Tebow, winner of the 2007 Heisman trophy, played for the University of Florida before moving on to the National Football League (U.S.), where he played quarterback for the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets. And he is probably as well known for being outspoken about his Christian faith as he is for his athletic accomplishments.
That made Tebow an ideal fit as a keynote speaker for a conference designed for athletes, coaches, and anyone else who wants to explore how belief and sport intersect.
“The goal [of the congress] is to bring about a culture shift in modern sport and the role it plays in the life of Christian faith,” said Calvin University’s Dr. Brian Bolt, who codirected the congress with Dr. Chad Carlson from Hope College.
Over five days, 11 keynote speakers — including coaches, academics, Special Olympians, and athletes — gave addresses on a variety of topics. There were also workshops on issues ranging from the theology of play and baseball and liturgy to “sin, shame, and adverse performance” and “when God calls an audible.”
“This is an event where everyone can dig in to conversations about sport and the Christian faith — the good, the bad, and everything in between,” Bolt said.
The Grand Rapids event marked the first time that the Global Congress on Sport and Christianity took place on North American soil. The first congress was held at York St. John University in England in 2016. That event drew nearly 200 participants from 24 countries.
Bolt and Carlson wanted to take what they experienced there, build on that success, and offer something even greater in 2019. By all accounts, the event at Calvin University was a success.
Approximately 250 people from 25 countries attended. Feedback has been positive, and one of the highlights for many was Tebow’s address.
Tebow spoke during the noon hour on Oct. 24, 2019. The talk was open to the broader public, and about 5,000 people attended.
Tebow shared how he grew up with missionary parents, how a mission trip to the Philippines in his teens changed his life, and how his faith continues to intersect with his athletic career.
He also encouraged young people in the audience, many of whom play sports for high schools in the West Michigan area.
“I want to encourage you to believe in yourself because you matter,” Tebow said. He explained that success is about the individual, their personal gifts, and how hard they are willing to work to achieve their goals. Significance, on the other hand, is much broader than what they can do on the field.
“A lot of people will try to define you. But only God can define you,” he said.
After his public lecture, Tebow also met with congress participants in an engaging question and answer session, where he spoke about many topics, including sport and physical injury, sharing his faith in and through sport, and his own personal faith journey.
The second Global Congress on Sport and Christianity closed with sunrise worship and a closing address on Sunday, Oct. 27.
Bolt said that plans are in the works to hold another Congress in three years with a location yet to be determined. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in the topic of sport and Christianity, they can tune in to Dig Deep: Sport, Faith, Life a podcast hosted by Bolt and Carlson.