PCA pastor Fritz Games has always been an advocate of hobbies, particularly those that advance friendships and relationships, but an encounter with a fellow father at their sons’ cross-country race 10 years ago propelled him into a new area of ministry he could not have imagined.
The father invited Games to come mountain biking with him in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park. “It was summer, and it was hot and miserable,” said Games. “I kept falling and got scarred up. I couldn’t keep up, and I’m very competitive. It was brutal, I hated it — and when I got home I told my wife, ‘I can’t wait to do it again.’”
Thus began a new passion for Games, and a new prism through which to view life and ministry. Games lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church and volunteers heavily with the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association (KyMBA) — building trails, organizing social events, and hosting group rides for new riders.
It is work that brings together under one umbrella his love for people, for creation, and for transformation.
“When I visit a trail I helped build, I will go there and stare at it and praise God for the majesty of it all — the creation and the stewardship.”
“The creation mandate and Jeremiah 31 offer plenty of theological fuel to motivate us to care for our community,” said Games. “We can do it creatively, whether we’re working in a soup kitchen or an after-school tutoring program, or mountain biking and building trails. A friend once encouraged me, ‘Use your gifts, how God made you, in your sphere of influence to help your community flourish.’ It’s that simple.”
Subduing the Earth
When Games says, “I believe in the kingdom of God, and I see God mending the fractures of the earth,” he means it literally. He regularly works alongside other bike volunteers to hew new trails from underbrush and scrub, using hand tools such as Rogue hoes and McLeod rakes. The work is hot, dirty, and in many ways thankless. But it is profoundly satisfying.
“When I visit a trail I helped build, I will go there and stare at it and praise God for the majesty of it all — the creation and the stewardship,” said Games. “There’s nothing more moving than a ribbon of trail through the woods, beautifully built.”
The stark difference between “before” and “after” resonates with Games and others who pursue this type of earthly restoration. Games describes a trail-building project he and other bikers took on in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he lived before Louisville. The city had given the biking group a rundown park to develop, and Games’ initial reaction was not one of excitement, but discouragement.
“The only thing the city had to give us was this shady, creepy park known for being a gathering place for all kinds of deviant behavior,” said Games. “I thought it was a terrible idea, but when I went and saw it I realized both how bad it was and how good it could be.”
What followed were several years of toil, involving teams of Western Kentucky University RUF students and others tweaking three miles out of the woods with hand tools. And it totally transformed the area, said Games, with the addition of freshly hewn trails and new signage and picnic tables. Families now use the park as a recreational area, and the sketchier population has drifted away. An annual 5K trail race that Games and others started as a fund-raiser to support the new trail is still going strong five years later.
It’s a visible reminder of the power of transformation. Though some would say that these physical efforts are a pale imitation of work in the spiritual realm, Games sees it as powerful in its own way.
“I don’t fully understand 1 Corinthians 15 regarding ‘Our labor is not in vain,’” says Games. “But I know that this [trail building] has an eternal weight to it, and that thrills me. It gives reason for the beauty of building trails.”
He also notes that in Revelation 21 and 22 the distinction between being with God and being in the new heavens and new earth is slim. “I think we’ll be doing things with our hands and feet and bodies there,” said Games. “That’s what we were originally created for, and that’s where we’re going again.”
Living in Community
Games, as a pastor and a former RUF minister at Western Kentucky University, clearly has a passion for being with people and bringing them together. It’s a gift that serves him well in his mountain-biking volunteer work, too, says Jonathan Kiel, a ruling elder and Ph.D. student who serves alongside Games on staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and is a fellow mountain biker.
He notes that the mountain-biking community in Louisville is frequently segmented, with bikers riding with one or two friends but not meeting the larger biking community. “One thing that Fritz and Derek Fetko [a fellow KyMBA leader] do well is gather people together,” said Kiel. “They have started a string of barbecue parties, fundraisers, and community events to get people together and have them enjoy each other. It helps build community, pools resources, and supports the whole system.”
“A friend once encouraged me, ‘Use your gifts, how God made you, in your sphere of influence to help your community flourish.’ It’s that simple.”
Fetko, owner of the Louisville shop On Your Left Cycles, sees the value in community events. He volunteers extensively with trail building, having logged 100 hours during the past year, but especially appreciates Games’ ability to draw people together. “Fritz is a self-motivator and has been an absolute pleasure to work with. He has lots of experience running events and fundraisers, and he comes to meetings and brings ideas I haven’t thought of. It greatly benefits our club.”
Kiel sees Games’ natural way of drawing people together as an extension of the Christian understanding of community. “God created us to be together, to enjoy being together, and I see that being applied to this group.”
The social events that gather these previously segmented bikers together have a compounding effect, where small knots of people enjoy being together, then attract more who want to participate, and the circle of companionship continues to grow.
“You begin to enjoy life and creation together and show kindness and care to people you wouldn’t have met otherwise,” says Kiel.
In fact, it was Games’ involvement in KyMBA that helped Kiel see the value in participating in the group, where he began to make connections broader than his fellow doctoral students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Now one of his closest friends in Louisville is a fellow KyMBA biker, and is not a believer. “Because we spend hours together on bikes, he listens to me. He’s open to hearing my perspective on things,” said Kiel. “And I value him and his wisdom highly. He has a lot of life experience to share that is helping me navigate some other relationships in my life. And if I hadn’t met him through the biking world, I would not have been as open to him and his wisdom.”
Kiel sees the relational side of Games’ mountain-biking service likely to bear fruit over time. “I see this laying the groundwork for what will become more constructive, longer-term relationships that become more and more meaningful over time,” he said.
One man whom Games and Kiel befriended has attended their church several times and is beginning to read the Bible for the first time in decades. “In the Gospels, Jesus looks at His disciples and says, ‘That man is not far from the kingdom of heaven,’” says Kiel. “That’s this friend. He even quotes Scripture back to us sometimes, albeit using some salty language, but he’s beginning to sense that the virtues of kindness and generosity he’s always admired actually come from a Christian foundation.”
Games says that his fellow mountain-biking volunteers have much to teach him too. “These guys teach me a lot about service,” he said. “They often have trail work days on Sundays, and when I get a week off I plan to attend one. Many spend far more hours out there than I do.”
He admires their fierce loyalty and how they work hard together for things they value, all while noting a generational drift from the faith. “I’ve said that many 20- and 30-somethings have left the church and are not coming back. They’ve turned to the outdoors as their community and religion. But they care deeply about sincerity, authenticity, commitment, and follow-through — they’ve got that part of Jesus down.”
Games longs for the ultimate restoration of the earth and mankind, when God’s glory is so clearly displayed that no distinctions are necessary between the work of the Spirit and the work of our hands. He references Romans 8:19: “The whole creation is on tiptoe awaiting its redemption.”
This hope is made visible in projects such as the Bowling Green park transformation, where an overgrown parcel of land starts as an eyesore, then a vision emerges for what it could be, and then faithful pruning over time yields a beautiful, useful space that enhances the lives of many. That, says Games, is a picture of redemption.
“It’s just like God looking at sinners, then declaring who we are in Christ, and then working to make it happen,” he said. “He cuts back all the lines and weeds and maintains them, and a beautiful trail emerges. That is what God is doing in us.”
Melissa Morgan Kelley is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and children.