This is a provoking title for a blog but it may not be that far-fetched.
I was reading through the Introduction to Ephesians the other night in my ESV Study Bible and came across the map on the right. As you can see, there is a gymnasium, an athletic field, and a stadium all within several hundred feet of each other. Clearly, there was a sports culture in Ephesus.
Paul spent three years in Ephesus evangelizing. It seems at least possible that he spent some time around these locations where people were gathered, right? Remember, this is the same guy who penned these words (1 Corinthians 9:20-23):
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Is it possible that “to the sports fan, Paul became a sports fan…to the athlete, Paul became an athlete?” It seems more than likely to me.
Remember, Paul is a man who was prone to using sports/athletic metaphors. In fact, immediately following the passage referenced above in 1 Corinthians, Paul begins to use a sports metaphor about the discipline of runners (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Paul employs other sports metaphors in the following passages: Philippians 2:16b; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:8; Acts 20:24.
Paul clearly had a knowledge of sports and understood their cultural relevance. He also had a passion to reach people. When you combine these facts, it’s easy to see why he could have been history’s first sports outreach minister.
This is all conjecture of course and to what extent he leveraged sports for ministry clearly can’t be known. Nonetheless, I hope this affirms your calling to use sports for ministry.