'It’s a church with a sporty flavour – a whistle for kick-off, half-time oranges …’
Bill’s story | Running, the Broncos and Jesus
“I was brought up in the Salvation Army and my parents were pastors, so I’ve known Jesus all my life. I accepted Jesus at age seven, but I’ve always been on the journey.
I started a cricket career when I was young and I had ambitions to represent Australia. I got picked in some representative teams, but they all played on Sundays. It was back in the 60’s when you couldn’t even listen to the radio on a Sunday. So that was the end of that. Then my younger brother got into running and he was really good at it, so I took up running too and I got really serious. I think sport and Christianity set me up for life. I hated school and I wasn’t an academic, but if you’re good at something, you’re OK. People accept you.
I went on to win some big marathons, and I represented Queensland at the World Police Olympics in Canada. Even when I retired from running, I started running as a guide for my mate who was blind. He and I ran in the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 … and then in France in the World Championships. It’s been amazing. It’s led to a lot of ministry stuff which has been so powerful. It’s wonderful what God does!
Wayne Bennett was my boss at the Police, so when he got the job as coach at the Brisbane Broncos, he asked me to come and be the chaplain for the Broncos. I did that for 20 years and it was an interesting time. I was doing funerals, weddings, christenings, helping the young guys in the team. One of the players became a Christian in that time and we helped mentor each other. It was just about giving them a different perspective, a spiritual one.
Then God hit me over the head in about 2010. Before that, I’d been heavily involved in the local church, but I’d recently become a bit of a pew-sitter. God said to me, ‘Why don’t you start a church yourself – for people who wouldn’t normally come to church?’
We started ‘God’s Sports Arena’. It’s a church with a sporty flavour. We have a whistle to start the service, at kick-off, and then oranges at half-time. After half-time, we always swap sides, all that sort of stuff. Sport is a universal language! The church has just taken off. We have a lot of broken people come. Before we started, we had a relationship with a local drug rehab centre, so a lot of people come along with addictions or people who’ve been in prison or in prostitution. It’s just an unbelievable environment. God works in brokenness.
I’ve watched the church all my life, and I don’t want to criticise, but sometimes churches can focus on ministering to people who are already there. They’re not attracting new people in. I think we need to do church in a way that all people can understand, leave out the heavy theology. At our church, the first song we sing is not a Christian song. It’s one that everyone knows, like I’m a Believer (Neil Diamond). We can have fun!
My biggest mantra is to love people and encourage them. There’s no judgement. If someone comes to church and they’ve been clean for three days, then we celebrate that. We know we have failures, but we go forward. If someone’s been in prison for five years and just come out, we celebrate that. We want to be part of their future. We want to bring hope. For me, my background in Police and in sport, with the Broncos, it’s all helped. It’s about being patient, persevering and prayerful.
My favourite verse is from 1 Corinthians 9: “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (v24-25)
It’s the race of life! And we know that Jesus ministered to broken people. He went to them. No matter what rock bottom you hit, there’s hope for everyone!”
Bill’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.