Friday, November 17, 2017

Strategies and Challenges of Accountability in Sports Ministry

During the most recent PowerUP Sports Ministry conference in Indianapolis, Indiana we heard several excellent presentations. Among them was “Strategies and Challenges of Accountability in Sports Ministry” by David Gittings. David serves with FCA at the Campus Director at Virginia Tech University. He serves as the chaplain to Hokies Football. Below are the notes I took from his presentation.

Galatians 6:1-3 – “You’re not that important.”
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

For what are you accountable?
·        Your relationship with God.
·        Your relationships with family.
·        Your ministry
·        Your self (your soul)

Challenges to being accountable
·        Ignorance (you just don’t know how)
·        Busyness (failure to make time)
·        Pride (you won’t be vulnerable)
·        Those last two are the biggest monsters.

Strategies for being accountable
·        Confession (James 5:16, Galatians 6:1-3)
·        The Word (Hebrews 4:12, Jeremiah 23:29, II Timothy 3:16-17)
·        A Partner – Someone you will give an “All Access Pass” to your life. (I Thessalonians 5:11, Luke 17:3)
·        Boundaries (I Corinthians 15:33)
·        Follow Through

I hope these notes are of value to you as you develop strategies for and experience the challenges of living in accountability.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Miracles are Wrapped in Mundanity

Miraculous moments are wrapped in daily mundanity. We must embrace the latter to experience the former.

When we read the Bible, we are amazed at the miraculous works of God through people like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Samson, the apostles, and certainly by Jesus. What we often overlook is the daily mundanity that envelopes all of those miraculous moments. Not featured in those stories are the daily tasks of gathering firewood, building fires, removing ashes, preparing food, cleaning utensils and dishes, taking out the garbage, and all the other mundane, ordinary, and essential elements of daily life. They are there, but are harder to see.

If we measure ourselves by the miraculous moments and wonder where they are in our lives and ministries, we can get pretty depressed. However, if we can embrace the mundanity of our daily existence and grasp the certainty that our heroes of the faith had to wade through similar daily tasks, we can find courage and affirmation.

I would challenge you to embrace the ordinary, mundane, and even boring parts of your life because it is in the midst of such days that the power of God appears to transform lives. Your life and the lives of those you serve can be marvelously changed by the unexpected appearance of Christ’s lovingkindness. Expect Him to meet you in the most unexpected places. He lives there.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Who cares for your soul?

A couple of months ago I was brainstorming ideas to fill this space week to week, and I had several good ideas. I have sent those items along over the last seven weeks. As I was writing those ideas on a piece of paper, I had the thought, “Who cares for your soul?” I thought about so many of our colleagues who serve in isolation, with few colleagues nearby, and whose service is seldom met with the degree of success that most would judge to be worthy of their time and energy. That could easily lead them to loneliness and despair.

That thought brought to mind this verse from Psalm 142 -
“For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.”

I am sure some of our coaching friends experience that sort of emotion, and surely some of the sports chaplains and character coaches in our networks do as well. Again, I ask, “Who cares for your soul?” The more I thought about that, I remembered that I had written a note in a similar vein back in January. It is below. I hope is of value to you.

One of the items of great interest to me in the book, Replenish – Leading from a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt, is the terrible fact that far too many pastors and other ministry workers are terribly isolated. Too few of us have strong relationships with trusted friends or mentors.

This leads me to ask, “Who is your chaplain?” Who is there in your life to provide the same sort of service that you regularly dispense to others? If you didn’t immediately have an answer, this is a problem to be addressed. Who cares for your soul? Who knows you well enough to ask you hard questions about your use of time, energy, and relationship? Who understands your life’s pressures, your weak spots, your character flaws, and loves you through them?

Are you close enough to your pastor for this sort of relationship? Have you given him or her permission to enter your life beyond your “public persona?” Is there a friend or colleague with whom you meet often enough to be vulnerable about your life?

Although I am an off the chart extrovert with thousands of acquaintances, there are few people I trust with my life’s pains and struggles. My introverted friends may find this even more difficult, but with a smaller circle of relationships.

Again, “Who is your chaplain?”

I meet with two men every Tuesday at 6:30 am at a local coffee shop. One of those gentlemen and I have been meeting together for over twenty-two years now. We three have walked together through family health issues (cancer and epilepsy), a divorce, a suicide attempt, a remarriage, multiple family issues, financial growth and challenge, joy, grief, and pain. Such is life. We know and trust each other. They are my chaplains.

Once more, I will ask, “Who is your chaplain?” I challenge you to find an answer to that question, to commit to an enduring and vulnerable relationship with someone who knows you well enough to care for your soul’s health. The long-term success or failure of your ministry as a sport chaplain or character coach may be determined by this relationship or the lack thereof.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chapel Talk Series - Be a Man

Across my twenty-four seasons of serving our college football (American football) team, I have done 200+ chapel talks. Over the years I have changed styles and forms many times, sometimes just to keep them from being too predictable or so ritualistic that the players and coaches would treat them like a good luck charm.

In the best seasons I had a strong tie in with the head coach and the ideas he was building into his team’s culture. With our most recent head coach, I have done two seasons on the program’s theme of, “Be a Man.” As probably 80% of our young men have grown up with no father in their homes, being a man is an idea with which they are not necessarily familiar. I have taken it as part of my role to define terms and to provide models of what it looks like to be a man.

During an FCA 3Dimensional Coaching presentation, I imagined a new and innovative way to introduce each week’s point of emphasis. I would borrow the 3D Coaching concept of a “spotlight drill.” As I stand to begin chapel, I will introduce the idea with a sentence or two, then ask for a volunteer to pray. After the prayer, I will continue the introduction by saying something like, “This week I polled your coaches and team captains as to who among the players is a man who demonstrates this quality. I received __ of your names, but first among them was (player’s name)”. I ask that young man, or as many as two or three to stand up. I would now like to ask you to share with us how he exemplifies this quality of “A Man……….” I then wait for various players to offer brief comments about the spotlighted player. The players and coaches make their statements of affirmation and after six to ten of them, I thank them, ask the young man to be seated, and continue with my talk from scripture. After I have quoted or read scripture, I will make application of its truth to the weekly emphasis and then challenge them to live out the scripture’s principles as they compete and in all of life. To wrap up the chapel, I will pray or we will stand and pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

I do all the chapel talks for road games, but during some seasons I have worked with local pastors to be guest speakers for our home games. This enables me to introduce the pastors to our players and to affirm the quality of their churches, encouraging the players to attend them. It also enables me to affirm our partnership with local churches. It is not without peril. Some pastors can deliver a five to seven minute talk, others find that much more difficult. I give them clear directions about expectations, the environment, and the nature of the group to which they’ll be speaking. Most do very well, some do not. This season’s guests have been outstanding.

This season’s weekly points of emphasis are below along with the name of the guest speaker (home games) and/or the scripture I plan to use:

Be a Man -

• A Man Takes Initiative – Mississippi Valley State University (Pastor Swims)

     Joshua 14
• A Man Takes Responsibility - @ Southeast Missouri State University
    Nehemiah 6

• A Man Loves Deeply - @ University of Memphis 
     John 15:13

• A Man Protects his Friends – University of Northern Iowa (Scott Pilkington)

• A Man Serves Others - @ South Dakota State University 
     Mark 10:43-45

• A Man Cares for his Family – Illinois State University (Troy Benitone)

• A Man Demonstrates Compassion - @ Indiana State University

    Matthew 9:35-38

• A Man Lives with Integrity - @ University of South Dakota
     Proverbs 11:3
• A Man Is Loyal – Missouri State University (Bob Pankey)

• A Man Tells the Truth – Youngstown State University (Casey Raymer)

• A Man Gives Maximum Effort - @ Western Illinois University 
    Colossians 3:17

I would challenge you to communicate with your head coach about the themes, ideas, the culture he or she is working to build in the team. Join the coach in affirming those themes, with Biblical examples, and thereby both assist the coaching staff and further develop your relationship of trust with the head coach.

Friday, October 20, 2017

No Scale of Level

One of the most pernicious and destructive notions in sports chaplaincy is the confusion of level, success, and significance. Many assume, but would not likely state aloud, that ministry at the lower levels of sport (junior high, high school, community college, minor league baseball, lower division football) has less significance and is of lesser value than the ministry taking place at the highest levels of sport (Premier League Football, NCAA Division I, NFL, NBA, MLB). Somehow, we buy into the fan mentality and judge “higher” levels of sport to be more significant. We value the players’ “platform” over their experiences and relationships in their sporting communities. I believe this to be a grave error.

I would assert that there is no level of scale in our service of sportspeople. There is no greater value to the ministry taking place among a NCAA Division I SEC Football program that can be found on television every Saturday, than there is with the junior high school, nine man football team in the most remote corner of Minnesota. The ministry that I provide an independent minor league baseball team is no lesser in significance than that shared with the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers. There is no appreciable difference in the Lord Jesus’ economy.

Faithfulness is the standard. Whether we serve in the obscurity of “less important” sporting communities or live as the presence of Christ in the blinding glare of television cameras at the “highest level” of sport, our standard of measure and success must be faithfulness. The Apostle Paul declared this value in I Corinthians 4:1-2. “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Significance is the goal, more than success. A focus on success will spend a lot of time measuring attendance at meetings, distribution of materials, funds received, bank balances, and more. Significance is focused on depth of commitment, progress toward faith, development of spiritual disciplines, growth of disciples’ faithfulness, and long-term development of Christian sportspeople. Paul wrote to Timothy with specific instruction about the goals of his instruction in I Timothy 1:5. “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is the language of significance, not success.

My opinion is certainly biased. The perceived level of the teams, coaches, and competitors I serve varies from mid-major to the very bottom. I see the perceived highest levels of sport from a great distance, usually from the cheap seats or on a television screen. I would like to finish today’s thoughts with a strong challenge.

If you are at the “highest level” of sport – guard your heart from the pride of platform. The higher the platform you, your team, your coaches, and your competitors occupy, the greater the peril they must constantly endure. The same spotlight bringing attention to their faith in Christ will shine glaringly upon the weaknesses of their flesh. Give them your best, every time, and faithfully pursue significance.

If you are at the “lowest level” of sport – guard your heart form the pride of obscurity. Your service has great value and must be treated with care, discipline, and diligence. To undervalue your service, to minimize its importance, to neglect those you serve because no one seems to be watching is foolish and not worthy of Christ. Give them your best, every time, and faithfully pursue significance.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ministry in ERs, Hospitals, Surgery Centers

Across my twenty-three years of serving sports teams I have had many occasions to visit emergency rooms, hospital rooms, and surgery centers with players, coaches, and administrators of the sporting community. While these are never pleasant occasions, they are regularly moments of the most profound and impactful ministry. I’d like to offer some observations from those visits and some tips for how to approach them, as they will certainly come to you as well.

One never feels competent when walking into an emergency room, hospital, or surgery center. Every time I approach the front door of one of these facilities I feel inadequate. I wonder what I have to offer. I wonder about what I am about to encounter. I wonder if I’ll be able to handle the gravity of the moment and the potential emotional flood that awaits me. Every time, I stop, pray, and keep walking. This is not about me, nor my training, nor my ability to empathize, nor my ability to console, it’s about being Christ Jesus’ presence in a time of crisis. The Lord invariably carries me along in each situation, to my utter amazement.

Care for the people, respect the medical personnel, listen to the hearts. Early on in my experience I felt compelled to have the right words to say, but of late I seldom have anything to say. There are no magic words to make everything okay. A much better approach is to ask questions to open their hearts and to help them deal with their fears, questions, and worries. Treat the medical personnel; nurses, technicians, administrators, and doctors, with respect and understand your boundaries. Ask permission to go to more secure places in serving the patient, his or her family, and significant others. I have been allowed into intensive care units, maternity rooms, surgery prep rooms, recovery rooms, and other locations that are highly privileged spots because I treated the personnel with respect and earned their trust over time. Ask good questions, speak in low tones, respect privacy, and look people in the eye. Their hearts will open widely to you.

Bring a resource for their encouragement. The coming hours and days are likely to have a lot of time to read as their normal life of activity is interrupted by bed rest, doctor visits, waiting for appointments, and weeks of recovery. I often bring a devotional book, a book of prayers, or simply a card written with encouraging words and scriptures. I will fold down the corners of pages of the devotions that could have particular relevance to one recovering from injury, or I’ll put Post It notes in pages of a prayer book to catch the attention of those being served. Long after we have left their presence, these resources speak to their hearts and enable them to connect with the Lord in their most desperate hours.

Offer to pray, privately. When I am with a patient and his or her family, I watch for the most appropriate moment to pray with them. As I am chatting with the people, I am listening for their hearts to open. I am seeking a moment with sufficient privacy to lean in, to offer to pray, to take a hand or to touch the injured shoulder, knee, or ankle, and to lift a quiet, intense, and unashamed prayer for the Lord’s healing power to move in my friend’s life. I pray for the immediate concern, for the patient’s anxiety, for the doctor’s skill, for quick and complete recovery, and for restoration to the sport they love. Above all, I pray for the Lord to accomplish His purposes in this person’s life.

Leave with encouragement and an invitation to stay connected. I don’t normally stay throughout the entire surgery, nor a long time in a hospital visit. Staying too long usually becomes awkward and ends poorly. After we have chatted, connected well, and prayed together, I am usually headed for the door. I will leave my card and an invitation to stay connected by phone or SMS message. I say, “I’ll see you at practice. Let me know if I can serve you in any way. I’ll look forward to your return to the team.” This visit is simply one step in the long process of relationship development, but it is an important one. Make the best of this opportunity and then watch for the next one.

As I have been writing, a number of situations have flashed through my mind. Many of them have been instrumental in the development of relationships with coaches, competitors, doctors, nurses, and even administrators. I pray that your service is also graced by the beautifully intimidating experience of ministry in hospital rooms, ERs, surgery waiting rooms, and even hospice situations. The Lord Jesus walks into those moments with us, carries us along in His purposes, and accomplishes His will through us.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tips for Your Study Retreat

In recent years I have written in this space about study retreats and their value to my ministry. There has been a good deal of development to this process over the few years in which I have employed it. I would like to share with you some of the important factors to study retreats that I have discovered and that I would recommend as you consider scheduling such an event.

Choose a good site for solitude – As I am a terminal extrovert, I know I need this sort of solitude, but I find it terribly difficult. Having a place to study, pray, and to create that is free from distractions is of paramount importance. My son’s in-laws own a lake house in rural Missouri. It is relatively simple, but has enough creature comforts to make it very well suited for retreats. It has no Internet connection, which is helpful to eliminate distractions. The homes that surround it on the lake cove are usually vacant when I am there as they are mostly weekend or vacation homes. This leaves me mostly all alone in the area with lots of solitude for walks, sitting by the lake, watching the sun rise or set, and for outdoor contemplation. Choose a site with a strong measure of privacy for your retreat.

Take productivity tools with you – Music, videos, books, and other materials that may fuel your creativity and productivity are invaluable for such a retreat. I play music that stirs my heart, and this time I took a DVD of U2 videos for visual images to supplement the music’s inspiration. I take my computer for writing. I take my favorite Bible for reading. I take my notebook with a good pen for writing outlines. I take other books that inspire and fuel creativity. Take whatever you need to make you most productive.

Eat, drink, and sleep well – There are probably particular foods and drinks that fuel your creativity and productivity. Take them with you. I take foods that are easy and quick to prepare so I don’t lose a lot of time. I take good coffee. I need a good breakfast to work well, so I am most particular about that meal. I take some simple snacks and drinks. I seek the best place for sleeping and prioritize this as an important part of the process. I find that long periods of concentrated thought, writing, planning, and analysis is even more fatiguing than physical exercise. Be sure to rest well as it will restore your energies for the coming hours and days.

Take a break to let your brain rest – In April, I went to the retreat with a good deal of preparation already in hand. I had done some idea incubation for several months, and when I arrived at the retreat I could jump right into writing. In August, I was not nearly as well prepared. I had hoped to jump into writing, but I had not done the work to be at that stage. That required me to spend eight hours of the first day writing more detailed outlines. I took a break or two during the day to walk, to make lunch, to go out for dinner, and then to sleep overnight. My brain needed the rest to finish the task. When I got up on day two, I was fully prepared and spent thirteen hours writing. I took mind breaks a few times during those hours, to walk, to eat, to snack, to read, and even to reply to a phone call and text messages. I was able to complete the project with clarity of thought, primarily because I took the necessary breaks throughout the day to rest, to refocus, and to resume the deep work of writing.

Learn how your mind works best and schedule to be at your best – When I first did these study retreats I used a friend’s lake home. It is about thirty-five minutes from my home. It was convenient, but maybe a little too close. I could plan the retreat, but it was also pretty easy to cut it short or to simply not go. The present location for my retreats is about two hours from home and requires more planning to accomplish. I set aside particular days well in advance and I protect those dates on my calendar. I make plans to leave my home in the morning, arrive prior to noon and eat lunch. This is my time for adjusting from normal, fast paced life, to a slower, more contemplative speed. That process used to take me a whole day, but I can make the shift in about ninety minutes now. I schedule that first day as primarily for preparation. I schedule day two for maximum productivity, and I schedule day three for review, editing, relaxation, and for anticipation of returning home and reentering the normal schedule and work.

Please take a day, three days, a weekend, or a whole week for a study retreat. Engineer your environment, your menu, your schedule, and your heart for maximum productivity, amazing creativity, and inspiring contemplation. Your heart and your ministry will be greatly enhanced.

Strategies and Challenges of Accountability in Sports Ministry

During the most recent PowerUP Sports Ministry conference in Indianapolis, Indiana we heard several excellent presentations. Among them was...