Friday, February 23, 2007

Loyalty is of greater value than prestige.

If you will be loyal to the coaches and athletes on their worst days, you’ll have their hearts on their best days. They won’t be impressed with your resume’, your programs, ideas, money, friends or anything else you may think builds your prestige.
They’ll be impressed if you hang in there with them through losing streaks. They’ll trust you if you are loyal to them when their character is called into question.

I believe I won a great deal of loyalty points the season before I began traveling with the football team. During a painful, 1 win vs. 10 losses season, I drove up to the school to meet the team upon their arrival after winning that first game of the season. My wife, son and I listened to the game on the radio in eager anticipation of a desperately needed victory. It must have been well after midnight when the bus arrived, but just to be there to say, “Congratulations, we’re proud of you,” made it worthwhile for all of us.

The players will value you greatly if you make time for them when it’s terribly uncomfortable in preseason and you’re at practice. They’ll believe in you when you meet them upon their arrival after a rough road trip. When you display loyalty, you build deeply your bank of relational assets.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Conduct yourself with humility and watch out for presumption.

Nothing does more to tear down the credibility you need with the coaches and competitors than presumption. Presumption is demanding free tickets, foolishly inviting yourself into places where you don’t belong, assuming that you should be welcome on the sidelines on game day and expecting to be outfitted with team shirts, caps, etc… Though you might think that you’ve earned such privileges, that attitude could kill your ministry opportunity.

Presumption is an ugly attitude that coaches and players can smell a mile away. Show proper humility and you won’t have to worry about it. Jaime Fernandez of Spain says, “Have a pastor’s heart for the players and don’t be presumptuous.” Don’t assume anything. Ask permission. Ask the Head Coach to draw some parameters for you and then stick to them. If you’re given 15 minutes for a chapel, you’d better not take 20. If you’re invited to take part in an event, do not show up late. Fulfill your responsibilities as completely as possible.

I remember one gentleman who was the President of a group of investors and supporters for the university’s athletic department and he seemed to think that his having that title gave him instant access to everyone and everything related to the team. How wrong he was. I watched from the sideline as he would stroll uninvited onto the field during pre-game warm up activities. I saw the players’ eyes rolling with disdain as he would walk past. I saw the look of annoyance on the coaches’ faces. I also watched later that season when the head coach was so annoyed that he had him escorted by stadium security from the field. His presumption had pushed him way beyond the favor he thought his position was due.

Prove yourself faithful and reliable in the small details and you’ll be invited to take part in more weighty matters. As you show proper humility, you’ll be given favor and access that you could have only dreamed about before. If you presume your way around, you’ll alienate the whole team.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Be Available

Being a Sport Chaplain or Mentor for people of sport is not often convenient. Unless you do it as a full-time profession, it can be very inconvenient. This aspect of the role is most costly. Being available doesn’t mean just for periodic practices, competitions and such. It means making trips to the hospital to visit the ailing coach or player. It could mean a trip to the emergency room in an ambulance. It may mean painful visits to wakes and funerals.

Being there is most important. Noting can replace the investment of time and inconvenience that one pays when he breaks off an appointment or a dinner engagement to visit with a troubled young player. Nothing can devalue the hours spent over dinner in your home with a coaching staff or individual competitors.

During May of 2000, I received a call one evening from the head coach of the Men’s Track and Field team at the university. After some small talk he asked me what my plans were for the coming week and I shared them briefly with him. He then asked if I’d like to go with the team to the Missouri Valley Championships in Wichita. I asked why and the answer stunned me. One of the shot and discus throwers from the women’s team had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had withdrawn from the team and the university and had just committed suicide that weekend. The coaches were really worried about their athletes and the administrators were very concerned about how the others on the team would react. I said, “Hey, I’m not a psychologist!” To which he responded, “Yeah, we already have one of those, but the kids know you and trust you.” After some quick consultation with my wife, I called him back and agreed to go. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I was willing to be of assistance however I could. I had several opportunities to speak with those athletes and their coaches about the real life and death spiritual issues surrounding this very troubling situation.

Being available to those in your care, on their schedule, is invaluable. If you’re not willing to be regularly inconvenienced for them, please don’t presume to be their Sport Mentor.

Friday, February 2, 2007

On-line resources for Sport Chaplains and Sport Mentors

I would like to make you aware of some on-line resources that could be helpful in your work. Some of you will be able to open a new browser window to these sites by simply clicking on the underlined address. This is an organization in Australia which supports and trains sport chaplains. This is another organization in Australia which supports and trains sport chaplains. This is the site for an agency in Great Britain which trains and places sport chaplains, primarily with football (soccer) clubs and works with major sports events. This is the web site for the International Sport Coalition, with which I serve on the Serving the People of Sport Council. This is the web site for SRS Pro Sportler in Germany. This outstanding sports ministry has done Sport Mentoring for a long time and very effectively. This is the site for an annual Sport Chaplains Roundtable which occurs in the fall – one in Indianapolis, IN and another in Grand Rapids, MI. This is the site for Verite’ Sport in Great Britain. Stuart Weir is in my estimation the world’s best writer of material which serves to help athletes integrate their faith in to their lives of sport. This is the site for an issue oriented radio show / podcast by Gordon Thiessen of Cross Training Publishing and former Univ. of Nebraska Football Coach, now FCA Staff member – Ron Brown.

Sport Mentor Video

This is a link to a news story which was done about my ministry with Southern Illinois University Football. The reporter captured much of what I’m trying to do.

Relationships / Attitude / Presence

From my experience as a Sport Mentor, a competitor and a sport official, there are just a few key principles that make for good ministry with sport teams and individuals. Those principles are simply stated in three words: Relationships, Attitude and Presence. In the following pages we’ll address each one with more detail and a few illustrative stories.

It is often helpful to have a succinct, direct statement of purpose to help define a role of ministry. The following statement is my attempt at simply and briefly stating the purpose of a Sport Chaplain or Sport Mentor.
The Sport Chaplain or Sport Mentor serves the people of sport in the process of fully becoming the people whom God created them to be.
The Sport Chaplain or Mentor does this through:
· Redemptive Relationships
· Proper Attitudes
· Strategic Presence
· Effective Whole Life Training

Ministry with the People of Sport

For decades people who are actively engaged in the world of sport have been used by the world to promote products of all sorts and by the Church to promote various religious events and relationship with Christ Jesus. Sadly, we in the Church have often been as utilitarian in our relationships with the people of sport as the world has been. One group of people within the Church, and particularly in para-church Christian ministries, has sought to serve the spiritual needs of these people. The wisest of them serve them in a way that cares for their whole person and their development in all of life. These people are often referred to as “Sport Chaplains.”

We have observed a number of different emphases among those who are engaged in ministry with the people of sport. As ministry to people in sport continues to expand and develop, generic terms such as "sports chaplain" are becoming less helpful in describing the approaches to serving the people of sport. As sport chaplaincy has matured, different approaches have emerged. It may be helpful to refer to the terms defined by Lowrie McCown of 360sports. The following terms are used by the "Serving the People of Sport Council" of the International Sports Coalition to train people to serve in sport around the world.
· Evangelist Chaplain – His or her goal is conversion to Christ of people in sport and the proclamation of the Gospel through people of influence in the world of sport. They typically work with a team or a club, sometimes also at major sports events. They may hold chapel services and their ministry is primarily program, event and message driven.
· Pastoral Chaplain – This person’s goal is personal piety (Christ-like behavior) and spiritual growth in the people of sport. Their approach is more relational and they’ll employ methods like Bible studies and personal discipleship methods to further the spiritual lives of those whom they serve. They will usually not concern themselves with sport issues, but will emphasize the spiritual dimension of life with those they serve.
· Sport Mentor – The Sport Mentor’s goal is more comprehensive, seeking a wholehearted, Christ-honoring life in sport (relationships with the sport, with teammates, coaches, support staff, officials, etc.) and outside sport (relationships with spouse, family, friends, the Church, etc.). Their approach to Evangelism and Discipleship based on the individual’s personal journey with biblical application in the sport experience for faith and life. They will approach spiritual matters with a long-term focus, committed to the whole-life development process of each person. While evangelist chaplains and pastoral chaplains may simply tolerate sport as a way to minister to the people involved in it, the Sport Mentor must fully engage the sport, its culture and all those who participate in it to be an effective and transformational force in their lives.

Regardless of which of these roles is most like you, the issue is to faithfully serve Christ Jesus as we serve the people of sport. I pray that our weekly posts will assist you in that process.

Meet their Families

Below is another excerpt from “Transforming Lives in Sport.” It again affirms the centrality of building redemptive Relationships to our work with the People of Sport.

Meet their Families. For teams at the college, club and professional level, the players are mostly removed from their homes and families, so when the family comes to town to visit, it’s an important occasion. Many times they will want to meet the Sport Chaplain or Mentor and to visit with you about their child’s spiritual life. This can be a very valuable relationship for you. You may have the opportunity to invest in the life of not only the player or coach, but the rest of the family as well.

I’ve stood at practices many times praying with players whose mothers or fathers had recently been diagnosed with cancer or had been hospitalized with a heart attack. There have also been a number of players whose families have been shattered by divorce or infidelity and it has hit them very hard. Most of them have left their homes and are hours away from the people they love. Coaches and competitors are just normal people and their families are not immune from the struggles of pain, disease, heartache and death. Simply taking time for prayer and compassion means more to them than I can possibly express.

Meeting the families, even briefly helps build your bond with the players and coaches.

Ask Good Questions

Below is another excerpt from “Transforming Lives in Sport.” It again affirms the centrality of building redemptive Relationships to our work with the People of Sport.

Ask Good Questions. Learn all you can about the sport in which your charges compete. Ask good questions. Take time to learn from the coaches and the competitors about the sport and their points of emphasis within it.

They’ll be impressed that you care about and respect the sport and it will further aid in the integration process that we’re working to achieve. If they see you learning about the sport, they will feel freer to ask you questions about matters of faith.

I typically ask questions about what I see during the practice or competition which I’m attending. I’ll ask a coach, “Tell me about number 20. He seems like a good leader for your team.” I’ll ask a player, “What are some keys to your team’s success this season?” I’ll ask a coach about a particular game situation or a moment which I think will prompt a positive response. I certainly won’t say anything that can be construed as second-guessing or a negative comment. If we continue to speak only about religion and ignore their orientation toward sport, we’ll only further their conflicted thinking.

The Socratic method of asking good questions and thereby drawing out those with whom we speak cannot be overvalued. Asking good questions of competitors can quickly open conversations. A question asked in the right moment can open the heart much more effectively than making a dozen statements. The coach or competitor will be more deeply engaged when we ask a probing question and wait for an answer than when we do all the talking.

This is another entry for my colleagues who are engaged in ministry with people of sport. In particular they are for those of us who refer to our roles as “Chaplain” or “Sport Mentor.” Some of the material in these emails will be from my book, Transforming Lives in Sport – A Guide for Sport Chaplains and Sport Mentors. (Available through Other notes will come from my observations as I work with teams and individuals, still other ideas will come from some of you as you create new methods or devise new strategies for effective ministry.

If you would like to contribute to these weekly notes, please reply with your thoughts and I’ll consider how to best present them to our team of Sport Chaplains and Sport Mentors. Thank you very much.