Friday, April 24, 2015

A Wonderful Surprise

On occasion, if we persevere, we receive a thank you or an “attaboy” from an unexpected source. If we serve faithfully, not forcefully, and serve in an intensely relational way, we are in position for such wonderful surprises. One such occasion rose for me earlier this week.

For the past three years, I have been serving the university baseball team in my community. My service mostly consists of going two hours prior to game time to speak casually with those who care to chat. I station myself right by the dugout at the edge of the seats as I have yet to be invited onto the field for batting practice. While there I always get a few moments to talk with the head coach, often with a couple of the assistants, and regularly with a number of the players. I send eighteen of the players text message prayers and sometimes scriptures on game days. I meet them for game day chapels three hours and fifteen minutes prior to game time, in the dugout, on home Sundays. For those chapels I bring a devotional thought on paper, in letter form, and I prepare a five minute talk from scripture that is both motivational and inspirational. Simple, brief, and in my estimation, with little depth.

To my surprise, I received the following text message from one of our pitchers on Monday morning. He and I have very little depth of relationship so I was stunned by his remarks.

“I apologize for not making it to Chapel...I look forward to it every home weekend and I did not get up early this day!

I truly do appreciate your support greatly and I most enjoy the guidance you give as it is through Jesus Christ!

Thanks so much for your love and I want you to know that on a personal level even though I may not have shown it you have helped me become a much better Christian and have assisted me through a tough personal situation I was in last year!

Thank you so very much Roger!


I was stunned at his remarks, but immeasurably gratified to receive them. Even on t
he days when I, or you, don’t perceive the impact of our service, the Lord Jesus is speaking , by His Spirit, to the hearts of those we serve. If we are careful to speak the truth of scripture and to prefer people over programs, we can have a depth of impact far beyond our perceptions.

May I challenge you to remain faithful? Do not stop short of consistent, faithful, service of the sportspeople in your charge. They are worth it and you may even receive a wonderful, soul-enriching surprise on occasion.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wide and Deep Ministry in Athletics

One of our most highly valued colleagues and friends is Stuart Weir of Verité Sport in the United Kingdom. Stuart has carved out a tremendously unique and effective ministry in the world of Athletics and elsewhere around the world. 

Below, please find his April 2015 ministry update. His model is unique as he serves as a journalist as well as a personal mentor and sports chaplain to sportspeople, but his influence is much wider than one might gather at first glance. Through his writing, website, and wide distribution of written materials in several languages, he has a global impact. 

Please give Stuart’s ministry update a thorough read and I pray it challenges you to widen and deepen your circle of influence as it has challenged me.

Update - April 2015

Athletics
Ministry in athletics continues to be one of my priorities. Already this year I have been to 4 indoor events.

The season started at Glasgow, which in the past has proved to be an excellent event for meeting athletes for the first time. 

This year, with no TV coverage, there were no American and no Commonwealth athletes. Moreover, a significant number of British athletes effectively opted out of the indoor season. So at Glasgow, for the first time in six years athletics ministry I found myself without a known Christian to meet and without an Oxford athlete to write about!

It was great to have Jules Wilkinson at the British trials in Sheffield. The logistics of the event made holding a meeting impossible but we were able to support a number of Christian athletes individually. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=Sheffield15

Jules was also at the Sainsbury's British Grand Prix in Birmingham where I organised and she led a Bible study for nine athletes, only one of whom had ever been to one of my Bible studies before.

I also attended the European Indoor Championships in Prague. I had hoped to repeat the Sunday service for the British team that I'd done twice in 2014. However, none of the athletes who attended the services were competing this year. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=euroindoor2015

In one sense it has been a slow start to the season but as I see this as long-term ministry, that is not a problem. I was able to have significant conversations with coaches and administrators.

In addition to attending events I keep in touch with athletes through my weekly devotional email, personal emails and meetings at training centres.

My next event is the London Marathon on 26 April, where last year three of the four main races were won by Christians.

Bangladesh
Four years ago, I received an email from a person in Bangladesh whom I had never met. He said that he received and enjoyed my weekly devotional email and that he had also read Born to Play, a book that I wrote with Graham Daniels in 2004, and was keen to have it published in Bangladesh. At the time, I was unable to find the funding to help him translate and publish the book but we kept in touch. Finally last year I was able to find the money. Last month I received copies of the printed Bengali version of the book. This is the 12th edition of the book in eight languages to be published. Thanks to everyone who gave specifically to this project. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=bangla

International projects
Supporting international projects has always been an important aspect of the work of Verité Sport. Here is a quick update on some of our partners, with more information available on the website.

Togo
The girls’ football team finished second in the National League - equal on points but pipped on goal difference. The performance got them an invitation to an international tournament in Ghana. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=league2015.

Argentina
Laura is back in Argentina working with local athletes. She was able to take back with her and quantity of new but out of date British Athletics clothing, on which they had embroidered the logo of the local club in Cachi, Argentina. Laura's latest update can be read at http://www.veritesport.org/?page=argapr15

Pakistan
Each year we sponsor the Easter cricket tournament which Victor runs in Pakistan. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=2015Pak.

Ukraine
Zhenya has been elected vice president of the Rivne County Football Association. He is delighted but daunted by the responsibility and is determined to continue to fight corruption which, sadly, is rife in Ukrainian football. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=UKRnewsletter

“Have you retired?”
As people keep asking me this question, I have obviously not communicated clearly my current circumstances. The simple answer is that I continue to work full-time as director of Verité Sport. However, having reached the age of 65 I am able to live on pension income. Thus I no longer take a salary from Verité Sport but continue to raise money to cover expenses and grants to projects.

Annual accounts
One of the first tasks in 2015 was the production of our annual accounts; our financial year ends on 31 December. Most of the work is done by my indefatigable treasurer, Ros, to whom I will be eternally grateful. The accounts are now with the examiner and will be available to everyone in a few months.

Prayer
Pray for the continuing ministry in athletics. 
Pray for the work of our partners – Laura and Fabio (Argentina), Aimé (Togo), Zhenya (Ukraine) and Victor (Pakistan). 
Pray for the distribution of Born to Play in Bangladesh.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ministry with Coaches

The ministry we have with coaches cannot be overemphasized in its importance. To influence the influential, to coach coaches, to nurture a multigenerational approach to our ministries is very wise and most effective. The Apostle Paul wrote of this dynamic, in his second letter to Timothy, at chapter 2 and verse 2. There we read, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

When we invest our lives in coaches, we not only have an impact upon their individual lives, but also their families, their teams, their colleagues, and even their communities. Below are some simple, but effective ways of making connections with coaches that can be transformational to their hearts. I hope you will try some or all of these.

Attend their events. Go to their clinics. Attend their training events. Invest your time in their practices, games, matches, tournaments, etc… Be where the coaches are, rather than expecting them to show up at your events.

Live in their world. Take the time to learn, to understand, and to embrace the culture of sport where they live. Some parts of it may be uncomfortable for you. It may initially feel like a poor fit. You must find ways to live in and to enjoy the world of sport to ever have influence in it. To simply import Church culture into the sports world is wholly inadequate.

Help them achieve. If you care about every facet of their lives, including their professional development, you will begin to be profoundly influential. For you to suggest, purchase, or loan books to a coach is greatly appreciated. For you to suggest clinics, networks, websites, mentors, or events that can further the careers of the coaches you serve is among the strongest ways to build trust with them.

Help them clarify values. This is a little trickier, but it’s worth it. When you ask good questions about why they coach the way they do. To ask coaches about what is most important to them, to ask what they hope to achieve in the lives of their players, to ask about their values related to their coaching staff, is a simple way to assist them in clarifying values for their programs. Coach Joe Ehrmann’s questions from Season of Life and InSideOut Coaching are most helpful: “Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way that you coach? How does it feel to be coached by me?” Probing questions all, they help clarify values and set a coach’s direction for his or her program.

Help them gain perspective. Coaching a sport, at any level, can be terribly consuming of the coach. The higher the level, the higher the salary, the higher the profile of the coach, the more pressure is applied to the coach’s heart and the more perspective is lost. Compulsive or obsessive behaviors, broken family relationships, shouting tirades, breaches of ethical and legal boundaries, and more are right at the doorstep of coaches as they lose perspective in pursuit of power and success. We can be the ones who help them gain perspective. When we ask questions about individual players, about their families, about their health, about their marriages, and other “off the field of competition” matters, we help them gain perspective. When we discuss process more than results, we help them gain perspective.


We may be uniquely qualified to help coaches in these specific areas, to nurture their hearts, to affirm their calling, to encourage their progress, and to enhance their influence with the people they coach and with whom they labor. Let’s love them extravagantly and serve them selflessly.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Postmodernism and Sports Ministry

Since around 2000, I have been working to retool my brain from a well-entrenched modern mindset to be flexible enough to communicate more clearly with postmodern thinkers. I am convinced that most everyone I know, forty years of age and younger, thinks with a 100% postmodern mindset. They do so without even a thought of how differently their elders perceive the world and make decisions. The great and widening divide between these two ways of thinking is played out in the media as cultural issues are loudly discussed and argued from two widely different perspectives. Neither is really listening to the other and neither is being persuasive with the other. Our world needs interpreters. I aim to be one.

I will soon be fifty-nine years of age and began rewiring my brain about fifteen years ago. Leonard Sweet’s book, SoulTsunami, was of tremendous help in this process as were two of his other works, AquaChurch and A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café. (SoulTsunami: 10 Life Rings for You and Your Church, AquaChurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe: Finding the Energy of a Deeper Spiritual Life)

Many of our friends in the Evangelical world rail against postmodernism as though it was the mark of the beast. They find it to be an enemy of the Church, an impediment to the Gospel, and a perversion of everything holy. They fail to think this through and to grasp that the world Jesus lived in was anything but modern in any way, certainly not in thought. I chose to seek ways to make peace with postmodern thought and to find ways to adapt my thinking and communication skill to be effective in light of it. This has been neither easy nor quick. My friend and mentor, Lowrie McCown, dragged me kicking and screaming into new ways of thinking. I am forever indebted to him.

Following are some of the distinctions between modern and postmodern ways of thinking and their implications upon ministry with sportspeople. I hope they are of benefit to your work with the same.

Modern                                        Postmodern
·        Individually focused            Communally focused
·        Hierarchical structures        Flat, organic structures
·        Authority from position        Authority from experience
·        Rational knowledge            Experiential knowledge
·        Is skeptical                          Is spiritual
·        Interested in the destination     Interested in the journey
·        Universal truth                     Contextual truth

Just with this simple table of differences, you have probably thought of several instances where different approaches to issues like team / club structure, the basis for authority, the source of knowledge, the nature of spirituality, and the basis for truth are points of conflict. My aim is not to find a way to make better arguments for modernism, instead it is to find a way to communicate timeless truths of scripture to a postmodern thinking audience.

My postmodern friends are much more comfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, than my modern, order loving, black and white thinking friends. Thus I must relinquish some of my desire to nail cultural things down as absolutely right or wrong, truth or error, when they may simply be preferences.

My friends during my earlier days in the church loved didactic teaching and verse by verse preaching. I find that if I really want to connect with student-athletes between 14 and 22 years of age, I had better find a narrative passage of scripture. These postmodern thinkers connect much more quickly with discussion of a story from I Kings than they do with a Bible study from I Timothy. Even when speaking from a New Testament epistle, the extra five minutes given to a description of the background, the story of the author and the history of the audience produces a personal connection that moves their hearts.

Almost without exception, if I offer postmoderns an either / or choice for something, they will choose both, or at least some of each. My modern friends are happy to make a choice of one or the other. My modern friends tend to categorize themselves in a cultural niche and are quite happy to stay there. The postmoderns are thrilled to blend cultures, even some that seem to be clashing with each other. For example, country kids listening to hip hop music, wearing cowboy boots and a ball cap on sideways.

Modern thinking people tend to ride new waves of culture as they arrive and toss the old things into the backseat like a crushed soda can. Postmoderns like things that are both ancient and future. They will embrace Gregorian chants and listen them on their latest version of the iPhone. They will shoot selfies with their friends in their throwback jerseys, Beats headphones, and wearing “Classic Jordan” basketball shoes.

If you are reading this and you are forty or older, please think about how you think. Consider your mindset and that of those twenty years your junior. How well do you connect? How easy do you find it to communicate, to understand, and to be understood? If you find that you and those you are serving seem to be on separate planes of thought, you have some options:
1) You can withdraw and simply quit.
2) You can go the way of the dinosaur and become a fossil. You can rail against the changes and become increasingly irrelevant to your postmodern audience.

3) You can study, adapt, think, contemplate, experiment, and find ways to communicate clearly, wisely, effectively, and truthfully. Please choose option 3. We need the wisdom, experience, and commitment of those in my generation, but we need to find new ways to speak into a vastly different and rapidly changing culture.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wisdom from Saluki Swimmers

Tuesday evening, during our monthly Saluki FCA large group meeting, we included a Skype video talk from two recent SIU Swimming alumni. Justin and Jessica Wolfe were both leading members of their teams and of the Saluki FCA huddle during their days at the university. Both had shoulder surgery while in their collegiate swimming careers and shortly after graduating, I was privileged to marry them to each other. Justin swam well enough to qualify for the Olympic trials and gave a tremendous effort, but did not qualify. They now live and work in Mankato, Minnesota.
                    
Several times as they were at Saluki FCA meetings over their careers, we talked about the danger of performance based identity and the trap that it can be for competing athletes. They were both well aware of the challenge that it would be to them and walked confidently into their post-competition years. They spoke with our current student-athletes in a tremendous way about the transition between competitive sporting live and what happens after one’s career is over.

Jessica spoke of how much more difficult it is to make friends outside of sport. For her whole lifetime she had friends automatically, they were teammates and they spent dozens of hours together in the pool weekly. Once in the working world, she wondered, “How do I meet people and make friends out here?” Even this tremendously bright, extroverted, friendly, and beautiful young lady found it a difficult transition from her life on swimming teams.

Justin spoke of the difficult transition from a life of chasing personal performance records, training, and the immediate results measured by a stop watch to a life with fewer measurable results and performance standards. Though he knew in his mind the dangers of a performance based identity, it still affected him. He made a couple of statements that were particularly helpful. He said that the end of career in swimming was like, “writing right handed for my whole lifetime and then having to suddenly write left handed.” He also said that for most of his life if someone asked him, “What are you?” He would say, “I am a swimmer.” Now he struggled with who he was. At first it seemed awkward to say, “I am an engineer.” When talking with people about swimming, he now says, “I am still a swimmer; I am just a different kind of swimmer.” His mentality is still that of a swimmer, even though his daily occupation is being an engineer.


Thankfully for these two, they have firmly grounded their ultimate identity in their relationships with the Lord Jesus. Their mentality as swimmers will likely continue for their lifetimes, but their identities in Christ will last for eternity. Let’s be faithful to help the sportspeople we serve to navigate the perilous waters, the furious rapids that accompany the end of their sporting careers. They will most certainly deal with a loss of identity, if they speak about it or not. If we help them see the danger of the approaching rapids, they are better prepared and more likely to ride them safely to calmer waters.

Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 FCA Sports Chaplains Conference

Earlier this week the Fellowship of Christian Athletes hosted its annual Sports Chaplains Conference at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas (USA). http://www.thehopecenter.org/ We were very pleased with every aspect of the event. The venue, The Hope Center, is a wonderful facility which houses forty-one non-profit ministries. It is a short drive from DFW airport and their staff were gracious hosts.

The event’s featured speaker was Baltimore Ravens (NFL) team chaplain, Johnny Shelton. Johnny did a solid job of encouraging and inspiring the 90+ sports chaplains and character coaches from across the USA. Our general sessions included 15-20 minutes of musical worship and prayer as well. We were joined by FCA CEO and President, Coach Les Steckel, on Tuesday afternoon as he offered his encouraging remarks about the value of ministry to the men and women of sport through sports chaplaincy. FCA’s national director of training, Dan Bishop, skillfully emceed the meetings and led the entire process of preparation and execution of the event. Jordan Barnes contributed tremendously in her administrative role, making a very complex process seem very simple to the conferees. Thanks to each and all.

On Tuesday morning there were three breakout sessions about some best practices of a sports chaplain – I led one about Team Chapels, Nate Bliss from Syracuse University led one on development of athlete huddles and relationships, while David Gittings from Virginia Tech University related to Crisis and Conflict strategies. Each conferee was able to choose two of the three sessions to attend. These were followed by huddle meetings, small group discussions, for the conferees to discuss and process their thoughts about these matters.

Later on Tuesday we heard from two gentlemen regarding two very important issues. Those who serve collegiate sportspeople all appreciated the information gathered from a local NCAA Compliance officer. He helped us understand some of the areas of the rules which directly affect sports chaplains’ service. We were then given some tremendous counsel from an attorney of the Alliance Defending Freedom regarding our constitutional rights as sports chaplains. Both of these sessions were very well received.

Just prior to lunch we had three more breakout sessions. One was for those who serve at colleges or universities, led by Richard Lopez of the University of Arizona. One was for female sports chaplains and it was led by Brandi Cantrell from Texas Tech University. Still another was led by Chris Rich of FCA in Pennsylvania and it was for those who serve as sports chaplains or character coaches with high schools, junior high schools, and club teams.

After lunch we had a panel discussion with a wide variety of questions being posed to four veteran chaplains. Three of them have or currently serve NFL clubs and one has served in collegiate sports for over twenty years. Later in the afternoon, I made a presentation about the recently launched website, www.globalsportschaplaincy.org. I outlined the process of development, the structure of the site, its goals, and values. The site has found wide acceptance among these leaders and we are excited about how it will facilitate the growth of sports chaplaincy within FCA, across the USA, and around the world.

One unique facet of this conference is that we give each conferee $15.00 cash for dinner, shuttle them to an area with lots of restaurants, and then turn them all loose for dinner together. They group themselves and enjoy a fun evening of dinner and conversation, sharing their best practices, strategies, and stories of success, struggle, and redemption.

In our final session, we again enjoyed worship music, another inspiring talk and an intimate session of prayer. Dan Bishop then helped wrap things up with some evaluation, instructions for airport shuttles, affirmation of our vision, mission, and values. We were led by Brandi Cantrell in prayer for our colleague, John Randles, as he battles cancer.

As we look forward to next year’s conference, you should expect that it will be back in Kansas City at the FCA National Support Center. We are discussing a slightly earlier start on day 1 and a slightly later finish on day 3. We are so pleased with this conference that we would like to lengthen it so as to add even more value.


Thank you to each and all who planned, executed, attended, and presented at the conference. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Wise use of Technology in Sports Ministry

Today’s note is a reprise from one I shared in July of 2011. It seems even more appropriate as social media has only increased in its use and its visibility to the culture at large. It certainly is used widely, not necessarily wisely, by the men and women in sport. We must consider ways to use technology wisely and in a Christ-honoring way. I hope these thoughts are of value to you and our service of sportspeople.

During the fall of 2009, I made a presentation to the Sport Chaplains Roundtable in Lansing, Michigan (USA) re: the use of technology in Sports Ministry. An outline of that presentation with some comments follows. I hope it is of value to you as you consider what technologies to employ and the values that shape how you use them.

Using Technology in Sports Ministry

• What to do? Which technologies can enhance our effectiveness in ministry with sportspeople?

• What should I NOT do? What is there about such technologies which could actually harm our ministries?

• How to do it? What are some values which should guide how we approach technological advances?

o Email – many of us use email all the time, but it’s used less and less by people under 30 years of age.

o SMS Text Messages – many people now prefer this mode of communication over all others.

o facebook – there are many ways to use this wisely and many more to use it foolishly.

o Twitter – what of value can be expressed in 140 characters?

o LinkedIn – with whom do you connect on this site?

 
Guidelines for use of technology:

Consider the purpose for your writing.

o To encourage

o To challenge

o To console

o To inspire

o To inform

 
Use proper etiquette.

o bcc: in emails – few things are more annoying (and insecure) than seeing hundreds of addresses in the header of an email.

o Please use proper grammar – writing badly does not enhance your ministry nor does it inspire confidence in you.

o Check spelling – this is pretty easy, but if not done can lead to embarrassment.

o Use photos and video wisely – especially in international relationships. There are a number of ways to use photos poorly and thereby jeopardize one’s friends in oppressive countries.

Errors to avoid

o Personal information of coaches or players – Don’t share personal information about sportspeople, ever.

o Injury information – Your sharing of this kind of information can be used by gambling interests and in the USA is even illegal in itself.

o Critical thoughts re: team, coaches or players – This is an express ticket to the loss of your privileges with the team or club.

o Items meant to build your status – Don’t be a name dropper. Don’t post photos with high profile players.

Inspire and encourage

o Coaches – speak to their hearts prior to competitions and then afterward.

o Athletes – challenge them to be their best before game time and then either congratulate or console once you know the result.


o Chaplains – lead and encourage your colleagues as you know they are preparing to share the Lord’s heart with those in his/her charge.