Friday, July 22, 2016

As a New Season Approaches

For many of us, especially my friends and colleagues in the USA, a new season of sport is about to begin. The start of a new school year brings with it a new fall sports schedule and the preseason practices that precede it. I would like to recommend some simple matters that may help you be fully prepared as a new season approaches.

·        Memorize the team roster and pray for each one. Ask the coach or an office person for the team roster, take the time and effort to memorize the names and numbers. Match those with their faces and you’re on the way to building relationships.
·        Meet with the head coach to discuss his or her points of emphasis for your work together. Ask about specific ways you can serve the coaches and the players. Ask for some boundaries for when and where it is most appropriate for you to be present, and maybe when and where your presence is not appropriate. It’s better to discover these ahead of time than through the discomfort of embarrassment or confrontation. Ask the coach how you may pray for him/her, the staff, and the players.
·        Attend as many preseason practices as you can. You can observe the coaches and how they coach. You can observe the players and perceive many things about their attitudes, approach to work, the team’s cohesion, etc… This is also the best place to work on roster memorization as you can see numbers, faces, and match them to the players’ names. This is also the perfect environment for prayers of intercession as you think about each player and coach. Pray for them and for God’s purposes to be accomplished in each one.
·        Above all, use the preseason to build relationships. Greet everyone you can and see who responds well. Pursue those warmest responses first, ask good questions, serve, and communicate loving respect.


To occupy yourself with these four activities, especially in the preseason weeks, is of greatest importance. Invest some time, some inconvenience, and some sweat in wise preparation. It will pay off richly in the ensuing weeks and months.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sport Chaplain Training School Video

Below is a link to a YouTube video by FCA Ukraine that will give you a glimpse of the ministry that took place during the FCA Ukraine Sport Chaplain School in Kiev, in early June. Please take a moment to look it over and to lift a prayer of thanksgiving for our Ukrainian teammates, for this outstanding set of volunteer chaplains, and for the donor from Nebraska whose donation covered the expenses. Thank you.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Ukraine / Georgia Trip Journal Excerpt

This is an excerpt from my journal during a recent trip to Kiev, Ukraine and Tblisi, Georgia to train sports chaplains and to make new friends toward that end in Georgia. I hope it encourages you. This form of ministry is growing all around the globe.

On 15 June, two of our FCA Midwest Region staff teammates, six coaches from the Metro-East area of St. Louis, and I returned from a tremendous trip to Ukraine. We served with our FCA Ukraine colleagues, their coaches, and Ukrainian athletes of several sports in multiple communities around Kiev and Rivne, Ukraine. 

Saturday June 4, 2016
After hosting Friday evening and Saturday morning’s Saluki Football Coaching Clinic in Carbondale, I drove to the Williamson County Airport, checked in and boarded the plane to St. Louis. The Cape Air pilots somehow got our plane stuck in the mud before we even made it to the runway. The plane was grounded, and our flight was cancelled.
After learning of Cape Air’s plan to arrange for a bus to drive us to St. Louis and the hours involved, I drove rapidly to STL. Along the way, I encountered 5 mph traffic for miles on I-64 due to a wreck. I was, ironically, relieved to receive a couple of text messages from American Airlines that my flight from STL to Charlotte was delayed. I made it to long-term parking, checked in and through security quickly. The flight was delayed 1 hour. I had an easy flight in first class due to an upgrade, for which I was very thankful.
Upon arrival in Charlotte, I ran through the terminal from concourse to concourse to catch my connection to Barcelona. It was boarding as I arrived at the gate. It was a rather uneventful flight across the pond with around 6 hours of sleep. My late departure from CLT made connecting in BCN rather tight.

Sunday June 5.
I went through passport control, twice + security. I found favor with a border police officer and jumped to the front of the passport control line as my flight was scheduled to be boarding. I ran to the gate and then waited for a delayed departure to Kiev. The flight was easy and we had a smooth flight to KBP, arriving almost on time. I had an easy transition through immigration and baggage claim. No customs. Andriy, Oleg, and Nikita picked me up and we had dinner at a SOCAR gas station (trust me, it’s good). We then went to Andriy and Lindsay's home, greeted everyone and then went to bed around 10:00 pm.

Monday June 6.
I slept well overnight in Andriy’s home office. I hung out with the kids, had breakfast, and prepared in the morning hours. The FCA Chaplains School with about 35 participants started at 11:00 at a wonderful facility owned by a local church. I presented session 1, Oleg did session 2. That night Ruslan Muts hosted a talk show (panel discussion) with 3 area coaches re: the value of sport chaplains. It was very good. I got to bed at 11:00 pm.

Tuesday June 7.
I did not sleep as well last night. We loaded up early and went to Chaplains School for 8:00 devotions and breakfast. I presented sessions 1b and 3, and Oleg did session 4. We enjoyed lots of fellowship and networking after dinner. I got to bed at 11:00 pm again.

Wednesday June 8.
I slept well. I was up to shower at 6:00. I did my daily devotional reading and packing for tonight’s trip to Georgia. We were out the door at 7:30, got a double Americano, and went to the facility for devotions and breakfast. I taught sessions 5 and 6, and then Ruslan and Oleg wrapped up the conference. They sang "Happy birthday" to me, and the whole group prayed for me. We then had lunch as I enjoyed a long talk with Dr. Che.

After lunch I had a good chat with Ira Bedrai as we waited for the St. Louis FCA team to arrive from the airport. I greeted them, we had a meeting to introduce people and to orient them. We divided people and sporting gear into a couple of vans. The Rivne team left, and the Kiev team stayed. Andriy and I picked up Oleg and we drove to the Kiev airport.

As we were checking in we were informed that the flight was oversold and we needed to talk to the people at the rebooking counter. As we stood there, a supervisor, a lady about 45 years old, looked me in the eye, I smiled and said hello in Russian. She asked if we were booked to Tblisi and I said yes. She said, “I have compensation for you.” She walked us through the rebooking, ground transportation, and the cash compensation. Our flight was changed to Kutsaisi, Georgia and we were to arrive at 11:30 pm. 250 euro (7,092 grivne) compensation was paid to us for the inconvenience.

Thursday June 9.
That went as planned and then we rode about 4 hours, partly in a small car and at 2:30 am we transferred to a van to Tblisi. At 3:41 am we arrived at a coffee shop where, were to meet our friend from Tblisi. Valeri picked us up at 3:45. Around 4:00 am we arrived at the place where we would stay the night (morning), and both Oleg and Valeri thought it appropriate that on the early morning of my 60th birthday, I would reside in a retirement home.

We were up at 9:30. I took a G.I. shower, had breakfast at 10:00, and it was wonderful. WE chatted with Valeri about sports ministry, loaded the van for a 90+ minute (30 kilometers) drive up horrible mountain roads for a service with his church family of around 30 people on the Day of Ascension. We prayed, sang, the bishop read scripture and  spoke, then he invited me to speak about the ascension and our ministry. I referenced Luke 24 and the inscription beneath el Picacho in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We received communion with bread torn from a large flatbread, and a common cup of wine. We sang another song, and then we walked down to the area for a barbecue. A fire was built, a table was set, and I was soon introduced and toasted for my birthday.

During lunch I had some red wine and wonderful cheese as well as delicious cheesbread, cake, and shashlik, pork roasted over the fire like a kabob. Wow. (For the record, I never drink anything alcoholic, but to be a gracious guest in Georgia means to eat and drink whatever is offered. I drank more red wine in two days in Georgia than I had drank in the previous 36 years.)

Due to the persistent rain, we went down the mountain to the very modest church building in Tblisi. They came out with a cake bearing two large candles and sang "Happy birthday." We walked to our van and rode to the oldest church in Georgia (4th century). We rode down to the old capital city and had dinner with friends. This was great food, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, mushrooms with cheese, red wine, espresso. After dinner, 2+ hours of explaining the McCown Sport in Ministry map, in English, translated into Russian, then translated into Georgian.

At 9:00 we took a walk around the church built in the 11th century, and then rode back to our room in the old folks home. I was in bed by 10:15 and eventually was able to sleep.

Friday June 10.
We were up at 7:00. I took a hot shower and shaved. We had breakfast at 8:00, and then we were on the road to Kutsaisi at 8:45. We traveled with Valeri to meetings and we chatted with him more about ministry in sport, en route. We made several stops including one to pick up another local pastor who had info on a former Soviet pioneer camp that is for sale and could make a camp facility. Another stop was to see their present camp site, about 16 km from Kutsaisi. Still another stop was to sign documents with the camp owner at a hotel in Kutsaisi.

We went to Prometheus' Cave outside Kutsaisi. Oleg and I took the tour of the caverns. We then stopped to buy bread as we returned to the camp facility of which Valeri was pleased to give me a guided tour. We had dinner around 6:30 with the collected set of five pastors at the camp, talking about ministry in sport and, sadly, USA politics. I was again toasted for my birthday and dinner was excellent in the finest Georgian tradition. After dinner we relaxed at the camp and used their Wi-Fi to catch up on email and social networking.

Saturday June 11.

At midnight we began the trek back to Tblisi. We dropped the pastor at his home and Sasha in his neighborhood before continuing to the airport. By 4:30 am we were checked in and drinking coffee in the departure hall. It was an easy flight back to Kiev. Vera (Oleg’s wife) picked us up, and we went to breakfast in a French style cafe downtown. We drove to the conference facility to drop me off. I jumped into Coaches Camp already underway. I tried to rest, but could not. After a dinner of Domino’s pizza, we went with the coaches to a jazz concert downtown via subway. We walked to a park area for coffee and sightseeing afterwards. We took the subway home again. Tim Casey lead a team meeting with our STL FCA teammates until 11:30. Then it was off to bed.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Small Group Dynamics - Convenience vs. Commitment

Again this week, I’d like to share an observation I have made re: small group dynamics. Many people lament that their large group lacks the depth of commitment they desire, while others are very happy with their group’s depth, but wish it were larger. I have found that this tension is quite proper and that it is not a problem to solve, rather it’s a tension to be managed.

My thoughts about managing this tension are quite simple. If you want a more highly committed group, make it less convenient, and expect its numbers to be smaller. If you want a larger group, make it more convenient and expect its commitment level to be lesser. To expect a larger group to be greater in commitment is usually unrealistic.

Larger numbers / Lower commitment / More convenience, or Smaller numbers / Higher commitment / Less convenience. You are free to choose.

For around twenty years I led a small FCA group of high school student athletes that met at 6:30 am in a local restaurant. The owner allowed us into the dining room thirty minutes prior to the restaurant’s opening. Our group’s size varied from 6-40 in attendance across those years and a few times the kids asked if we could meet a little later. I always declined to move the time because the key to the group’s high commitment level was that its inconvenience.

On the other end of the scale, we have helped FCA huddle coaches to start and lead small groups in public schools for twenty-two years. Most of them want to grow the group as large as it can be. Given that goal, I normally counsel them to design the group to be as convenient as possible in terms of time, location, and day of the week to fit their intended participants. In addition, I counsel them that, “If you feed them, they will come.” Hosting the FCA huddle meetings during the lunch hour of a closed campus is about the perfect storm for a large group. Given that many of those in attendance are thinking with their stomachs, they came for the lunch, the commitment level is significantly lower than some would like. This is normal and proper.

As you consider the small groups you lead or those you would like to start, give careful consideration to your goals for the group. Do you prefer larger numbers or deeper commitment?
·        If you are aiming for larger numbers in attendance, be sure to make it convenient, fun, approachable, and understand that the group’s commitment level will stay at the shallow end of the pool. Program your content to fit your group’s commitment level.
·        If you would like a higher commitment level among your participants, make it less convenient in terms of timing and location, understand that you won’t likely get a large number to attend, but be sure to deliver content matching the desired commitment level. You can expect that they will follow you as deeply as you dare swim. Never compromise on commitment or they will get bored and disappear.


You can wisely manage the tension between group size and commitment level, if you will design and lead the group with these factors in mind. You are free to lead the group whichever way you perceive to be best for their development in the Lord Jesus. In many cases, a leader will develop two groups, one designed for the shallow end of the pool, the other built for treading water at the deep end. The best answer may not be in an either / or solution, but in a both / and design.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Small Group Dynamics - Structure

After an 11day trip to Ukraine and then a family vacation, I am back in the saddle.

Below is a simple observation I have made related to small group dynamics after 35+ years of leading them in various settings and with various sorts of people. I hope it is of value to you and to those you serve.

Small groups that have a greater depth of relationship require less structure. Groups that lack a depth of relationship require more structure.

Relationship >

<-------------------------------------------------------------->                                                                                < Structure
As relational depth grows, less and less structure is required for the group's health and productivity.
Structure includes: well defined parameters for day, time, frequency, duration, subject matter, number of times to meet together, leadership and hosting roles, etc...

Friday, June 17, 2016

Questions to Ask Competitors

One of the most effective tools I regularly employ in my service of sportspeople is to simply ask questions. I ask questions to draw them into conversation, and then to probe more deeply toward their hearts. Sneaky, huh?

I tend to ask three levels of questions:
1.   Questions that solicit facts. I ask the competitor’s name, home town, position, uniform number, etc… Mostly facts. Anyone will offer these details.
2.   Questions that solicit passion. I ask about the competitor’s sporting experiences and I’m looking for their love for the sport. I am leading them to tell me stories that awaken their passion for sport, team, competition, coaches, etc…
3.   Questions that solicit their hearts. I ask about the matters at the core of who they are: values, faith, relationships, events, and other matters that shape their lives from the center.


Please consider this brief list as a place to start with those whom you serve. I hope they serve you well. 
Always ask process questions, not results questions. Fans and media only ask questions about results.


1. How is your team developing? Is the teamwork good?

2. How pleased are you with your....? (Training, practice, hitting, rehab, etc...)
3. How pleased are you with preparations for your next competition?
4. Who among your teammates is doing very well?
5. What are some challenges you have presently?
6. What sorts of situations in your sport bring out the best of your abilities?
7. How well is your team connecting with the coaching staff?
8. When your playing days are over, what do you think you will miss most about sport?
9. What are the moments in your sport that are most difficult for you?
10. Who are your most trusted teammates?
11. When and where are you most fully the person you want to be?
12. What elements of your life in sport are most pleasing to you?
13. What is there about your life in sport that will still be important to you 10 years from now?
14. When you are on the _____ (floor, field, court, track, mat, pitch, etc..), do you feel that God is near or distant? Engaged or disinterested? Pleased or disgusted? Why?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Your first 30 days serving as a Sports Chaplain or Character Coach

During the recent F.C.A. Sports Chaplain conference in Kansas City, Missouri (USA), a number of my colleagues who are rather new to their service asked a lot of questions about the process of beginning to serve. Certainly everyone’s place of service is different and the circumstances vary widely, but below is an attempt at a list of things one should do in his or her first thirty days of service. I hope it’s helpful.

In your first 30 days of serving as a sports chaplain or character coach, I recommend that you:

• Thank God daily for the opportunity and privilege you have.
• Thank the coaches and/or ministry staff that opened the door to you.
• Get an appointment with the head coach to discuss details for your service. (Preferences, timing, things to be sure to do, things to be sure to avoid...)
• Attend practices, speaking to everyone who gives you eye contact. Introduce yourself, but don't use a title to describe your role. It will get around.
• Memorize the team roster by name, uniform number, position, and home town. All are important.
• Arrange to meet personally with anyone to responds to your initial contacts to build relationships and to seek ways to serve them.
• If on a college campus, meet the NCAA compliance officer, introduce yourself, ask how he/she would like you to communicate about opportunities with and for student-athletes.  Make this person an ally, not an enemy.
• Pray for the coaches, competitors, and support staff you are serving.
• Learn to see the faces, to hear the voices, and to feel the experiences of those you serve in your devotional reading, in your moments of contemplation and prayer, and as you travel to and from sporting venues.
• Journal your interactions with those you serve from preseason through postseason. Save the journals for reading in  annual preparation prior to new seasons.
• Set your heart to serve at all times.
• Set your heart to love in all circumstances.
• Prepare to stride joyfully into the next 30 days.