Friday, May 22, 2015

Sports Chaplaincy is Growing Globally

We are most grateful to everyone in our network of sports chaplains around the world. We each learn from the others and it is my aim through this weekly email and other avenues to share information I either create myself or gather from others.

Possibly the best expression of this worldwide collaboration is the training now available atwww.globalsportschaplaincy.org.

There is a growing movement of sports chaplaincy in South Africa. They just held their first conference and training earlier this month. Thanks to Bruce Nadin for his invaluable leadership. There is also a growing movement in East Asia, Hong Kong in particular. They are hosting a training event this week. Thanks to Jung Ho Jung and to Cameron Butler for their leadership in that area of the world.

Next week, Sara Hurst a sports chaplain at the University of Illinois, and I will lead a three day training with our colleagues of FCA Ukraine and other sports ministry leaders from that area of the world. We will be leading our training in conjunction with the material at www.globalsportschaplaincy.org. The trainees will have read all the materials and watched the videos before we meet. During our meetings together we will work with them to process that information, to enculturate the ideas into their sports cultures, and to apply the principles for effective sports chaplaincy.

Thanks to each and all who have contributed so richly to the growth and global development of this form of ministry in sport. I believe our best days are still ahead.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ministry in Minor League Baseball

The first weeks of May bring with them the beginning of the Frontier League Baseball season. The players reported to Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois on April 29 for the 2015 season of the Southern Illinois Miners. The Frontier League is a set of teams in independent professional baseball. Their being independent simply means these teams are not affiliated with a major league organization. The salaries are small, but the hearts are large and passionate.

I am thrilled to be serving this particular club because of the culture being nurtured by the manager, Mike Pinto. Mike has been the manager of the Miners since their first season in 2006, having declined opportunities to join other clubs of independent baseball as well as affiliated teams. Mike brings a professionalism and an attention to detail that is uncommon at this level of baseball.

Among the factors that make for good ministry with this club and at this level of professional baseball are these:

· My relationship with the manager and the coaches. From the first day of my service, Mike has welcomed me into every part of the team’s life. I am careful to not overstep my bounds, but when I consult him with opportunities to serve, Mike is quick to make room for our ministry efforts. In addition, being intentional to build relationships with the coaches (hitting, pitching, bench, etc.) and the support staff (clubhouse manager, athletic trainers, ushers, front office, etc.) has borne fruit as well.

· Baseball is a “hang out” culture. To build relationships with baseball players, one must simply show up, hang out, and talk about whatever comes up. For type A people, like your humble correspondent, this is often difficult. I am much better with an agenda and a set of objectives, but to faithfully serve this group requires flying by the seat of one’s pants. To stand around the hitting cage as batting practice takes place is invaluable. To lean on the dugout railing and to idly chat wins favor and trust. To ask questions about family, home towns, college teammates, or one’s path through baseball that landed him in Marion, Illinois is the stuff of relationship and the foundation for more meaningful and spiritual conversations in the future.

· A 4/1 ratio of appearances to talks. It seems to require four appearances at batting practices to each Sunday home Baseball Chapel talk to be effective. The more faithful I am to make time to hang out at batting practice, the more the players and coaches trust me and the more they will take their pregame time to sit with me in the dugout after batting practice on Sunday afternoon to hear my five minute talk and to pray with me.

· My home is 16.1 miles from the ballpark. From my garage to my parking place at the baseball park is short enough for me to make time to be there. If it were 30 miles, it would be significantly more difficult, but would still be worth it. If it were 50 miles, I would likely not serve well.

· These players are desperate to play baseball. If I told you the amount some of these young men are paid you wouldn’t believe it. They live with host families who provide a room, meals, and laundry when the players are in town. Some of our players have recently exhausted their college baseball eligibility and were not taken by the major league draft. Some of our players have already played a number of years in affiliated baseball, but have been released by those clubs. Some of them have been in other independent baseball organizations and still others have simply been out of baseball for a while due to injury. Some of them are Latino players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, or Mexico and staying in baseball allows them to stay in the USA and to send some money home to family. All of them are twenty-seven years or younger. All of these factors lead to a desperation to be in baseball that enables them to press through low pay and often rather Spartan conditions. This desperation also places their hearts right at the surface. After earning their trust, I find them eager to ask for advice, to air problems, or to ask for prayer. The come to Baseball Chapel services on Sundays and excitedly make time for our discussions of scripture midweek during home stands.

· Baseball Chapel’s legacy and reputation in baseball. This ministry has long been the standard for faithful ministry within professional baseball at every level. It is of tremendous value for me to be able to open a chapel talk by saying, “This afternoon, at every level of baseball from Yankee Stadium in New York to stadiums in the Dominican Republic to Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois, men just like you are sitting in dugouts to pray and to hear the truth of scripture applied to their lives in baseball.” Baseball Chapel provides handouts, in English and in Spanish, that we can download from their website to use with the players, coaches, umpires, management, wives of players, and even support staff. The faithfulness of Baseball Chapel and that of their wide network of men who serve in their ministry have paved the way for many relative newcomers, like me.


If you should have opportunity to serve a minor league baseball club, if you have any background in the sport, if you are adept at “hanging out,” or even if you can make yourself do it, please consider serving in this way. Please consider the various factors listed above as potential keys to effective ministry and jump in with both feet. I have just begun season four with our club and cannot wait to see what will occur this summer. Between this 16th day of May and the early weeks of September are a myriad of opportunities for the Lord Jesus to invade the lives of desperate young men, grizzled older coaches, ambitious management personnel, and the families of each and all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Legacy - Lessons from the All Blacks

During a recent preseason workout of the minor league baseball team I serve as team chaplain (http://www.southernillinoisminers.com/), as our manager addressed his team in the dugout, he referenced the book, Legacy - 15 Lessons in Leadership: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr. He talked about their culture of excellence and imported their practice of cleaning up after themselves to our club. Rather than the players regularly drinking from a paper cup and then throwing it onto the floor of the dugout, he said we will no longer do that. Instead of leaving the visitor’s clubhouse (changing room, locker room, shed) in total disarray and covered with the litter of athletic tape, dirt, mud, soiled towels, etc., for the clubhouse manager to clean, we will bring our own cleaning equipment and we will leave the place even cleaner than when we arrived. Noble intentions for sure. We will see how well the players, especially the team leaders, embrace this ethic and make it their own.



Following is a simple paragraph that describes the book, which I will soon purchase and read. “Champions do extra. They sweep the sheds. They follow the spearhead. They keep a blue head. They are good ancestors. In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business. Legacy is a unique, inspiring handbook for leaders in all fields, and asks: What are the secrets of success – sustained success? How do you achieve world-class standards, day after day, week after week, year after year? How do you handle pressure? How do you train to win at the highest level? What do you leave behind you after you’re gone? What will be your legacy?”



It seems that Yanks like me have some things we can learn from our Kiwi brothers, especially from a culture of excellence like the All Blacks Rugby club.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Wonderful Surprise

On occasion, if we persevere, we receive a thank you or an “attaboy” from an unexpected source. If we serve faithfully, not forcefully, and serve in an intensely relational way, we are in position for such wonderful surprises. One such occasion rose for me earlier this week.

For the past three years, I have been serving the university baseball team in my community. My service mostly consists of going two hours prior to game time to speak casually with those who care to chat. I station myself right by the dugout at the edge of the seats as I have yet to be invited onto the field for batting practice. While there I always get a few moments to talk with the head coach, often with a couple of the assistants, and regularly with a number of the players. I send eighteen of the players text message prayers and sometimes scriptures on game days. I meet them for game day chapels three hours and fifteen minutes prior to game time, in the dugout, on home Sundays. For those chapels I bring a devotional thought on paper, in letter form, and I prepare a five minute talk from scripture that is both motivational and inspirational. Simple, brief, and in my estimation, with little depth.

To my surprise, I received the following text message from one of our pitchers on Monday morning. He and I have very little depth of relationship so I was stunned by his remarks.

“I apologize for not making it to Chapel...I look forward to it every home weekend and I did not get up early this day!

I truly do appreciate your support greatly and I most enjoy the guidance you give as it is through Jesus Christ!

Thanks so much for your love and I want you to know that on a personal level even though I may not have shown it you have helped me become a much better Christian and have assisted me through a tough personal situation I was in last year!

Thank you so very much Roger!


I was stunned at his remarks, but immeasurably gratified to receive them. Even on t
he days when I, or you, don’t perceive the impact of our service, the Lord Jesus is speaking , by His Spirit, to the hearts of those we serve. If we are careful to speak the truth of scripture and to prefer people over programs, we can have a depth of impact far beyond our perceptions.

May I challenge you to remain faithful? Do not stop short of consistent, faithful, service of the sportspeople in your charge. They are worth it and you may even receive a wonderful, soul-enriching surprise on occasion.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wide and Deep Ministry in Athletics

One of our most highly valued colleagues and friends is Stuart Weir of Verité Sport in the United Kingdom. Stuart has carved out a tremendously unique and effective ministry in the world of Athletics and elsewhere around the world. 

Below, please find his April 2015 ministry update. His model is unique as he serves as a journalist as well as a personal mentor and sports chaplain to sportspeople, but his influence is much wider than one might gather at first glance. Through his writing, website, and wide distribution of written materials in several languages, he has a global impact. 

Please give Stuart’s ministry update a thorough read and I pray it challenges you to widen and deepen your circle of influence as it has challenged me.

Update - April 2015

Athletics
Ministry in athletics continues to be one of my priorities. Already this year I have been to 4 indoor events.

The season started at Glasgow, which in the past has proved to be an excellent event for meeting athletes for the first time. 

This year, with no TV coverage, there were no American and no Commonwealth athletes. Moreover, a significant number of British athletes effectively opted out of the indoor season. So at Glasgow, for the first time in six years athletics ministry I found myself without a known Christian to meet and without an Oxford athlete to write about!

It was great to have Jules Wilkinson at the British trials in Sheffield. The logistics of the event made holding a meeting impossible but we were able to support a number of Christian athletes individually. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=Sheffield15

Jules was also at the Sainsbury's British Grand Prix in Birmingham where I organised and she led a Bible study for nine athletes, only one of whom had ever been to one of my Bible studies before.

I also attended the European Indoor Championships in Prague. I had hoped to repeat the Sunday service for the British team that I'd done twice in 2014. However, none of the athletes who attended the services were competing this year. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=euroindoor2015

In one sense it has been a slow start to the season but as I see this as long-term ministry, that is not a problem. I was able to have significant conversations with coaches and administrators.

In addition to attending events I keep in touch with athletes through my weekly devotional email, personal emails and meetings at training centres.

My next event is the London Marathon on 26 April, where last year three of the four main races were won by Christians.

Bangladesh
Four years ago, I received an email from a person in Bangladesh whom I had never met. He said that he received and enjoyed my weekly devotional email and that he had also read Born to Play, a book that I wrote with Graham Daniels in 2004, and was keen to have it published in Bangladesh. At the time, I was unable to find the funding to help him translate and publish the book but we kept in touch. Finally last year I was able to find the money. Last month I received copies of the printed Bengali version of the book. This is the 12th edition of the book in eight languages to be published. Thanks to everyone who gave specifically to this project. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=bangla

International projects
Supporting international projects has always been an important aspect of the work of Verité Sport. Here is a quick update on some of our partners, with more information available on the website.

Togo
The girls’ football team finished second in the National League - equal on points but pipped on goal difference. The performance got them an invitation to an international tournament in Ghana. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=league2015.

Argentina
Laura is back in Argentina working with local athletes. She was able to take back with her and quantity of new but out of date British Athletics clothing, on which they had embroidered the logo of the local club in Cachi, Argentina. Laura's latest update can be read at http://www.veritesport.org/?page=argapr15

Pakistan
Each year we sponsor the Easter cricket tournament which Victor runs in Pakistan. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=2015Pak.

Ukraine
Zhenya has been elected vice president of the Rivne County Football Association. He is delighted but daunted by the responsibility and is determined to continue to fight corruption which, sadly, is rife in Ukrainian football. See http://www.veritesport.org/?page=UKRnewsletter

“Have you retired?”
As people keep asking me this question, I have obviously not communicated clearly my current circumstances. The simple answer is that I continue to work full-time as director of Verité Sport. However, having reached the age of 65 I am able to live on pension income. Thus I no longer take a salary from Verité Sport but continue to raise money to cover expenses and grants to projects.

Annual accounts
One of the first tasks in 2015 was the production of our annual accounts; our financial year ends on 31 December. Most of the work is done by my indefatigable treasurer, Ros, to whom I will be eternally grateful. The accounts are now with the examiner and will be available to everyone in a few months.

Prayer
Pray for the continuing ministry in athletics. 
Pray for the work of our partners – Laura and Fabio (Argentina), Aimé (Togo), Zhenya (Ukraine) and Victor (Pakistan). 
Pray for the distribution of Born to Play in Bangladesh.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ministry with Coaches

The ministry we have with coaches cannot be overemphasized in its importance. To influence the influential, to coach coaches, to nurture a multigenerational approach to our ministries is very wise and most effective. The Apostle Paul wrote of this dynamic, in his second letter to Timothy, at chapter 2 and verse 2. There we read, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

When we invest our lives in coaches, we not only have an impact upon their individual lives, but also their families, their teams, their colleagues, and even their communities. Below are some simple, but effective ways of making connections with coaches that can be transformational to their hearts. I hope you will try some or all of these.

Attend their events. Go to their clinics. Attend their training events. Invest your time in their practices, games, matches, tournaments, etc… Be where the coaches are, rather than expecting them to show up at your events.

Live in their world. Take the time to learn, to understand, and to embrace the culture of sport where they live. Some parts of it may be uncomfortable for you. It may initially feel like a poor fit. You must find ways to live in and to enjoy the world of sport to ever have influence in it. To simply import Church culture into the sports world is wholly inadequate.

Help them achieve. If you care about every facet of their lives, including their professional development, you will begin to be profoundly influential. For you to suggest, purchase, or loan books to a coach is greatly appreciated. For you to suggest clinics, networks, websites, mentors, or events that can further the careers of the coaches you serve is among the strongest ways to build trust with them.

Help them clarify values. This is a little trickier, but it’s worth it. When you ask good questions about why they coach the way they do. To ask coaches about what is most important to them, to ask what they hope to achieve in the lives of their players, to ask about their values related to their coaching staff, is a simple way to assist them in clarifying values for their programs. Coach Joe Ehrmann’s questions from Season of Life and InSideOut Coaching are most helpful: “Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way that you coach? How does it feel to be coached by me?” Probing questions all, they help clarify values and set a coach’s direction for his or her program.

Help them gain perspective. Coaching a sport, at any level, can be terribly consuming of the coach. The higher the level, the higher the salary, the higher the profile of the coach, the more pressure is applied to the coach’s heart and the more perspective is lost. Compulsive or obsessive behaviors, broken family relationships, shouting tirades, breaches of ethical and legal boundaries, and more are right at the doorstep of coaches as they lose perspective in pursuit of power and success. We can be the ones who help them gain perspective. When we ask questions about individual players, about their families, about their health, about their marriages, and other “off the field of competition” matters, we help them gain perspective. When we discuss process more than results, we help them gain perspective.


We may be uniquely qualified to help coaches in these specific areas, to nurture their hearts, to affirm their calling, to encourage their progress, and to enhance their influence with the people they coach and with whom they labor. Let’s love them extravagantly and serve them selflessly.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Postmodernism and Sports Ministry

Since around 2000, I have been working to retool my brain from a well-entrenched modern mindset to be flexible enough to communicate more clearly with postmodern thinkers. I am convinced that most everyone I know, forty years of age and younger, thinks with a 100% postmodern mindset. They do so without even a thought of how differently their elders perceive the world and make decisions. The great and widening divide between these two ways of thinking is played out in the media as cultural issues are loudly discussed and argued from two widely different perspectives. Neither is really listening to the other and neither is being persuasive with the other. Our world needs interpreters. I aim to be one.

I will soon be fifty-nine years of age and began rewiring my brain about fifteen years ago. Leonard Sweet’s book, SoulTsunami, was of tremendous help in this process as were two of his other works, AquaChurch and A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café. (SoulTsunami: 10 Life Rings for You and Your Church, AquaChurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe: Finding the Energy of a Deeper Spiritual Life)

Many of our friends in the Evangelical world rail against postmodernism as though it was the mark of the beast. They find it to be an enemy of the Church, an impediment to the Gospel, and a perversion of everything holy. They fail to think this through and to grasp that the world Jesus lived in was anything but modern in any way, certainly not in thought. I chose to seek ways to make peace with postmodern thought and to find ways to adapt my thinking and communication skill to be effective in light of it. This has been neither easy nor quick. My friend and mentor, Lowrie McCown, dragged me kicking and screaming into new ways of thinking. I am forever indebted to him.

Following are some of the distinctions between modern and postmodern ways of thinking and their implications upon ministry with sportspeople. I hope they are of benefit to your work with the same.

Modern                                        Postmodern
·        Individually focused            Communally focused
·        Hierarchical structures        Flat, organic structures
·        Authority from position        Authority from experience
·        Rational knowledge            Experiential knowledge
·        Is skeptical                          Is spiritual
·        Interested in the destination     Interested in the journey
·        Universal truth                     Contextual truth

Just with this simple table of differences, you have probably thought of several instances where different approaches to issues like team / club structure, the basis for authority, the source of knowledge, the nature of spirituality, and the basis for truth are points of conflict. My aim is not to find a way to make better arguments for modernism, instead it is to find a way to communicate timeless truths of scripture to a postmodern thinking audience.

My postmodern friends are much more comfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, than my modern, order loving, black and white thinking friends. Thus I must relinquish some of my desire to nail cultural things down as absolutely right or wrong, truth or error, when they may simply be preferences.

My friends during my earlier days in the church loved didactic teaching and verse by verse preaching. I find that if I really want to connect with student-athletes between 14 and 22 years of age, I had better find a narrative passage of scripture. These postmodern thinkers connect much more quickly with discussion of a story from I Kings than they do with a Bible study from I Timothy. Even when speaking from a New Testament epistle, the extra five minutes given to a description of the background, the story of the author and the history of the audience produces a personal connection that moves their hearts.

Almost without exception, if I offer postmoderns an either / or choice for something, they will choose both, or at least some of each. My modern friends are happy to make a choice of one or the other. My modern friends tend to categorize themselves in a cultural niche and are quite happy to stay there. The postmoderns are thrilled to blend cultures, even some that seem to be clashing with each other. For example, country kids listening to hip hop music, wearing cowboy boots and a ball cap on sideways.

Modern thinking people tend to ride new waves of culture as they arrive and toss the old things into the backseat like a crushed soda can. Postmoderns like things that are both ancient and future. They will embrace Gregorian chants and listen them on their latest version of the iPhone. They will shoot selfies with their friends in their throwback jerseys, Beats headphones, and wearing “Classic Jordan” basketball shoes.

If you are reading this and you are forty or older, please think about how you think. Consider your mindset and that of those twenty years your junior. How well do you connect? How easy do you find it to communicate, to understand, and to be understood? If you find that you and those you are serving seem to be on separate planes of thought, you have some options:
1) You can withdraw and simply quit.
2) You can go the way of the dinosaur and become a fossil. You can rail against the changes and become increasingly irrelevant to your postmodern audience.

3) You can study, adapt, think, contemplate, experiment, and find ways to communicate clearly, wisely, effectively, and truthfully. Please choose option 3. We need the wisdom, experience, and commitment of those in my generation, but we need to find new ways to speak into a vastly different and rapidly changing culture.