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Martial Arts - Ministry or Club?

posted Jan 8, 2013, 9:58 PM by David Johnson   [ updated Jan 9, 2013, 5:38 AM by Joanne Johnson ]

Since moving to Arkansas, I have particpated in four martial arts clubs that operated under ministry charters. In each one, including that those I have been part of founding, a single question will be raised at some point in its lifecycle: “What is distinctive about this club that makes it a ministry rather than a church sponsored workout?”

I will confess, as I have followed KFCI and KBKK facebook postings, I have felt some inferiority at times. When Sensei Buddy Duke was posting every couple of weeks that they baptized another batch of kids at his club, I was wondering “what are we doing wrong?”. Most of our people are churched and (presumably) saved, so what sets us apart from any other volunteer community club? In my opinion, having a prayer and short devotional time does not make one a ministry.

When I looked up the definition of ministry, I found this definition nestled in amongst the church and government references: a person or thing through which something is accomplished . Unfortunately, the word “something” is rather vague, so I did what any good strategic thinker would do: I listed what “somethings” we do.

Not all ministry is about reaching the unchurched. While “outreach” ministries are necessary, the church fails when it brings people in the door with promises of support but does not or cannot follow through. Perhaps our ministry is not a “foot”, but is more of a “hand” or “heart” ministry?

Many of our people work out with us simply because it is a fun way to get some physical exercise. If this is all that we are, then we do not warrant the title of “ministry”. In my opinion, a good workout followed by a brief devotional and prayer is not sufficient to qualify one's work as ministry. However, as you will see later, this does not negate our role as a ministry.

Many of our people come to us for more serious reasons than a good workout. They are looking for a kind of “something” you can't get from a sermon or pastoral visit.

We are temporal creatures. While we can take a great deal of comfort from the scriptures, that is often not enough. Right after his biggest triumph, Elijah was suicidal. When you read Pauls letters chronologically as personal letters without dissection, you realize that he wrote some of his epistles in the midst of a personal crisis that nearly undermined his faith. Even Jesus felt abandoned and lost at times – “eloi lama sabachthani”.

Shortly before the Bethel Baptist club closed, we had a family walk in and start training with us. The first night they came, the 9 year old announced that his brother had nearly killed him, and vividly described the experience of being slowly strangled. Later, we found out that the brother was in juvenile detention for that incident. For this family, we offered a place where the teenaged brother could safely work through his anger (under supervsion of adult black belts, after he was back home), and the younger brother could be trained in skills to escape and survive another attack (safely separated from his brother).

Another time, a young boy from a concerned christian family, matter-of-factly related incidents where he had been victimized by his teenaged brother – for example, one time he was blind sided and knocked out with a chair, and another time he was threatened by having a knife pressed to his face. He almost immediately brushed those events off as “teenagers are just like that”.

As we talked, it became apparent that he was resigned to behaving the same way as his brother when he became a teen. He had memorized 1 Cor 10:13 many times before at church and VBS, but you could see his eyes pop when we read it together and noted that there was no exemption for teenagers. The way his face lit up when he realized that being a teenager did not mean he would automatically be the sort of person to hold a knife to a smaller kids face was priceless.

Our impacts as a ministry are not limited to children, either. Too often, churches are not prepared to deal with people who have been victims of serious assaults. We have both men and women come through our doors regularly who have been victims of various forms of assault, both random and systematic. These people are looking to restore their self confidence and/or ensure that they do not become victims again.

For those who “just come for a good workout”, I ask you to remember that every time you partner with someone you are ministering to them. When the rape victim you unknowingly work with perfects his or her escape, you have had a role in their healing. You have helped to save the life of the child that learns to use taisabaki and nikyo to evade a much larger attacker. When the shy person develops the confidence to look people in the eye as he or she walks own the street, you have had a part in making them less likely to be target for violence.

To wrap this up, a ministry is “a person or thing through which something is accomplished”. There are three “somethings” that we accomplish at Living Water Martial Arts:

  1. teaching of physical and mental skills to prevent victimization

  2. build or rebuild self confidence of people

  3. reinforce patterns of self discpline and healthy way to direct emotions

Teaching and perfecting the physical and mental skills of self defence are one tool in our arsenal. While we may not be reaching unsaved families this year, we are meeting a particular set of needs that many churches struggle with – a pragmatic set of tools of dealing with the reality and effects of certain types of violence in our society within the bounds of scripture. Everyone who participates, regardless of age or rank, has opportunity to minister to others, even if you do so unknowingly.