Saturday, December 20, 2014

Love Extravagantly and Serve Selflessly

For the last several years I have been describing the primary tasks of sports chaplaincy as being to: Love Extravagantly and to Serve Selflessly. Those are rather broad and sweeping terms and may be too vague for some to gather and to translate into action. The following paragraphs are my attempt at providing example of each. I hope the examples inspire and possibly even provoke you to strong, extravagant, selfless love and service.

When a sports chaplain pursues redemptive relationships with coaches and competitors who are not yet Christians and may not value his or her presence, that is extravagant love.

When a character coach relentlessly attends practices, training sessions, team meetings, and any other team function in the most inconvenient hours of the day, that is extravagant love.

When a sports mentor refuses to give up on the player he or she is mentoring, even when the competitor is more than ready to quit, to withdraw from sport, and even despairs of life itself, that is extravagant love.

When a sports chaplain actively seeks opportunities to take on the most menial tasks, to assist coaches and players with the most unpleasant chores, to find ways to be an ally to the support staff in their roles, that is selfless service.

When a character coach contemplates the genuine needs of his or her team and sees opportunities to take action, that is selfless service.

When a sport mentor is so well connected with those he or she mentors that serving them is a natural outgrowth of their love and respect and there is no thought of personal benefit, that is selfless service.

Extravagant love is, by nature, not safe, not convenient, not easy, not measured, not calculating, but is powerful, transformational, and of lasting effect.

Selfless service is, by nature, not self-centered, not normal, not common, not easy, not always fun, not always noticed or respected, but it is always appropriate, effective, and Christ-honoring.

Let’s be the ones who love extravagantly and serve selflessly. By doing so we will make a powerful impact upon the world of sport and all those who live in it. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Save the Date for the 6th Annual Chaplains Conference

Fellowship of Christian Athletes 6th Annual Sports Chaplains Conference

When: March 16-18, 2015

Where: Dallas, TX

Who: FCA Staff and volunteers who are currently involved or would like to get involved in FCA sport chaplaincy/character coaching will be attending this conference to be equipped, encouraged and trained for chaplain ministry/character coaching. This will be an incredible opportunity to network and learn from some of the top FCA Chaplains in the country.

What: This will be an incredible opportunity to network and learn from some of the top FCA Chaplains in the country. The keynote speaker this year is former FCA staff and current Chaplain/Life Coach for the Baltimore Ravens, Johnny Shelton. Other speakers include Jeff Duke, Coaching Specialist/lecturer for the Sport and Exercise Science degree program at the University of Central Florida and author of "3D Coaching"; and Roger Lipe, Southern Illinois University Sport Chaplain and Southern Illinois FCA Representative.

More details to come soon!

For questions, contact Jordan Barnes at or 816-892-1119.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Privileged Information

As we serve coaches and competitors in the sports world, we often bear the burden of privileged information. People tell us things that the general public, others involved in the team’s life, and certainly the media don’t need to know. Many people clamor for such information, but somehow we are trusted with it. A brief list of items follows to illustrate the sorts of information we often possess and the reasons for keeping it confidential.

·        Injuries. During most every visit to a team’s practice or training session, at one point I will be chatting with the athletic trainer (physio) and discussing a player with an obvious injury or the rehabilitation process with those in recovery. The big issue here is that if such information is shared with the wrong people, it becomes a factor in shaping the wagers on a contest. We could unwittingly become the person who shapes the betting line in Las Vegas. Beyond that, in the USA, there are laws that normally prevent medical professionals from sharing any information about a patient’s condition. To receive such information is a rare privilege which can be easily revoked if we prove to be less that faithful with the privilege.
·        Relationship problems. We may be sought for advice related to the problems in relationships experienced by players, coaches, support staff, and others. These may be with their significant others, their spouses, their parents, teammates, with their coaches, or with the players they coach. Across twenty-one seasons of service with football, I have encountered each of those at least once. It is wise to be very careful with all such conversations and to not share this information with anyone. To breach confidence with this information could easily shatter the relationships foundational to our service and could certainly feel like betrayal to the one who shared his or her life with us.
·        Team conflicts. Among competitive people, these are a constant. As people compete for playing time, for leadership roles, and other matters, it’s very easy for the competition to result in personal conflicts. There is just as often conflict among a coaching staff due to perceived alliances, personality clashes, comparison of salaries, and more. It is wise for us to handle the information with us very carefully. We must not take sides and must always seek reconciliation.
·        Personnel adjustments. The hiring, firing, resignation, retirement, suspension, and other reasons for movement among the coaching staff, their support staff, and administration is of great consequence for everyone involved. We may be allowed in the process before such moves are made. We could have information about a person’s firing even before the person being fired. We may have privileged information about someone’s impending resignation and the local media would love to have an inside track to break the story. All such information is precious and must never be shared with anyone. To breach this trust could end one’s service with a club or university upon the first violation.
·        Legal issues. Should we get wind of an impending lawsuit against a coach, a player, our club, or someone else in our realm of service, we must be very careful with this information. We should be moved to pray, privately, and not to share the information at church. Rather than to discuss the merits of the suit with others, we should pray for a wise and just resolution of the conflict. No one benefits from our sharing information about such matters.
·        Disciplinary issues. As team members violate team rules, we could be called on for wisdom, perspective, or counsel. Across my years a number of coaches have asked my advice related to possible disciplinary matters. Emotion often clouds the judgment of coaches and others who lead in sport and many will seek the counsel of others who know the people, understand the situation, but are less directly involved. Sometimes that means a call to the team chaplain, the character coach or the sport mentor. As we find ourselves drawn into such a process, treat this privilege with prayer, confidentiality, and wisdom.

Our service of sportspeople will often find us in possession of very privileged information and weighty responsibilities. Let’s reflect the Lord Jesus’ nature of faithfulness, wisdom, and purity as we handle such precious privilege as it will surely directly affect our relationships.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Short-term Projects and Long-term Relationships

Looking back on this season and further back at the past twenty-one seasons with Saluki Football, there are a couple of factors that have made for the enduring nature of our tenure and the successes we have enjoyed in this ministry. Some thoughts about these two factors follow. I hope they are of some value to you.

Factor number 1 – I value short-term projects. When people ask me to take on a project that would require years to complete, I break out in a cold sweat and immediately decline the invitation. If it’s a six month project, I’m listening, but with great reservations. If the project will last six weeks, six days, or six hours, I’m in! This sort of orientation fits the sports world very well as most everything we do is seasonal in nature and even if things are really bad, the season will be over shortly and we can move on.

Factor number 2 – I strongly value long-term relationships. Loyalty, faithfulness, and trustworthiness are among the values I hold most dearly in people and aim to develop in myself. These values have helped me maintain a wide network of long-term relationships. A number of the coaches and players who have been a part of our college football (American Football) program are still in touch with me and my wife. We have their phone numbers, email addresses, family details, Facebook pages, and more angles for staying connected. I seek them out when I visit the places where they live. I look for them at coaches conventions and similar events. Through the season I send text messages to around forty college football coaches scattered across the USA on Fridays and Saturdays.

The odd blend of valuing both short-term projects and long-term relationships has resulted in a freshness to each season with its constant changing of team roster, coaching staffs, and other factors. On the other hand, the continuity of being the veteran of twenty-one seasons lends a constancy to the program as seen by players’ parents, the coaches, and the university administration.

If you are similarly bent toward these two factors, I hope they serve to enhance your ministry with sportspeople as they have mine.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ministry in Athletics (Track and Field): an Evaluation

Over the twenty years I have been privileged to serve as a sports chaplain, I have gained greatly from my colleagues in the USA and abroad. Among those who have contributed most greatly to my service has been Stuart Weir, of Verite Sport ( in the United Kingdom. Stuart is a dear friend and a trusted colleague. His unique approach to chaplaincy in Athletics (Track and Field for the Yankees), is effective and fruitful.

Stuart recently wrote an evaluation of this ministry which is very insightful and inspirational. It is included below. I hope his ministry inspires you as it does me.

Athletics ministry: evaluation of a model Version2


I have been operating as an unofficial chaplain to track and field athletics for the past five years. In this paper I attempt to analyse what I do, partly using the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) tool. I am interested in exploring whether this is solely an individual approach or if the methodology would have wider application. I never planned to be in athletics chaplain. It started almost by accident – when someone introduced me to an athlete - and has developed gradually.


My purpose is to encourage Christians in elite athletics in their faith. I am trying to add 5% to an athlete's Christian life by a little input when I meet them at events.

What I do

In 2013 and again in 2014 I attended 14 athletics events - as well as meeting a number of athletes at their training centre on occasions. This is supplemented with emails, texts and phone calls. 

Most people who do sports chaplaincy in a single sport use a chapel or Bible Study model.  While I have led an athletes’ Bible Study and have read the Bible 1-2-1 with athletes, my model is more based on prayer.  I have prayed with far more athletes than I have read the Bible with.  In addition I pray for athletes – daily – and they know that I do.


I have led a formal chapel type service for team GB three times – twice at the World Indoor Athletics Championships which conveniently runs all day Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon – leaving Sunday morning free and the 2014 European Championships.     In 2014 the meeting was semi-official in the sense that the GB team management was aware and allowed us to use the team room. (When GB’s top athlete clearly identifies herself with the event, it certainly makes asking management a lot easier!) 

In both cases I only invited GB athletes – first time the GB athletes wanted to do it just themselves.  In 2014 I would have invited others but the logistics – athletes in 6 different hotels - ruled it out. There is also the tricky issue of whether athletes want to meet their opponents on the morning of their race.

In addition in 2014 I led Bible Studies at three Diamond League events in 2014 with 4-12 athletes attending. This is logistically difficult but seems to work.


There is no set pattern.  Sometimes athletes ask me to pray for them before a race.  One athlete always wants to meet for prayer before each race when we are both at the same event. At the World Indoors, one athlete asked me to pray with her before and after each race. Often it just happens as I chat to an athlete.  I make it known that I am there and available to pray but also try to avoid two pitfalls.  Prayer becoming a superstition – I have a prayer I will win! And prayer for my benefit, to boost my stats and justify my presence.

Target group

The target group is elite athletes - those who are good enough to get into Diamond Leagues, World Championships etc - who are Christians or who have expressed an interest - from whatever country. I am currently in touch with athletes from Britain, Croatia, Romania, USA, Jamaica, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and New Zealand. Unlike a club chaplain I am not seeking to minister to (or evangelise) everyone in the GB team or event.  I am focusing on supporting Christians.  In addition I am developing relationships with administrators.


My accreditation is normally media. By writing for the Oxford Mail and other publications I am now established as an athletics writer and am, more or less automatically, accredited for any athletics event. The accreditation gives me access to athletes in team hotels, possibly in championship villages and always in a mixed zone at the end of competition. I have never sought a chaplaincy accreditation as I feel that mixing media and chaplaincy accreditations risks confusing athletes and administrators.

While I have no official recognition of the ministry, British Athletics know what I do and are comfortable with it - at times very encouraging. Officials have said to me that they see that athletes appreciate me and therefore they feel what I do is positive.

In addition I meet UK athletes at training centres where no accreditation is needed.

Case study 1 - world Championships 2013

A major championship lasts up to 8 days. A Diamond league is normally in one evening event, although athletes may be in the hotel for three days. What I actually do varies greatly according to the nature of the event - its length, the ease of access to athletes etc

In August 2013 I attended the World Athletics Championships in Moscow where I knew 34 athletes.  This is what I did at that event; I would say that I did six different things:

1 prayed for the 34 athletes and told them that I was praying for them;
2 I do a weekly devotion - a Bible verse applied to sport. In Moscow I did a daily devotion which I emailed to the 34 athletes, or to all whose email addresses I had.
3 when appropriate I prayed with athletes.
4 I kept in touch by text and personal email.
5 because of my journalistic accreditation I have access to the mixed zone [where athletes meet press after a race] and spoke to more than 20 athletes after they finished races.
6 I spent hours sitting around in hotel lobbies for the opportunity to snatch a quick word or prayer or greeting with an athlete.

Case study 2 – Olympics 2012

In 2012 I served as the Togo Olympic Attaché – at their invitation.  I did odd jobs for the Togo Olympic Committee in exchange for which I got an accreditation with gave me access to the Olympic Village, athlete dining and athlete transport plus the athletics warm-up area.

Because there were official chaplains and chapel services, I did not offer any Bible Studies during the Olympics but prayed with over 20 different athletes, on several occasions with certain athletes.  Occasionally these were pre-arranged but mainly chance meetings because I had access to where the athletes were.

This was a really productive time for two reasons: I knew a significant number of athletes in advance and I had easy access to where they were.

Model evaluation (SWOT)


The strength of what I do is that I attend enough events to be an accepted part of the entourage.  I know enough athletes that I always have someone to talk to.  Sufficient athletes seem to appreciate my presence to make it work. The advantage of a media accreditation is that it gives me a reason to be at an event and access to athletes. There is always media accreditation at an event, while there is not always chaplaincy – nor Olympic Attaches.

While my priority is to minister to athletes, I do the journalism with integrity. In 2014 I wrote for Oxford Mail at seven events and interviewed athletes or worked for 2K+ radio at most of the others.  Thus I could not really be accused of using a media accreditation as a flag of convenience.

The positive attitude of British Athletics to me is a great help.


I am not sure I see any weaknesses but there are certainly challenges.  The challenges may relate more to the nature of the ministry than the model.

The nature of the ministry makes it hard to evaluate what one is achieving.  If you go an event to do a chapel/Bible Study then if it happens and athletes come, you have achieved your goal.  So much of my work is a prayer here, a word of encouragement there, that it is easy to feel that you have been there all day and achieved nothing.

It can be a very lonely existence as you are at the events but not part of it.  You are always at outsider, occasionally allowed in briefly. 

Much of my time is spent sitting in hotel lobbies.  There is the challenge of knowing when to stay and when to go. Am I in danger of outstaying my welcome?  Even appearing like a groupie?


It is an immense privilege to be allowed into someone’s life and to be part of their support team as they represent Jesus in elite sport.  Being at a lot of events creates a consistency of ministry.  People expect me to be there.


I see three possible threats.  There is certainly a potential conflict of interest between being a journalist and being in a pastoral/chaplaincy role. I feel that I manage that well. As long as athletes understand who I am and what I do, there isn’t a problem.  I say to athletes as I get to know them, if I have my recorder in hand, anything they say may be used but otherwise anything said to me is confidential. Athletes seem to understand and be comfortable with that distinction. I could honestly say that in my five years of doing this I have only once made a significant error in this area.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Christian athletes are female represents a certain challenge but as I meet people in public places and am not seeking to conduct a deep pastoral discipleship ministry, it seems to work OK.  Because of my age, I am seen as an “uncle” or perhaps grandfather! I am developing a partnership with Julia Wilkinson at Christians in Sport which helps significantly in this area.

Because the work is lonely and because one may be anxious to feel that one is doing enough to justify being there, there is the danger of wanting to minister to athletes for one’s own benefit, not theirs.  That is the need to do a Bible study or pray with athletes to boost my statistics - so that the athletes are effectively ministering to me.


It is an obvious question – what happens when I become more senile. Some have suggested that I look for a possible successor to mentor into the role.  Just not sure that is feasible.  The partnership with Julia Wilkinson certainly helps. Because my primary accreditation is media, anyone working with me would need to have to media accreditation too.  That is they would need to need to have a media outlet in order to get the accreditation as well as the desire to serve the athletes.  Just can’t see how I could make that happen


I recognize that this is very individualistic model which would only work for someone with journalistic skills as well as a desire to serve pastorally.  In my first draft I wrote “it is not a very reproducible model.  However, it is one which works for me”. People who commented on the first draft suggested that it might be more reproducible than I was recognizing. I know of one person who is taking a coaching qualification, partly as a means of being with athletes.  One of European golf tour “chaplains” has a job on the tour which involves standing for hours in the area which players practise.

26 November 2014

Version 2

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Recommendation from the Sports Chaplaincy Table

Over the last fifteen months, the men and women of the Sports Chaplaincy Table of the In Sport Group, a network of sports ministries around the globe, have been collaborating to produce a set of recommendations for sports chaplaincy training agencies. We have sought to determine what would be the global standard for such training. After much correspondence, prayer, sharing of ideas, and editing, the recommendation below is the document we will now begin to share with those agencies in various nations. If you represent one such agency and would like to adopt these standards, please email me and I’ll be pleased to add you to our list of adherents to the standards.

There is soon to follow exciting news about a new and powerful delivery system for basic, introductory sport chaplaincy training that reflects these same standards.

A Recommendation from:
The Sports Chaplaincy Table of the In Sport Group
International Sports Coalition

The Chaplaincy Table respectfully submits the following recommendation to all agencies that train, certify, and place sports chaplains all across the globe.
We have collaborated with many of the leading agencies and individuals who have decades of experience in training sports chaplains and we believe the set of items below constitute the global standard of comprehensive sports chaplaincy training.

We would be very pleased to see your organization join with the others listed below in committing to sports chaplaincy training which adheres to these standards. We will not presume to dictate the methods for training, nor the cultural nuances of the sports cultures in your nation.

Please prayerfully consider these training standards and contact us if you would like to join us in adopting them. We will refer inquiries about training that come through our network to the agencies that adopt these standards and develop training that is in keeping with them. We would also be privileged to collaborate with you in the design and implementation of such training.

I.             An Introduction to Sports Chaplaincy
It is wise to define what sports chaplaincy is, to state clearly what it is not, and to identify who and where sports chaplains serve.

II.           A Biblical Foundation to Sports Chaplaincy
It is critical to Christ-honoring service of sportspeople that the sports chaplain be well supported by scriptural principles and biblical models. The sports chaplain’s service is built upon Jesus’ Great Commandment and His Great Commission.

III.          A Profile of a Sportsperson
To serve well as a sport chaplain, one must have a clear understanding of those being served. To perceive the unique pressures, opportunities, challenges, and heart issues experienced in the world of sport enables the sports chaplain to wisely apply the truth of scripture and to care for the sportsperson.

IV.         A Profile of a Sports Chaplain
There is a particular set of character qualities, gifts, and experiences that make for the most effective service as a sports chaplain. This section of training would enlighten the trainee and catalyze his or her development as a sports chaplain.

V.          A Code of Conduct for Sports Chaplains
Where chaplaincy has been effectively modelled a tri-partite agreement between the sporting organisation, chaplain and local chaplaincy organisation has existed.  This module would look in detail at the code of conduct, assessing the roles of responsibilities not only of the chaplain, but of the sporting club/organisation being served and how they should inter relate with a chaplaincy body.  In particular the module would look at the importance of accountability in the execution of chaplaincy, guarding against the seductiveness and influence of elite sport.

VI.         A Sports Chaplain’s Relationships
The nurture and development of relationships is at the core of all ministry roles. To serve as a sports chaplain is no different. Understanding the unique attitudes and the power of being present is of tremendous value in sports chaplaincy. This element of training would inform the trainee of the most strategic relationships in sports cultures and how best to develop them.

VII.       Sports Chaplaincy Strategies
To serve effectively in the world of sport requires an understanding of one’s audience and prayerful consideration of the strategies and methods to be used. This section of training would inform the trainee about the wide variety of strategies and methods that may be employed and factors for wisely choosing them for his or her sporting environment.

VIII.     Resources for Sports Chaplains
The last several years have seen remarkable growth in resources for the development of sports chaplains and their ministries. Wise training would include resources for both the personal development of the sports chaplain as well as resources for direct use with the men and women the sports chaplain is serving. Resources could include books, periodicals, websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, films, and more.

IX.         Sports Chaplaincy in Critical Incidents and Crises
Depending upon one’s place of service, a critical incident or crisis could be a player’s retirement, a coach’s being fired, an injury, or even death. Excellent training for sport chaplains should include some basics for how to serve well in such situations.

X.          A Process for Beginning to Serve as a Sports Chaplain
Upon the completion of a training process, the prospective new sports chaplain still needs guidance related to the process for beginning to serve. Prescribing a step by step process is helpful to both the sports chaplain and to those he or she will serve. The process will vary widely depending upon the sport and culture being served, thus making this a most important factor for the earliest days of a sports chaplain’s service.

Please reply with our questions, your concerns, or with your desire to join us in committing to this standard of sports chaplaincy training.

Respectfully submitted by:
Roger D. Lipe – Chaplaincy Table Chair (Fellowship of Christian Athletes – USA)
Cameron Butler – (Sports Chaplaincy Australia)
Dr. Andrew Parker – (University of Gloucestershire – United Kingdom)
Ross Georgiou – (Sports Chaplaincy New Zealand)
Richard Gamble – (Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom)
Paul Kobylarz - (The Gathering Place - USA)
Andreas Anderson – (Sport for Life – Sweden)
Ken Cross – (Sports Chaplains Network – USA)
Bill Houston – (Sports Chaplains Roundtable – USA)
Hans-Günter Schmidts – (SRS Pro Sportler – Germany)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Best Day in Sport Chaplaincy

Here in my twenty-first season of serving Saluki Football (American Football at Southern Illinois University – USA), I experienced the best day of my whole career. On 13 September we were all set to play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks. They are a local rival for our team and we have enjoyed a history of competitive and interesting games the years. This year’s situation was quite unique and remarkable.

The Redhawks’ new head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator are all dear friends of mine and their team chaplain is my son. I have decades of relationship with these coaches and an obvious bond with my son. This is his first season of serving as team chaplain and he seems thrilled to be in the role.

As the day for this game approached I was flooded with mixed emotions and thoughts. I always want our team to win and to experience success, but I also want my dear friends and my son to do the same. It’s the nature of sport that when we meet, one will win and the other will lose. Game day arrived and I was suddenly freed of such internal conflicts.

My son and I consulted with each other about our chapel talks. We made plans to see each other during pregame warm up drills. I made plans to be on the field very early that day to soak it all in.

As I was on the field very early that afternoon, the head coach came in to do some radio interviews and we had some time for private conversation. I am so proud of him and how he has developed as a man who loves Jesus, a husband, a father, and as a football coach. I was able to encourage him for a little bit before the radio people were ready for him.

As pregame activities moved along, I spoke with the other coaches whom I have known for years. One played for our university and was a great competitor. Fourteen years ago, he and I prayed together for his mother as she had a cancerous brain tumor. I was at his wedding. I traveled to see him play in the Arena League and consulted with him numerous times as his coaching career has developed. The other coach and I also had a few moments to talk. He and I were roommates on road trips when he coached with us. We experienced some great and some terrible days of college football together. We celebrated his sobriety one afternoon as he reflected upon ten years free from drug and alcohol abuse. Warm hugs and pats on the back were the rule of the day. To stand with my son at midfield on a game day afternoon was rich and fulfilling.

Possibly the best part of the whole day was the way I finished each of these conversations. For me, this is the best part of sport. When one is privileged to have an opponent that is competent, respected, honorable, and loved elevates the sport to its best state. To look the coaches of our opponents for the day in the eye, to hug them strongly, and to say, “I love you and I am very proud of you,” is high privilege and made for my lifetime’s best experience in sport.

I would pray that each of us are so privileged, at least once, to have an experience in sport that is so full of love, respect, and honorable competition.