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). 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, 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.

Friday, March 6, 2015

InSideOut Coaching

Today’s note is a reprise of one written on October 28, 2011. My wife and I are in the process of buying a home. That and other factors have squeezed my creative capacity for the week. I hope this note is of value to you and I’m back to 100% soon. Thanks.

In December of 2006 a colleague gave me a copy of “Season of Life” by Jeffrey Marx. It told the story of Coach Joe Ehrmann from Baltimore, Maryland and his pilgrimage through an abusive childhood, college and professional football, drug and alcohol abuse, the crushing death of his brother and eventually to recovery, ministry and transformational coaching of a high school football team. I was deeply moved and recommended the book strongly to many of my friends in coaching with remarkable results. In the ensuing years I met Coach Ehrmann, spoke with him a few times and then had him come to my area for a coaching conference and to speak at my FCA banquet, just eighteen months ago.

In August of this year, Coach Ehrmann released a book of his own. “InSideOut Coaching – How Sports Can Transform Lives” is published by Simon and Schuster and is among the best reading and most applicable book on coaching I’ve ever read. Coach Ehrmann does a tremendous job of describing the difference between being a “Transactional Coach” and a “Transformational Coach” along with a process for making the change from one to the other.

Part I describes the InSideOut Process as experienced by Coach Ehrmann and which, if one has the courage, can lead to a transformed life and renewed coaching.

Chapter headings include:
• Stepping Inside
• My Heroes have always been coaches
• A Complex Transaction
• The Play’s the Thing
• The Why: The Way and The How

Part II describes the InSideOut Program as Coach Ehrmann has presented in countless talks, workshops and conversations with coaches across the USA.

Chapter headings include:
• Community: A Team Without Walls
• The Classroom After Class: Sports as Curricular
• Contact, Communicate, Connect
• “Just Win Baby”
• Ceremony

More often than not, coaching books are full of sport success stories, but applicable ideas for making changes in one’s coaching habits, practices and even core beliefs are sorely absent. This book provides incredibly candid self-revelation of the author’s painful childhood and its long lasting effects as well as a well-defined process for dealing with one’s own past, a way to define and shape his coaching as well as practical examples for how to live out one’s transformed life as a “transformational coach.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone coaching at any level of sport. It would also be of tremendous value to those who serve as Sport Chaplains, Sport Mentors and Character Coaches as we need to examine why and how we coach the hearts of sportspeople.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity

One of the four major initiatives undertaken by the Sports Chaplaincy Table of the International Sports Coalition is to further the relationships between men and women who work in Academia and those who serve as Sports Chaplaincy practitioners. For as long as I can remember, there has been a rather wide gulf between the two. Some of our friends and colleagues in the United Kingdom are conducting a tremendous event in August of 2016 which stands to bridge the divide quite effectively. Details on the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity are below. Please consider attending and certainly watch for further details and results. Thanks.

Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity
24–28 August 2016

In light of the dramatic increase in academic research activity and practical initiatives on the topic of sports and Christianity over the last decade, the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at York St John University, in collaboration with the Bible Society, will host this event. 

About the conference


The aims of the IGCSC are to: 

· Encourage global collaboration between academics, practitioners, politicians, administrators and athletes 

· Produce quality academic and practitioner publications that have societal impact 

· Through intentional mentoring and collaboration, develop individuals in their sphere of influence 

· Affect a ‘culture shift’ in modern sport through the sharing of ideas and practices and a ‘coming together’ of individuals from across the academic disciplines and all streams and denominations of Christianity, culminating in an inclusive and ecumenical event. 


The IGCSC will be held over four-and-a-half-days and will comprise: a gala dinner, keynote lectures, parallel sessions, a panel discussion led by the Bible Society, a three-hour seminar for each of the eleven ‘thematic strands’, a ‘student forum’, and a networking event, in which representatives from practitioner organisations, research centres and publishers will be able to share information. A sport-themed service will also be held in York Minster, one of Europe's finest cathedrals. 

One of the keynote presentations (Prof Shirl J. Hoffman) will focus on the recently published ‘Declaration for Sport and Christian Life’, which is a benchmark document for the field of sport and Christianity. 

To ensure the continued development and long-term sustainability of the field, an international organising committee has been established to devise and operationalize a long-term strategic plan to ensure similar events take place every three years (in appropriate institutions around the world). The importance and timeliness of the IGCSC, 2016, has been ‘endorsed’ by a wide variety of individuals. 

Thematic Strands

The IGCSC will comprise eleven ‘thematic strands’, which collectively address existing and emerging topics in the broad area of sport and Christianity. During the congress there will be a three-hour interactive seminar on each thematic strand which will be facilitated by a small group of academics and / or practitioners who are recognised for excellence in their respective fields (click on thematic strand titles below for biographies of Strand Chairperson and Co-Leaders). 

A number of academic and practitioner publications will emerge from these thematic strands, as detailed below. 

Abstracts submitted for consideration for oral presentations (parallel sessions) to be scheduled through the four days of the congress, can focus on the thematic strands, or may address any topic within the broad field of sports and Christianity. 

The thematic strands are as follows: 

· Sports, Peace and Religion (with a focus, but not exclusively, on the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games) 

Monday, February 23, 2015

This is a tremendous season in the development of Sports Chaplaincy around the globe. We, the Sports Chaplaincy Table of the International Sports Coalition, have been working with our partners throughout the world on a basic, introductory course of training for sports chaplains. We have invested innumerable hours, lots of money, energy, airplane tickets, nights in hotels away from family, and more in the process.

We now have something to show you. Please log onto to access the training site.

This training site was created with these values in mind:
·        To set a global standard for comprehensive, but introductory sports chaplaincy training.
·        To make this an open source with no one ministry’s name or logo to indicate ownership.
·        We assume second language English speakers and readers.
·        We assume slow Internet speed.

We are greatly indebted to a great number of collaborators, too great a number to list here. Our team included people from Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Germany, USA, Sweden, England, and Canada. Churches, sports ministries, sports chaplaincy ministries, and individuals all contributed to the project, through writing, financing, consultation, via video, website development, and other ways. We are thankful to each and all.

We hope you will take a look at the site, that you will use it with those you encounter who are investigating service as a sports chaplain, and that you may even use it as a part of your sports chaplaincy training. If your ministry or agency would like to be included in our list of referrals, please send me information and we would love to include you.

Thanks to everyone who contributed in any way to this remarkable development. If there had been something like this twenty years ago when I began to serve as a sports chaplain, I would have made far fewer mistakes and would have been more effective much earlier in my service. We pray this site catalyzes the development of this ministry around the world.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


A few weeks ago I received a call from a friend who works with collegiate ministries across the USA. He asked me to write an article about how we have made disciples among college student-athletes across these years. The article as it appears at is below. I hope it is of value to you.


Collegiate ministry leaders are often a little puzzled when they encounter student-athletes. They expect them to be just like other college students, but their lives in sport often present obstacles to their involvement in ministry events that are a great fit for the general population.

I have been serving student-athletes at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale for over twenty years. In that time, I have learned a lot about effectively engaging, serving, building relationships, and nurturing the faith of those in the sports community. I’d like to share six keys that I’ve found to discipling student-athletes:

1. Respect their time constraints. Being a student-athlete is like going to school full-time and working a full-time job, at the same time. They have practice six days a week, they often spend extra hours in voluntary work on the mental part of the game, they have to study just like any student, and they want to have a social life like any other student. Add in on-season travel, injury rehabilitation, off-season workouts, and mandatory community service projects and their lives are crowded and complex. The ministry point here is to respect the value of their free time. When we do events, I limit them to one hour. If they want to hang around longer, good, but if they need to get in and out, they are free. Be sure to ask lots of questions about their schedules and design your activities for them to fit their needs.

2. Embrace their sport’s culture. Too often, we in the Church tolerate sport culture and try to relate to student-athletes while firmly entrenched in our church culture. Sports people are not against Church culture, they just don’t understand it. They have lived in and are deeply immersed in their particular sport’s culture. Too many of my sport chaplain colleagues endure the culture of sport just to get to their opportunity to speak. Student-athletes and coaches can sense that distance and are hesitant to respond to those of such an attitude. The way to break through this issue is to heartily embrace the sport culture, warts and all, and thereby communicate unconditional acceptance to those who live therein. Beware the temptation to simply add sports clich├ęs to your vocabulary. Poorly applied sports language raises the red flags of “phony,” “jock sniffer,” and “wannabe.” As we learn to speak their language, to fit into their schedules, and to understand their values, we are more able to serve and to speak effectively.

3. Communicate directly. Occasionally I will invite a local pastor to address our team in a pregame chapel. I give them a time frame to fit, a general idea of theme or topic, answer their questions, and then turn them loose. That usually goes fairly well, but occasionally it does not. The errors are usually a matter of not fitting sport culture or a clumsy importation of church culture into the sport setting. Sport is a culture of direct language. Time is always at a premium. Communication is always straight forward. There is no room for dropping hints, for being subtle, or for being overly artful in one’s speech. There is no need for elaborate introductions, for jokes, or for allegory. Speak directly with student-athletes. Get to the point. Ask direct questions. They will not take offense or find you pushy.

4. Demonstrate genuine interest in them, not just in the results of their competitions. For far too long the Church has been pleased to “use” sportspeople for their ministry ends and to trade on their celebrity status for institutional gain. Such a utilitarian attitude leads many student-athletes to keep the Church at arm’s length. When our first interaction with a student-athlete is to ask about the results of their most recent contest, their defenses go up immediately, especially if the results were less than good. To only ask about results or prospects for upcoming games is to diminish them as people. Ask questions about family, about school, about practice and teammates, or anything related to the process of being a college student-athlete. This demonstrates an understanding that he or she is more than an animal in a uniform. Love the student-athlete, not his or her celebrity.

5. Love extravagantly. People of sport are often less than lovable. Much of the life of a student-athlete is less than lovely. It often smells bad and sounds coarse. It requires extravagant love. It is not safe or convenient, and certainly is not normal. It is, however, very rewarding. When one invests deeply, loves big, and pays the price to care for student-athletes, they respond in faith with the same passion they bring to sport. It is dynamic and worth every moment.

6. Serve selflessly. Whereas student-athletes grow accustomed to people asking them to do things, we must be the ones to serve them with no thought of receiving anything in return. They find this both refreshing and endearing. This builds trust. This opens hearts. To perform the most menial tasks with and for them is a profound relationship builder. Serve without fanfare. Don’t take selfies with them and post it on line. Don’t ask for autographs, free tickets, or sideline privileges. That is the essence of selfishness and they find it repulsive. Give yourself away in helping them to life and you will find a loyal friend and an inquisitive heart.

Student-athletes are unique in a number of ways, but they are similar to others in that they are all positioned on a launching pad. They are all going somewhere and it only takes a persistent nudge from a loving, wise leader to eternally influence the trajectory of their lives. I would challenge you to lovingly, respectfully, and directly nudge the hearts of student-athletes on your campus toward a commitment to Christ and a lifetime of being transformed by His Spirit.