john gillespie & tyson willis - tulia, tx

Seeking the Welfare of the Community

“I recognize you! You are one of the football coaches!” said a little boy to John Gillespie at the place where they provide free meals to families within the community. Little did this kid know that “football coach” is just one of the many roles that John fulfills in his community; he is a pastor, business owner, and the co-director of the local Upward Sports league alongside Pastor Tyson Willis. But John remembers this kid’s joy in seeing his football coach as a moment where John felt seen, recognized, and affirmed in his broader calling to make an impact for Christ in his community.
In a small town filled with bright faces, the somber presence of poverty is a reality. Running a sports league has been a fulfilling form of community engagement for John and Tyson. Tyson serves as associate pastor of New Fellowship Baptist Church, while John is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church. Together, these two pastors lead the local Upward Sports league in Tulia, TX. “We both have a burning commitment to serve our community and offer a safe place for kids, parents, and grandparents to come and be a part. We want to offer something that is stable, life-giving where we are able to share the good news of Jesus,” said John.

Tulia Upward Sports league promotes the discovery of Jesus through sports and has become an integrated part of the local community. John and Tyson believe that God wants them to use sports to address the physical and spiritual needs of kids in their community. At the same time, the sports league stimulates local businesses and families in the town to come together with sports as the bridge. By utilizing Project Select, (Upward’s new initiative to offer church partners the ability to customize their sport offering based on their church mission and community need) Tyson and John were able to keep specific apparel local, while keeping the player cost as low as possible, attracting new kids.

“Businesses would have felt slighted if we went elsewhere for the products that we need to run our sports league”, said John. “Being able to pick and choose what we need with Project Select helps give back to the businesses in the community and vitalize the overall economic well-being of Tulia.”

John and Tyson know how important affordability is. They already combine their churches efforts to help to feed approximately 150 kids twice a week during the evenings. In a community where many are struggling with poverty, it is essential that as many kids as possible have access to things like sports that can promote mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. “We have a burden for our community. We want to meet kids and their families right where they are,” said Tyson.

Through their sports league, John and Tyson see more people coming to their church, due to wanting to be a part of a sports team. Their Upward Sports partnership has allowed John and Tyson the opportunity to break down community barriers in a way that draws people from all backgrounds into a shared space to encounter Christ. Their sports league provides a place of entertainment and growth for kids and parents, and the halftime devotions draw everyone in, including parents who might not be familiar with the Christian faith. Tyson recalls a parent recognizing him from a devotion he gave at a recent basketball game; the parent told him how their child had been applying what he was learning from basketball to his life at home. This made an impact on the parent!

“There is no such thing as low expectations here when we serve a big God”, said Tyson. “We believe in reaching our full potential for the glory of God and that means striving not just to be better athletes, but better people that obey what Jesus has commanded. Our mission is to provide the best sports experience possible so that we can disciple not only our kids but families and the community as well.”

As a result, the sports ministry has become a part of the town at almost every level; everyone feels free to jump into the opportunity to serve, coach, or participate. And that has a ripple effect throughout the community. Tyson uses the extended reach of his church’s ministry to go out into the community and neighboring towns to pursue grants and scholarships that help to subsidize costs for new equipment and allows all players the opportunity to play. Upward Sports Tulia is about empowering kids and families and showing everyone that no one is lost or discounted in the Kingdom of God.

For those looking to revitalize their ministry, John and Tyson’s experience shines a new light on how to reach and serve a community. In a town where too much is too transient, the church provides a rock upon which people can depend for constant service and care. By getting outside the typical boundaries of church ministry and exploring new partnerships within the community through sports, John and Tyson have spread, not just the Word, but also the comfort and presence of God.

Sports ministry is about more than just organizing sports. As Pastors John and Tyson show, sports ministry advances the deeper calling of being the hands and feet of Christ, while showing his love to a community is need.

Find out why hundreds of churches across the country are partnering with us to reach their community.

connect with us on social media

©2024 Upward Unlimited™. Upward® is a registered trademark of Upward Unlimited. Upward is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry.