Discipleship Finds Its Way Onto the Most High-Profile Sports Teams
Believers on 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Formed a Close Bond of Accountability and Discipleship That Carries on Through a Lifetime, Writes Joshua Cooley, Author of the New Book ‘The Biggest Win’
PHILADELPHIA—Church leaders and pastors know the importance of Christian community among their people. But what about Christian community on sports teams?
Members of the 2017 Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles definitely know the importance.
Author and premier sports writer Joshua Cooley talks about this strong family of believers on the Eagles team in his new book, “The Biggest Win: Pro Football Players Tackle Faith.”
Released July 30 by New Growth Press, “The Biggest Win” shares the faith stories of six Super Bowl champions of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles team—Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos, Carson Wentz and Trey Burton, who signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Through the ups and downs of football, Cooley shows how these high-profile athletes remain committed to God’s Word, genuine Christian discipleship and sharing their faith.
In “The Biggest Win,” Cooley highlights how the 2016 NFL season was one of huge growth for Ertz in many ways. Professionally, he posted his second straight year with at least 70 receptions and 800 yards receiving.
“As a believer, Ertz was also growing by leaps and bounds, after committing his life to Christ and diving into fellowship with the other Christians on the team,” Cooley writes. “Burton—one year younger than Ertz in age and NFL experience, but older as a believer—took his fellow tight end under his spiritual wing. Starting during the team’s offseason, the two players met early in the morning at the team’s training facility. They read the Gospel of John together, soaking in this beautiful account of Jesus’ earthly ministry, death and resurrection. Scripture came alive to Ertz on those mornings. Neither man was a trained theologian or licensed minister. But neither had to be. They were simply two teammates, genuinely and passionately seeking the Lord together.”
Ertz, Cooley added, has continued to benefit from the discipleship and accountability he experiences with his teammates.
“I think it’s one of the main reasons that I’m as far in my walk as I am now,” Ertz told Cooley. “These guys not only hold themselves accountable, but also will help me if I’m struggling with something or if I’m dealing with a sin consistently. … It would be an almost-everyday thing, at least an every-other-day thing, just checking in—how I’m doing, how they can help, what they can pray about. … These guys love me as a brother, just like Jesus loves us. It’s something that’s been huge for me.”
Wentz did something similar, according to Cooley. As soon as the Eagles’ 2017 offseason training activities (OTAs) started, Wentz invited a rookie to his church. At lunch afterward, Wentz asked the rookie to share his story and asked if he’d be willing to “take that next step.” The rookie agreed. Twice a week for five weeks, the two teammates met before practice and read through half the Gospel of John. After OTAs ended, they still connected about once a week over FaceTime, until the beginning of training camp.
“I know for me, that’s when I usually grow the most, one-on-one conversation, because there’s just something about it that can be super-personal,” Wentz said in “The Biggest Win.” “You don’t have to hold anything back.”
Accountability, which falls under the larger umbrella of discipleship, is the idea of two or more Christians mutually and prayerfully encouraging and exhorting each other to pursue the likeness of Christ in their lives, Cooley writes in the book. Discipleship can take many other forms besides accountability—spreading the Gospel, growing in spiritual maturity and humbly helping others to do the same.
“Because of its nature, sports can open doors for discipleship that might not have existed otherwise,” Cooley says. “As an athlete, you likely spend significant time with others at practice, in the locker room, traveling to games and at dining tables. Sports helps create relationships, common interests and shared goals. You link arms with teammates in both triumph and adversity. And when some of those individuals are fellow believers, it opens the door for wonderful, faith-building fellowship opportunities, such as those experienced by Ertz and Burton, or Wentz and his rookie teammate.”
A percentage of the book sales from “The Biggest Win” goes to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the international sports ministry with a vision to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes. View the video trailer for “The Biggest Win” here.
Cooley is also the co-author for Foles’ new book, “Believe It,” which became a New York Times best-seller in its first week. Cooley’s other works include “The One Year Devotions with Jesus,” “Heroes of the Bible Devotional” and “The One Year Sports Devotions for Kids.”
New Growth Press publishes gospel-centered, Bible-based materials that provide churches, families, and individuals with resources for personal and spiritual growth and change. NGP also publishes books, minibooks, small group and Gospel Story for Kids resources that provide churches, families and individuals with gospel-driven publications for all ages.