Small Church sows the Gospel seed through hoops
Grace Place uses Upward Basketball so Jesus can touch, change lives
By Lee Warren
December 22, 2004
LAMAR – As Grace Place Baptist Church in Lamar began hosting its seventh season of Upward Basketball recently, Pastor Kevin Sheat and his wife, Debbie, were awed by what God has done with their 16-family church. The basketball program has grown from 34 to 273 children (55 of them are cheerleaders) in that short amount of time, attracting children from all over Barton County (population 12,000).
“It’s a God thing,” said Debbie Sheat, who serves as secretary for the 32-team league. “This is something He is doing. We just have the very wonderful privilege of being involved in something He’s already about and He’s doing.”
Grace Place is one of approximately 1,200 churches across the country that hosts and organizes Upward Basketball—a program that uses sports to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. The program is designed for boys and girls in the first through sixth grades. Boys compete against boys and girls compete against girls.
Upward Basketball is different than other sports leagues. Teams only spend two hours on the court each week—one hour for practice and one hour for the game. No player sits out of games longer than six minutes at a time and players have the opportunity to be recognized after every game for best effort, best sportsmanship, best offense, best defense, most Christ-like attitude and for Scripture memorization awards.
Pastor Sheat doesn’t believe that success on the court has anything to do with star players, statistics or league championships.
“For a Christian, success is this simple,” he said. “It is obedience to the will of God. It has nothing to do with being better, smarter, faster, or in some measure superior to someone else.”
Grace Place is a church that is full of people who model such humility.
“Every single one of our people is involved in Upward,” Debbie Sheat said.
And not only do they serve, but they also mobilize people involved in the program to pray.
“We get 100 people praying for 100 days before Upward Basketball even gets off the ground (each season),” she said. “It’s built on a foundation of prayer.”
Grace Place builds on that foundation by bringing the Word of God to both the children and everybody else involved through weekly devotions at practice and half-time testimonies from believers in the community at every game. God is using Upward Basketball to change lives in Barton County.
“I have heard from numerous parents whose children were timid or lacked confidence and that Upward has been great for them,” Pastor Sheat said. “I have also heard that some kids think the world rotates around them and they too have learned that they need a team and others to help them.”
God isn’t just changing the lives of the children who play basketball at Grace Place.
“We know of families that have seen parents and grandparents return to church and know that God has done a real work in them,” Pastor Sheat said. “We heard a father stand up and share last year during a testimony time of how God had used Upward and his son who was playing to draw him back to a walk with the Lord.”
Grace Place hasn’t seen an increase in attendance at their church as a result of Upward Basketball and they aren’t at all concerned about that.
“We get to sow seeds into a lot of lives that never darken the door of any church,” Pastor Sheat said. “Jesus said in John 4:37 that one sows and another reaps. This has been our invitation and opportunity to take the seed of God’s Word—the Good News of Christ Jesus and broadcast it into a field of hundreds if not thousands of lives. We figure that we will have the opportunity to touch at least four other lives per child participating.”
Grace Place would like to build a second gymnasium to accommodate even more students or to cut down on the number of hours volunteers spend in their current gym on game day. And they are asking for prayer for the one-mile stretch of gravel road that leads to their church from a paved highway. They need that stretch of road to hold up. It floods during rain storms and they have to pull cars out of the mud with a tractor sometimes.
“We don’t have the resources so people park out here and sometimes their cars sink,” Debbie Sheat said. “But I know God can do more about that in the future should He desire to.”