders who wanted to serve under-resourced neighborhoods in Memphis. They had a desire to create an organization where kids were able to be in a safe environment, play basketball, have fun, and possibly connect with someone who would invest in their lives. MAM is primarily targeted toward the impoverished, low-income areas of Memphis. The mission of MAM is to help build godly youth in under-resourced neighborhoods to love God, others, and themselves.

MAM has nine facilities including four church partnerships and four formerly city-run community centers. They also own a golf course across the street from one of their facilities, the Grizzlies Center. Rod Moses is the chief administrative officer at Memphis Athletic Ministries. He said the kids love playing golf and have a natural talent for the game. “I’ve seen kids just really thrive,” Moses said. “They actually learn the game. It’s not just the mentoring and the life skills side of it. Golf in itself has life skills built in because this is a disciplined game. It’s a focused game. You can’t just be all over the place.”

Moses says anyone can be involved at MAM. Some volunteers hang out in the gyms and play basketball with the kids. Church groups and other organizations help with projects around the MAM facilities. Several groups help at the golf course. Volunteers have the opportunity to talk to the kids and build relationships. “You just never know how your story will help to inspire a kid that maybe is looking to go in the direction that maybe you have already travelled,” Moses said.

MAM doesn’t turn kids away. Someone who has previously been in trouble won’t necessarily be turned away, but MAM does uphold an expectation of conduct for the kids. “This is a safe haven,” Moses said. “A lot of times we say that when you come here, you have home-field advantage. You’re here, you’re supported, and you’re loved. When you’re at home, you’re receiving love, you’re receiving support, but when you’re away, it’s taken away. The majority is trying to get you to lose instead of win. This is home for them.”

It is important for congregations to be involved in a sports ministry because healthy living and being active is scripturally based.. Jesus walked everywhere he went. He walked from town to town. Paul also uses sports themes to convey his message. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says,  “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

“Every church should have some type of recreational ministry to promote healthy living and to get kids active,” Moses said. “Behind that should be a greater purpose that will teach them about life and teach them about what living for Christ is all about. We don’t concentrate on the outside first. We concentrate on the inside,” said Moses. “We’re not here to develop the next LeBron or the next Penny. If that happens, praise the Lord, but many need that love, just the love of Christ. It’s what is missing in our society, it’s what is missing in our homes, and it’s what is missing in our schools. We want to provide love for kids, and that’s what we do.”

With sports comes competition. Kids want to win. It is important for organizations like MAM to teach kids that it’s never about losing or winning. The focus has to be on giving your best and having a great attitude. “It’s not about what you do on the court so much, but translating that to off the court,” Moses explained. “It’s tough sometimes because kids always want to win and kids are very competitive.”

Every MAM basketball game begins with a devotional. They have a site coordinator that leads the devotional to make sure the kids understand what the game is really all about. The teams gather in the center of the court with opposite teammates all around the circle during the devotional and scripture reading. The teams shake hands before the game begins. There are strict rules for the coaches and how they treat their players. MAM also inform the fans about their mission and expectations. After the game is over, the same two teams come back to the center of the court and talk about how they thought the game went, giving encouragement to the winning and losing team. With this routine, all of the players on both teams walk out of the gym feeling good and having positive thoughts about themselves.

Organizations like MAM change lives. Kids who don’t get the support they need in their homes or in their schools may begin to lose faith in their self worth. “I truly believe that organizations like MAM, they truly change lives, and they get kids to believe in themselves so that they can be productive citizens and not fall victim to their circumstances but they can rise above the life that they really didn’t have any choice in living,” Moses said.

Memphis Athletic Ministries accomplishes the Christian goal of incorporating both faith and health in our lives by promoting activity and nutrition while connecting it with living for Christ and being a godly person. Moses believes we have to be holistic in our approach because we are a body, a soul, and a spirit. We are a spirit because God breathed into us and we became a living soul. All of those areas have to be ministered to and developed in order to be a complete person. “I believe it’s important because it develops the total person, who we are created to be, how God has given us body, soul, and spirit,” Moses said. “Through the word of God, we have the resource to minister to all three of those particular areas.”

Sports ministries don’t only teach kids how to stay healthy and care for their bodies. Organizations like Memphis Athletic Ministries help kids to develop a connection between their bodies and their spirits. They teach them what it truly means to live their lives for Christ and to have a relationship with him. Sports ministries can give the kids in our cities the chance that they otherwise would never have, the chance at having home-field advantage.


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