Thursday, May 26, 2016

Prayer and Study Retreats

For extroverts, like me, solitude is like slow, painful torture. We know it is an important spiritual discipline, but we find it very difficult to do. For years I have endeavored to set aside one day per month for quiet, reading, contemplation, long-term planning, and envisioning ministry. I usually get it done, but it is mostly awkward. For years I have also set aside a weekend for a prayer and study retreat. I would drive a few miles out of town to a friend’s home on a lake with no distractions, no Internet access, and almost no cellular phone access. I’d take along some music, some projects on which to work, and I’d rest, think, write, and plan.

The best of these sessions were productive, but never seemed to produce the joy and fulfillment I heard expressed by my more solitude-friendly peers. I have read in John Stott’s writing, in a couple of different books, about the value of study retreats and chose to pursue them as a matter of discipline.

Most recently, I have decided to try doing these study retreats with another person or three along. This last weekend, my son and I retreated to his in-laws’ lake home in eastern Missouri for a 24 hour study retreat. Given the busy lives we both lead, we saw this as brief but important. We left his home at 4:00 pm on Saturday, drove 90 minutes up the road and had dinner together along with lots of conversation and slowing down. Once we arrived at the lake, we loaded our gear into the house, and began our first quiet period. I laid out the tasks I had to accomplish, fired up my iPod and headphones, and chose one for the starting place. After a couple of hours and knocking out three of the agenda items, it was dark and he had already started a fire in the pit down by the lake. I joined him for another 90 minutes of conversation in processing our thoughts on our respective reading, our family, our careers, and many other matters. We hadn’t had time like this, alone together, for several years. We watched the moon steadily rise above the tree line, enjoyed the stillness of the evening, the crackling fire, and the warm fellowship. At about 10:30 I went to bed and slept very well.

I was up early, but not as early as normal (rest is good), to prepare a pot of coffee and to begin my day with devotional reading and prayer. After a couple of hours of reading, prayer, and thought, we loaded up for breakfast at a local coffee shop. We had a great time of conversation and processing over breakfast, and then returned to the lake house for quiet session 2. During this session I composed a talk and a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming event, listened to more music, and began reading one of the five new books I brought along. After a couple of hours of this work, I heard him firing up the lawn mower, and I joined him in doing some cleanup work on the beach and the dock. This allowed me to continue processing all that I had been reading and other matters I was pondering in my soul.

After the yard work was done, we decided to skip lunch and to press into quiet period 3. This session was entirely reading for me as I finished the first book and entirely read another. We processed via conversation for about thirty minutes after this session and began to load up for the trip home. We hit the road, alternately talking and enjoying each other’s silent company until we stopped for a quick dinner on the road. Upon our arrival at his home, we were greeted by his wife and two daughters. We chatted, pushed swinging granddaughters, and kissed some cheeks before I made the final 75 minute drive to my home.

Here’s the bottom line. Even if you find solitude terribly difficult, even if you need human interaction to feel normal, even if you are an off the chart extrovert, study and prayer retreats can be both effective and nurturing to your soul. I was able to accomplish far more with my son along than I could have being totally alone. Having him with me allowed me to process ideas out loud, to hear his thoughts, to experience the joy of his companionship, and the pride that comes with being the father of a godly, loving, Christian man, husband, and father. Find a person or two, or three, schedule a time and place to get away. Take some music, books, writing materials, whatever makes your soul soar, and get away. For a day, a weekend, a week, or six weeks, find a way to renew your spirit with solitude and fellowship. The Lord will surely meet you there.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Building Relationships with Support Staff

Last week we discussed the development of relationships with coaches. Today I’d like to have us think about how to develop relationships with a sporting team’s support staff. This includes a wide variety of people who support the coaches and competitors on a team.

The people I have in mind include:
·        Athletic administrators
·        Athletic trainers (physios)
·        Equipment managers
·        Operations managers
·        Office personnel
·        Team doctors

One may wonder why building relationships with these people is important. I would simply say that they are as valuable to God as is the most productive or highest profile player, the head coach, or anyone else associated with the team. In addition, building relationships with these people can make your service of the team easier, more effective, and deeper than it could ever be without their insight, expertise, and partnership.

Having a relationship of trust with the athletic trainer or physiotherapist, can be of tremendous value as he or she can inform you of injuries, upcoming surgeries, and other situations encountered by players. This information often leads to ministry opportunities for me.

Having favor with the athletic administration could be the determining factor as to a sports chaplain’s access to secure areas; practice, sidelines, locker rooms, etc.; as well as travel with a team. Without that relationship, the character coach is an easy one to drop from the passenger list.

The equipment managers of our teams have become friends, allies, and trusted sources of administration for me. I can quickly learn many details about practice schedules, travel details and more from the numerous managers around a college football practice.

To know and offer to serve the operations manager for a team is a wise and effective relationship to build. These people have to manage most of the logistics for a team’s travel and the whole process of game day. They are usually quite stressed and when we have an encouraging voice, hands ready to serve, and express thankfulness for their work, we build relationship quickly.

The head coach’s secretary, the office manager, and other personnel around the coaches’ offices are the gatekeepers to the staff’s inner sanctum. Make the office manager your friend. I was privileged to be married to one of these and her influence with four different coaching staffs and the daily lives of 100+ student-athletes each year could not be overstated.

Finally, to be familiar, even just acquainted, with the team doctors can be of tremendous value to you and to those you serve. The doctor can allow you into the personal life of injured competitors, can give you access to family and to moments of crisis for the player (surgery center, emergency room, etc.) so that you may serve most effectively.

In summary, a sports team’s support staff can be of immeasurable value to your efforts to serve the coaching staff and competitors on the team. Let’s be sure to love and serve the support staff in a similar way as to how we love and serve the competitors. Their eternal souls are of infinite worth and they are within our sphere of influence and responsibility.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Building Relationships with Coachess

As we serve the men and women, boys and girls in sport, there is a set of people with whom it is most strategic to build relationships, trust, and confidence. They are called, “coaches.” To earn the trust and respect of sports coaches is neither easy nor quick, but it is vital to serving them and all whom they coach well.

I learned early on in my service of sports teams that having the trust of the coaching staff and each coach on it, is most important. Think about it this way, if the coach trusts me, he or she will call me about an issue with a competitor. If the coach distrusts me, he or she will tell the competitors, “Stay away from that guy, you can’t trust him,” or even worse. Further, when I earn the coach’s trust, suddenly his heart is within reach, her family can be loved and served, in fact everyone in the coach’s sphere of influence is suddenly in range of our ministry.

Below is a list of very practical and proven methods for building relationships with coaches:
·        Meet them where they are – that is usually at practice and in their offices.
·        Learn the best time to speak with them, face to face. That may be prior to practice starting. It may be before or after team meetings. Experiment and learn.
·        Take an interest in their families. Ask about spouses, children, their interests away from sport, etc.…
·        Ask questions about their coaching pilgrimage, their background in the sport, and look for points of connection with other coaches in your network.
·        Ask about what gives them satisfaction, a sense of satisfaction, in their coaching.
·        Ask them how you may be of service to the coach and his or her families.
·        If the coach asks about finding a church in the community, share several good options, not just your own. Ask questions like, “For what kind of a church are you looking?”
·        Take note of everything in his or her office. Coaches usually have items displayed which reveal what they love and respect. Notice the books on the shelves, the photos on the desk or on the wall, balls, medals, rings, certificates, ribbons, etc. that speak to their accomplishments. Choose one item and ask a question about it. Stories will follow.
·        If you dare, ask this question. “Why do you coach?” Stop and listen. You may gain more insight from this question than anything else you could do.

The bottom line in all of these methods and all the relationship building is simple. For the coach to know and to trust you is the pathway to his or her heart. They are generally overwhelmed with responsibilities, they have little to no job security, they have thousands of critics, but they have almost no one who will consistently encourage, love, and support them. We get to be those trusted encouragers, if we don’t act like sports fans.

One sign that you are doing well, building relationships of trust, with coaches is if when greeting you the coach says, “Hi Coach.” For the coach to bestow the sport’s most sacred title upon you is an immediate sign that you are welcomed into their world with honor. If coaches speak of you as being, “a part of our staff,” or “an important part of the program,” you are crushing it. Please take my challenge and develop relationships with coaches as a matter of highest priority and you will find it to bear fruit that will remain.

Friday, May 6, 2016

2016 FCA Sports Chaplain and Character Coach Conference

During the days of April 11-13, 2016 the Fellowship of Christian Athletes held its seventh annual Chaplain and Character Coach Conference at the FCA National Support Center in Kanas City, Missouri (USA). Eighty-nine men and women from across the USA, Ukraine, Trinidad, and Brazil were in attendance. The conference is an integral part of FCA’s efforts to develop this form of ministry through three primary strategies – Training, Networking, and Mentoring.

The conference began with dinner at 6:00 pm on Monday, followed by a welcoming address from FCA CEO and President, Les Steckel, worship music by Marvin and Marvin, and an inspiring talk by FCA National Director of Training, Dan Bishop. Dan spoke of God’s plan for building and releasing leaders. At the core of his talk were four Ds about what is in the heart of God. Desire, Design, Development, and Destiny. We wrapped up our first evening, and then we checked into our hotel for the night.

On Tuesday, we were again gathered for worship and then I was privileged to address the conference. I spoke from John 15 and John 13 as I challenged everyone to “love extravagantly and serve selflessly.” After a break, we had a training session led by FCA staffer, Marcellus Casey, focused on building relationships with the coaches we serve. He encouraged us to be seen, to then be known, and finally to be heard. Marcellus gave us a challenge with four “Be Attitudes:” Be a blessing, be a listener, be a servant, and be consistent.

We then took the next forty-five minutes to network during a break. Another training session followed, this one focused on legal compliance for those serving in public schools. It was quite informative and most helpful. Our group was separated into two groups, one with a focus on high school and club team settings, the other focused on colleges, universities, and professional settings. A delicious catered lunch followed and lots more networking across the tables. Another training session followed, this one a discussion among those serving in similar settings. This went very well as most of us learn best through the open exchange of ideas among our peers. We followed that session with a break and a review of resources available for development of our ministries.

At 4:15 in the afternoon I was privileged to speak to the conferees about and how it can be used in their ministries. Our last training session was a discussion about building new chaplains, followed by departure from the NSC to various locations for dinner. We gave everyone $20.00 and sent everyone to dinner to talk, network, and to learn from each other. This gathering of ministry leaders is so relational and eager to learn that we believe a totally unorganized, relaxed, and loose evening is even more productive than hearing another speaker. At their leisure, people returned to the hotel and turned in for the evening.

Wednesday, April 13 found us traveling from the hotel to the conference site with an 8:00 start in musical worship. Our final session was led by FCA Chaplain and Campus Director at Virginia Tech University, David Gittings. David spoke of “What Local Ministry Is and Does,” in an inspirational and encouraging way. He spoke of how: Jesus longed for people (Luke 19:1-9), how Jesus loved all people (John 4:4-30, 39-42), how Jesus laughed and cried with people (John 15:4-7, 11:28-36), and how Jesus lived among people (Mark 2:1-16).

We wrapped up the conference by taking communion together and were commissioned to our respective areas of service as led by Dan Bishop. At 10:15 we were released to travel home in waves of vans shuttling to the airport or in our personal vehicles for the drives home.

Looking back on the conference and having seen the results of our post-conference evaluation summary, we are very pleased with the results. We have discovered that we need to do more to nurture those who are just beginning to serve. We can do more to answer more of their process and procedure questions. This conference was rich with philosophy of ministry related to sports chaplaincy, but we could offer more of the nuts and bolts for what to do in serving well. As is our custom, we will be back in Kansas City in 2018, but next year’s conference will be in another location where we perceive sports chaplaincy to be underway in a dynamic way, and a location to where it is easy to travel by air. Louisville, Kentucky would seem to be an early leader for the 2017 conference location. Please plan to join us. We will announce the location, date, and other details as they are known, likely in late 2016. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reprise - Sports Ministry and Celebrity Culture

Once more, I am submitting a previously written note about the perils of celebrity for Christian leaders and for sports chaplains in particular. This one is from March 11, 2011. I promise, I will get off this topic shorty. I hope we are all reviewing our hearts’ desire for fame and taking appropriate action.

Sports Ministry and Celebrity Culture

One needs only glance at almost any daily newspaper or turn on the television to nearly any channel to encounter one of the most pervasive, and I believe destructive, elements of popular culture in the USA, the western world and beyond – Celebrity Culture.

We are flooded daily by information which we neither need nor even desire. We hear about the latest celebrity break up or hook up. We read about the newest “It Girl” or “Sexiest Man on Earth.” We are suddenly aware of the exploits of people who are seemingly famous for being famous, unencumbered by personal achievement or strength of character. Paris Hilton and others of her dubious distinction are emblematic of this wave of media inundation and the growing need to fill air time with some sensational story about just about anything lacking substance or significance. The USA has reached new lows in this regard as we even create celebrities ex nihilo. “American Idol” is the most obvious example of this self-absorbed, self-perpetuating celebrity machine.

A quick reading of Acts chapter 14, verses 8-23 will provide a biblical example of celebrity culture in the Apostle Paul’s day. At first (verses 8-18) the crowd sees Paul and Barnabas as idols to be worshiped and the next (verses 19-23) they are objects of derision to be stoned to death. It is the same crowd of fickle people. We are just like them, but we use mass media to assassinate people rather than stones.

Sadly, we in the world of sport are not exempt of this culture and its insidious drive to make celebrities of those whom we serve and love. Professional sportspeople are easy and often willing participants. Their flesh is gratified and their wallets are often fattened by the process as they sell their dignity, honor and even their relationships with team and family to this foolish industry. Their privacy is laid on the altar of popularity and Q ratings, which they trust will result in the growth of their “brand,” further resulting in greater profits from endorsements, appearances, publishing and more.

We who serve in ministry roles with people in sport walk a fine line between wisdom and foolishness. We swim in a river of powerful currents which can easily pull those whom we serve and even our ministries toward a tragic drowning. We sometimes trade on the public profiles of those whom we serve and that is a real issue to be faced. Some of our ministries in sport were founded on the principle that just as high profile sportspeople use their popularity to sell shaving cream and beer on television, they could speak of their love for Christ and thereby “be used” to grow the Lord’s Kingdom. Such strategies are perilously close to the edge of manipulation and prostitution of the people we claim to love.

One of my colleagues who serves very faithfully with a number of high profile Major League Baseball and National Football League players has a very wise approach to this issue. I asked him sixteen years ago when we were both new to sports ministry about his policy re: requests for players to make appearances at area events, schools or fund raisers. He said that he never makes such requests of active players because he’s more interested in serving them than in asking them for favors. He said, “If every time they see me coming across the clubhouse, they think here he comes to ask me to do another talk, I forfeit my opportunity to lovingly serve them and to impact their lives with the Gospel.” He gets it! We must not forfeit our ministries of love and service in order to trade on the celebrity of the player with people in the community and even with the donors who fund ministries.

It seems to many that the high profile, celebrity player owes something to the adoring public. It’s counterintuitive for us to prefer to keep our relationships with such players and coaches private and to not drop their names at every turn. It’s even seen as selfish or snobbish by some when we protect those whom we serve from the provocative paparazzi and the ogling eyeballs of television cameras. To protect the player, to withhold information given in confidence and to value the coach’s privacy is still the right thing to do.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture

Last week I reprised an earlier note re: the danger of high profile service as a sports chaplain and the crash of one of our colleagues. Another perspective was offered by my friend and valued colleague, Pastor Shane Bishop of Christ United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Please give Shane’s thoughts on the perilous nature of Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture.

Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture
April 15, 2016

This week I read about the “crash and burn” of another well-known Mega-church pastor.  It is truly heartbreaking.  We have all watched this movie before.  We cry every time.  I hurt for the spouse and family of the pastor, the congregation and the many people who are just a little further from Jesus than they were before the announcement.  I also hurt for the pastor.  I don’t know a single person who accepted the call to ministry hoping the whole thing would blow up and cause harm to the Kingdom of God.  Satan laughs.  People of faith weep.  Again.  It is tragic by any account.
As I was reflecting upon the situation, Matthew’s account of the Temptation of Jesus came to mind.  A clear theme of the wilderness showdown between Jesus and Satan was the lure of “celebrity culture.” Satan attempted to entice Jesus to throw off the larger mission for just a moment to “jump off the Temple” so everyone could see the angels rescue him.  It was a straight up publicity stunt.  Satan effectively said, “Just film the whole thing on your iPhone, post it on YouTube, it go viral and you will be a star!”  Jesus responded, “Do not test the Lord your God.”  He passed the temptation of celebrity.  Countless others who followed him would fail.
The convergence of celebrity culture, worldwide social media and massive congregations have certainly conspired to tempt and eventually ensnare some of the most gifted and talented Pastors in the country.  A part of Satan’s temptation was to take Jesus “off mission.”  To distract him from the purpose of his earthly manifestation; toward the marketing and leveraging of it.  Jumping off the Temple and the following “angel rescue” clip would no doubt sell books and gain Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  It might even spark a new reality television show.  The Jesus Brand would be benefitted immensely but the cost would come at the expense of the Jesus Mission, “To seek and save the lost.”
High profile Christian leaders today are in a precarious position in many ways.  On one hand, they have the opportunity to reach more people for Christ than was imaginable just one generation ago.  On the other hand, there have never been more opportunities to lose your way, your principles, your morality or your soul.  And if they fall, they will take many down with them who deserve far better.  It is easy to get lost in celebrity culture.  Leaders must remember as a spiritual discipline that we are called to be servants and not celebrities.
In a culture that worships at the cult of personality, Christian leaders who have been entrusted by God with the spotlight, must remember that celebrity is precisely what Jesus rejected.  Jesus said, “What should it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?”  (Mark 8:36 JKV)  It remains an excellent question.   Keep it real.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reprise - Behind the Scenes vs. High Profile

Given the events of recent days, the firing of a prominent mega-church pastor who also served as a team chaplain to a professional sports team, I would like to reprise an article I first submitted to you on November 30, 2012. I believe this week’s grievous news makes this most poignant.
Behind the Scenes vs. High Profile

Many of our colleagues serve in rather obscure settings, with almost invisible teams or clubs and with coaches and competitors who are much less than household names. Others of us serve with clubs which are on television every day, with high profile people who are seen daily in advertising of all sorts and whose sporting gear is worn by fans of all ages. Many of us are somewhere in the middle with our service being among “local celebrities,” sporting people who have some profile in their communities, but not so much celebrity across the nation or the globe. While serving in any of these stations, it is wise for us to consider how to manage our own approach to obscurity vs. celebrity.

Some of our colleagues trade on their position and use their favor with the club as a central part of their fund-raising, to obtain outside speaking engagements and occasionally to prop up their own sense of celebrity.

Some of our colleagues serve faithfully in more remote situations where the spotlights and television cameras never even appear. They’re not tempted by the allure of celebrity or reflected glory of fame, simply because they never even encounter it.

I’d like to have us consider the tension between serving entirely “behind the scenes” and holding a “higher profile” position as a sport chaplain, a character coach or a sport mentor. These are in no particular order, but I do hope they’re each insightful and spur you to contemplation and wise decision making.

• A higher profile in a community makes it somewhat easier to do fund-raising because people will associate you with their favorite team, institution, community, etc…

• A higher profile can help one build a platform for ministry in a community from which one can gather volunteers and other ministry partners to further your ministry goals.

• A higher profile in a state school (USA) can raise scrutiny from prying media members seeking a controversial story, university officials with conflicting agendas, lawyers with an axe to grind, and others who could jeopardize one’s freedom of service.

• A higher profile can cause those one is serving, the coaches and competitors in the club or team, to question his or her motives. “Is he here to serve us or to build his “brand?”

• A higher profile is perceived by some as indicative of self-promotion, betraying a self-centered attitude.

• A couple of simple scriptures which can help us check our attitudes and inform our hearts are these:

o Proverbs 27:2 “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” Self-promotion is less than wise.

o Proverbs 27:21 “The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And each is tested by the praise accorded him.” Praise, celebrity, fame and public honors will certainly test our hearts to their core. Some of us will pass and others will fail this test.

Let’s live wisely in this tension. Understand that the alluring nature of fame and celebrity can afford us some things which will enhance our ministries, but they can also serve as traps which can seriously hinder as well.