Thursday, March 29, 2007

Talk about faith in the context of the game - don’t talk about religion.

Most competitors that I’ve known live with a constant tension between their lives in sport and their lives of faith. Many of them cannot justify the two and many more cannot live out their faith in the context of their sport experience. I’ve heard too many coaches or athletes say, “I’m a Christian, but I’m a coach/athlete.” BUT… In their minds those are contradictory. This must not continue to be so. Such attitudes are perpetuated when we simply import religion into the arena of sport and don’t work to integrate faith into the sport experience. This is not easily done, but must be pursued within the context of the sport culture. Thus we must speak of matters of faith as they appear in the fabric of the sport in which your team competes.

At the end of one college football season, I wanted to make one final, direct approach to an All-American punter who was about to graduate. I asked him to join me for lunch. I was all set to be very direct about his faith in Christ or the lack thereof, but as we talked over our pizza, he began to volunteer some information that was most amazing. He began to tell me that he now understood why he had chosen to play football in high school, why he had chosen to come to our university, why he had come to game day chapels so faithfully and why our relationship had become so important. He said, “I think it was so I could come to know God.” I agreed and he continued to tell me about the night before an important game how all these factors had become crystal clear to him and how he had committed his life to Christ. We went on to talk about how to pursue this new relationship with God and how it fit his life as a soon-to-be professional football player.

Look for the issues confronting your coaches and competitors as they compete and search the Scriptures and the Lord’s heart for His way of faithfully dealing with such. Speak the language of the game with your team. Use metaphors and similes that fit the sport’s culture and communicate the truth of Scripture through them.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Consistently encourage and keep your critical thoughts to yourself.

When you encourage good attitudes, enthusiastic competition, hard work and good behavior they will notice. When you silently endure foolish behavior, coarse language, bad attitudes and laziness; that too will be noticed. You will usually not even have to say anything, they’ll apologize right away. There’s no need for you to criticize. If they want your opinion, they’ll ask for it. When you’ve earned the right to be heard, they will ask directly.

Between football seasons one year, a player with whom I’d prayed individually each game day through the previous season, made a foolish mistake and received a ticket for driving under the influence of alcohol. I saw the notice in the newspaper and heard about it through the rumor mill, but he was racked by guilt. He was terribly embarrassed and had to face his parents with the matter. Later he summoned up the courage to call me for a lunch engagement. I knew what he had on his mind, but wasn’t about to cheat him out of the growth opportunity. We met and he apologized for letting me down. I assured him of my forgiveness and more importantly, the Lord’s forgiveness of him. We went on to talk at length about how to live a more disciplined lifestyle and how to honor the Lord in all of life. We remain great friends and he went on to play in the Arena Football League (U.S.A.) and has begun coaching college football, still following the Lord. A harsh, condemning attitude could have crashed our relationship and possibly soured him on following Christ.

When you offer your opinion without being asked, you are seen as presumptuous and often foolish. You may be found to be speaking without knowledge and one foolish comment could ruin your credibility for a long time. It’s always a good idea to encourage people when you catch them doing the right thing. It’s seldom a good idea to correct them when you’ve not been asked to comment.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Leading Volunteers

As I prepared my talk for an upcoming event, I gathered some thoughts about leadership with volunteers. As we serve the people of sport, many times we are in volunteer roles and we also find ourselves leading other volunteers in such service. Below are some thoughts about such leadership. I hope they are helpful to you.

Late last summer I was reading “Good to Great and the Social Sectors,” an addendum to Jim Collins’ tremendous book about business leadership which I had read a few years ago.

One of the main points in both books is to determine what drives the resource engine for an organization – whether that is the profitability of a company or the effectiveness of a non-profit organization like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a local church or something like a healthcare corporation.
· As I thought and analyzed how our ministry works, I came to the realization that our greatest resource was not necessarily money; rather it was the amazing team of highly committed volunteers we have gathered over these last 13 years.
· Volunteers are our resource of highest value.
· Obviously, finances are another highly productive part of our resource engine and that’s much of what tonight is about.
· I also saw that the areas in which we most effectively involve volunteers are the easiest ministries for which to find financial support.

Leading Volunteers well is a tremendous challenge.
· Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area is quoted as saying that the Church is the most leadership intensive enterprise in the world, because most everyone is a volunteer. You can’t fire them, they don’t work for you. The leader has no leverage beyond his/her personal investment in the volunteers.
· As we lead volunteers in our respective ministries, we have to find ways to engage them in something significant, something bigger than just completing a task. If we’re too demanding – they’ll walk away. If we’re too soft – they’ll get bored and quit.
· I cut my volunteer teeth serving with No Greater Love Ministries, a short-term missions and leadership development organization, based in DuQuoin, IL. I have been serving with them for nearly 25 years and still do because they make me a better leader.The big question for me in leading volunteers is always, “Is this something in which this person can invest his or her heart, time and energy, and have it really count for something?” I pray that our work together has real significance.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Resources available

I would like to make available a number of written resources for discussions with coaches, trainers or competitors. You will see a title for the document and a brief description. If you would like to have any or all of these, simply email me at and let me know which ones are of interest to you and I will email them straight to you.

· Wisdom for a Young Head Coach – This is a verse by verse discussion guide for a coach’s group from 1 and 2 Timothy.
· Coaching Points – This is a verse by verse discussion guide for a coach’s group from Titus.
· Bible Studies for Athletes – This is a verse by verse discussion guide for athletes and/or coaches from James.
· Winners – This is a topical discussion for athletes and/or coaches with Bible texts related to characteristics of winners.
· Leading Sport Oriented Bible Studies – This is a simple guide for the leaders of such discussions with athletes and/or coaches.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Seek always to serve and do not seek privilege.

This is of premier importance. Whatever your role is with the players and/or coaches, you must fulfill it to your absolute best, then be ready to serve in whatever capacity is needed. If you do a team chapel, give them the best you have to offer every single time. Then do whatever you can to help the rest of the day.

While working with an (American) football team, I’ve spent countless hours retrieving balls for the kickers. At other times it meant dealing with tickets, logistics, hotel reservations, arranging meals or solving problems. I’ve spent lots of weekends distributing post-game meals on the team bus. Wherever there is an opportunity to serve, I’ll take it because it gives me one more opportunity to engage the coaches and players face to face. None of these are glamorous activities and most would not see them as part of “ministry,” but they’re vital to the process.

This is not a role in which you can simply do your thing and then bask in the glory of it. That kind of attitude will repel everyone and you’ll soon be wondering where they went. Employ Jesus’ attitude as seen in Mark chapter 10 and verses 41 – 45 and look for the opportunity to serve and to sacrifice.