Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Onward Christian Athletes

Over the next five weeks I will write a series of articles related to the recently released book, “Onward Christian Athletes – Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers.” It is written by Tom Krattenmaker and published by Rowman and Littlefield. I have read and re-read the book in order to learn what I can from its pages. I would recommend that you buy a copy and read it yourself. This week’s notes will deal with an overview of the book and the Introduction.

Krattenmaker takes Evangelical Sports Ministries; the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action and Baseball Chapel in particular, to task on many issues which he sees as either deceiving, manipulative, dishonest, politically motivated, ignorant or all of the above. He certainly misunderstands a number of matters involving faith and still others related to sports dynamics, but he does raise some important issues for us to consider and to evaluate. If we will not simply dismiss him as misinformed or take offense at him for daring to question us, we can become better and more faithful in the process.

· The author sees the players and coaches who speak about their faith in public settings as often being pawns who are exploited by the Evangelical Christian movement.
· The ministry method most often cited in his stories and examples is that of sports evangelism. That is ministry in sport which has as its aim the sharing of the Gospel of Christ with competitors and coaches or the expression of the Gospel through those same competitors and coaches with others (fans especially).
· He sees all religions and even total secularism as having the same value. He espouses a totally pluralistic view of society in general and sport in particular.
· He sees political angles to everything in the world of sports and sports ministry. He makes direct ties between individual persons and their public political ties and the political aims of their organizations. I am sure that many others do as well, whether or not we intend for those ties to be seen.
· His discussions are mostly about professional sports and primarily about Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.
· He sees and mentions often, that Evangelical Christians dominate the world of sports ministry and bring with them an exclusive, narrow and even divisive religious view.
· He tells about his pilgrimage of faith through Young Life, Campus Crusade for Christ and other ministries and his brush with sports ministries from his childhood. He has come to this point in his life with no personal faith and says that somehow salvation “didn’t stick” with him.

As with most people who stand at the edge of sport, but don’t live inside it, the author is limited by only having access to the players and coaches whose views find their way into magazines, television and radio sound bites, newspaper articles and those who make public proclamations. He only knows what he sees.

You and I know a number of people in the world of sport who neither seek nor enjoy the public spotlight. They are often the ones who are living out their faith in genuine ways and are being transformational within their sports. They don’t compartmentalize their lives, rather they live with integrity and seek to honor God will all of life, not just when the microphone is open or the camera is running.

A number of the things he mentions were very challenging to me and have prompted me to evaluate my ministry values, objectives and methods. I am confident that this evaluation will affirm and I trust that I will be better for having endured the process. I pray that the process makes us wiser, more effective and most importantly, more faithful to our Lord.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sport Culture – Live in It

How comfortably do you live in the culture of your sport? Does it fit like a well-worn batting glove or more like a size 8 shoe on your size 12 foot? Do you find it relaxing or stressful? Do you speak its language and enjoy its nuances of gesture and posture or do you seem like an outsider? As you serve Christ in the world of sport, do you live in its culture and work to transform it or simply import Church culture into sport?

Can you speak the language of Baseball with baseball players or do you speak Evangelicalese in the dugout? Do you find yourself at ease in the culture of Football or do the footballers look at you like you don’t belong on the pitch? Does the practice gym and all its sounds and smells seem pleasant to you or do they itch your soul like a bad sweater?

To import Church culture into the sport world is simpler, less costly and far less effective. It’s easy to speak to players and coaches in the cloistered language of the Church, but it’s really hard to communicate deeply that way. It’s simple to tell stories about church leaders from the 18th century or the high profile player you saw on television last weekend, but it’s much harder to listen intently and to watch closely the life of your team so as to speak their language and engage their hearts. It’s quick, painless and trouble-free to tolerate the culture of sport in order to find a moment in which you can cram your canned presentation, it’s but much less effective than building the relationships which allow you to speak clearly to the hearts of those who trust you.

To live in the sport culture is to wear its kit, to speak its language, to read its periodicals, books, journals and to listen to its prophets. The prophets of sport culture are most found in the newspapers, talk radio, sports magazines, on blogs or web sites. Can you hear them? Will you take the time to wrestle with the issues of daily life in sport? Do you have an answer to their questions? To live in the sport culture is to know its history, to respect its leaders and to relax in its sounds, sights, smells and emotions.

To be an agent of Christ’s transforming power in sport culture is to demonstrate God-honoring values and to love people extravagantly in the daily life of sport. It’s simply insufficient to tell Sunday School stories, to repeat tired clichés and to recycle last month’s sermon for this week’s chapel talk. If we speak of worship being something that happens exclusively within the walls of the church and exclude the activity of sport as an expression of genuine worship and praise to God, we miss our opportunity to help sports people experience real joy and fulfillment.

I would challenge you to do the same as many missionary leaders of past centuries and to take off the ill-fitting cultural trappings of the Church which only confuse and often repel those you seek to serve. Then begin to live in the culture of the sport in which you serve while striving to communicate the love of God in relevant terms. Above all, put on the character of Christ Jesus. Such character is broader than any culture, adapts well to any situation and transforms hearts and minds by the application of Truth and extravagant love.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


In recent weeks we’ve discussed some important qualities for sport chaplains and sport mentors. Today, please join me as we think about being persistent. says that to persist is:
1. to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially. in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc

2. to last or endure tenaciously.

Persistence is important when relationships are slow to develop. It could take months or years for relationships of trust to develop to the point where we are allowed access to the coach or player’s heart. One much endure tenaciously to win the right to hear their hearts and to be heard.

Persistence is important when results are vague or slow in arriving. If we will continue steadfastly in our commitment to the people, in our commitment to the right way to serve, we can handle it if we don’t see the results we expect or if they don’t arrive in the time we have anticipated or promised.

Persistence is indispensible when we encounter opposition. To be firm in our purpose and course of action is critical when we know we’re doing the right thing, for the right reason, with the right people. We will surely be opposed at some point. Persistence will enable us to stay on course rather than veer away from our central purposes.

I would challenge us all to hold tightly to the principles of ministry which guide our work, to persist strongly on the course of action which leads to the fulfillment of our calling and to endure tenaciously in the face of opposition, from without or within.

Press on, my friends and colleagues.

Friday, December 11, 2009

High Profile / High Peril

The last two weeks have seen a media feeding frenzy surrounding one of the highest profile competitors in sport around the world. A car wreck of dubious origin, vague statements about the crash, leaked phone messages, SMS text messages, corporate statements of support, followed by a string of alleged mistresses and one night stands have tarnished one of the most highly treasured “brands” in sport. The feline icon of golf has tragically fallen from his high profile perch of public adulation. His high profile position has exposed the high peril of such a station in life.

Society’s bent toward consumerism and idolatry lifted this man to unprecedented heights and it is now grinding him under its boot. We are quick to elevate sports people to idol status, but we’re also eager to crush them when they disappoint us or otherwise violate our capricious values related to morality or political correctness.

This is not limited to any particular incident or issue. Coaches, athletes, amateurs, professionals, television commentators, sports writers and countless others in the world of sport have been alternately praised and condemned by the same mouths, periodicals and electronic media. It also happens to those in music, theatre, graphic arts, television, the cinema and more as their profile rises and suddenly crashes.

Some of this is surely driven by envy, greed and opportunism. Some of it could be found in even deeper recesses of people’s souls.

Many people have wondered out loud, “Where were this man’s friends? Did no one warn him about the consequences of such actions? How many people enabled him to carry on like this? Why didn’t anyone care enough to confront him about this?” I wonder if he allowed anyone with such convictions to be close to him. To quote Chuck Colson, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Turning our attention to our roles as sport chaplains and sport mentors – What shall we learn from this situation?
1) Understand that as the profile of those we serve rises, so does the peril in which they live.
2) Let’s not become a member of our high profile friend’s entourage, his posse, his growing set of sycophants who never question and never confront because they won’t risk losing their access to the gravy train.
3) Let’s not become enamored with the reflected light of fame, money and power that comes to those whom we serve in ministry.
4) Let’s be conscious of whom we ultimately serve and let’s shape our ministry by His values, not those of the fickle culture of sport and the media which alternates between fawning adoration and bitter condemnation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

USA Sports Chaplains Conference Call


What: Monthly Sports Chaplains Conference Call

Ken Smith served as a Chaplain for Bobby Bowden at Florida State, Brad Scott and South Carolina, and Jackie Sherrill at MSU. Ken will be sharing, "Lessons from the old guy, things I wish I knew then that I know now". Many of you who are on FCA staff may remember Ken from Real Time where he served as our MC. Ken is currently the Pastor at FBC Wauchula, Florida.

When: December 10th at 10:00 AM CST

Who: Open To All Sports Chaplains

How: Simply Dial In
Conference Call Number: (712) 451-6025
Access Code: 1036470#

Purpose: To encourage and equip our FCA Chaplains in their God given ministries.

Opening Prayer (5 mins)
Guest Speaker (15 mins)
Questions (10 mins)

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Sport Chaplains’ Dirty Little Secret

After fifteen years of serving coaches and competitors in various sports and almost as many years of networking with sports chaplains and sport mentors around the USA and the world, I’ve become convinced that our dirty little secret is that many, if not most, of us are just as performance based in our sense of personal worth as those whom we serve in the world of sport.

We can all see how driven by their last performance our charges are in how they perceive their personal identity, even those who claim a relationship with Christ Jesus. We all hear players say things like, “I’m 7 and 5.” A direct statement of worth based on wins and losses. They might protest when asked about that, but it’s still an indicator of what’s really important to them. If we ask, “How are you doing?” many will reply by stating their team’s record or their personal statistics rather than anything deeper than their most recent results. I usually get the same sorts of replies from coaches, administrators, fans and even sports chaplains.

For sports chaplains, we usually point to more “spiritual” results. “85 players came to chapel today.” “15 players committed their lives to Christ last week.” “Our team has 80% of the players attending Bible study each week.” “10 of the 12 coaches are in our weekly Coaches Bible studies.” Honorable results all, but they must not become the basis for our identity or the defining marks of the validity of our ministries. Would I be less valuable to God if 5 players attended chapel instead of 50? Would Christ be less pleased with me if this year no one committed his life to Christ through my ministry? Am I a failure if no one wants to start a Coaches Bible Study? Is my identity tied directly to my performance of “spiritual tasks?”

Why is this important? If I find my worth and identity in my performance, I will do whatever it takes to get to the desired results. I’ll manipulate people to acquire the decisions which validate my ministry. I’ll be sure to report the numbers which satisfy those who finance my ministry, even if they’re a little exaggerated. I’ll choose programs over people, methods over relationships and masses over individuals because they provide the results which define my success and my worth.

If we are to have any hope of being agents of Christ’s transforming power in the lives of the people of sport, we must find our worth in our relationship with Him. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as He is being baptized by John in the Jordan River, He comes up from the water and hears a voice saying, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) To this point Jesus had 0 followers. He had performed 0 miracles. He had healed 0 people. He had raised 0 people from the dead. He had accomplished nothing to earn His Father’s love and approval. He is pleasing to God the Father because Jesus is His Son. That’s all. The relationship was the basis for God’s pleasure and approval. Jesus was identified by His relationship with His Father, period. That continued throughout His life on the earth and beyond.

This is pretty easy for me to see because it’s very easy for me to fall prey to such a performance based mentality. It is a constant battle to check my attitudes, my values, my priorities, my methods and my relationships to see if they are reflective of a heart which finds its worth in relationship with Christ or if it seems driven by performance and easily defined results. It’s very easy to find my emotions and perspective directly reflective of the most recent results of the teams I serve. It is also very easy to find my sense of identity being tied directly to the success or failure of our ministry’s most recent events. If you were honest, you’d probably confess the same.

So what shall we do? Let’s regularly evaluate our ministries to see how clearly we communicate each one’s intrinsic worth to our loving Father. Let’s be sure to lead others in ways which value relationships over results. Let’s honor faithfulness over success. Let’s guard our hearts from the insidious cancer of performance based worth and prefer to live in the freedom and security of knowing we’re well pleasing to God through our relationship with Christ Jesus. Having such a secure basis for our own worth will leave us free to serve selflessly and to help others find their own freedom from the burdensome yoke of slavery to performance.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why is Winning so Important?

I recently watched an NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball game from the visiting team’s bench in the gym of their strongest conference rival. This game and the brief moments after the game were a vivid reminder of why winning is so important.

This season had been one of great frustration, loss and division for our team. We entered the game near the bottom of the conference and the team we were to play was tied for first in the conference. (They eventually won the regular season and post-season conference tournament championships.) The whole game was an uphill battle, but our team had a short lead at half-time. In the second half we played very well and one could feel the momentum growing as three players made big shots and defensive plays.

This swing of momentum put down all the feelings of frustration, division, jealousy, bitterness and more as the whole team was focused on the win which was within their grasp. The team was unified, at least for the final twenty minutes of the game and we won a huge road victory.

As the players ran from the floor with smiling faces, excited voices and victorious gestures, one would never know the true nature of the team’s past three months. In the locker room, the celebration continued with the coaching staff congratulating players, affirming the way they played and smiling at their achievement. A couple of players commented in the hall shortly thereafter about how much fun the game is when we win.

This is why winning is so important. When we win, the selfish nature of people is more easily kept in check and it’s much easier to selflessly seek the best for our team and for each teammate. When we lose, it’s infinitely easier to self-protect, to shift blame and to “look out for number one.” It requires much more self-control to love our teammates and coaches when we’re struggling to succeed.

Play your heart out. Pursue wins strongly, because when you win the game pays you back for all the hours of hard work, the miles of running and the years of training you’ve invested. You experience the best of sport when you strongly compete for victory.

Friday, November 20, 2009


My wife, Sharon, and my mentor, Fred Bishop, are among the most fiercely loyal people I’ve ever met. They refuse to quit on the people to whom they’re committed under any circumstances. They will consistently support their friends, teammates and colleagues when they fail, when they are under intense criticism and even when they display poor character. Such loyalty is an admirable trait in a spouse, a mentor and a friend and is an indispensable characteristic in a sport chaplain or sport mentor.

According to, to be loyal is “to be faithful to one's oath, commitments, or obligations: to be loyal to a vow.” We certainly expect faithfulness to one’s wedding vows and look for it among teammates, but it is often a rare commodity among the people of sport. The sports media are full of stories of competitive failure, moral failure and character issues among coaches and competitors. Coaches who are fired for too few wins, players who are suspended for doping, team officials who are found to have ties to gambling interests, competitors who speak foolishly during interviews and thus incur the wrath of their club or league and other instances put us who serve them in difficult situations and leave us with hard questions to be asked.

Hard questions which test our loyalty:
· How shall I relate to the coach who was just fired for lack of success?
· What should I say to our coach who was exposed in a sex scandal?
· Our best player was just suspended for a violation of team rules (failed drug test), how shall I approach him?
· What is my responsibility toward the coach who was just “outed” and identified as a lesbian?
· After months of bitter conflict, our head coach resigned. Should I seek him out or just let him go?
· One of our committed Christian players was just benched for poor performance, how shall I encourage her?

These and similar situations often stretch to the limit the loyalty of our hearts. We often find the faithfulness we want to give to our friends and teammates in conflict with our drive for success, our taste for popularity and our desire for status. Let’s think this matter through and let the Spirit of Christ guide our hearts to making wise decisions.

We must display loyalty to those we serve in sports:
· On their way down as well as on their way up.
· When they lose as well as when they win.
· When they endure criticism by the media as well as when they’re the media darlings.
· When they are dead wrong, foolish and out of line as well as when they are wise and totally in the right.

Let’s be the ones in sport who are loyal, faithful and consistent. There are plenty of people who will be capricious, politically expedient and adrift on the fickle seas of public opinion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A few weeks ago I wrote you about a quality necessary for quality ministry as a sport chaplain and we discussed Empathy. Today let’s consider Intuition.

Most of us who are male are assumed to be lacking intuition. All my life I’ve heard about “women’s intuition” and I’ve seen it in action in my mother, my wife, friends, coworkers and many others. I certainly know my wife to be more intuitive than me and I trust her intuition because her hunches are usually more on target than my logical, overly analyzed view of people and situations. Related to intuition and its value for ministry in sport, our female colleagues seem to have a head start on their brothers.

However, we who possess X and Y chromosomes and serve as sport chaplains or sport mentors may be some of the most intuitive people walking the planet. Many of us act on hunches much more often than we follow a carefully planned agenda. Most of us have more phone numbers than appointments in our blackberries or iphones. We are often more people oriented than task oriented. We act on our gut, follow hunches, take chances which often don’t make sense and will take great risks for those we love and serve.

In fact, the lack of documentation about sports chaplaincy is a strong indicator of how most of us do our work intuitively rather than strategically. Strategically thinking people write outlines and schedules. Intuitive people just do what seems right and trust God with the results. Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink” for some insight about how often one’s intuitive hunch is correct and how much we can trust our intuition.

Intuition is an important gift and should be trusted in situations like:
· Which of the dozens of players should I speak with today?
· I have a feeling that ___________ is bothered by something, should I speak to him?
· _______ seems grieved, should I offer my support?
· That coach may be fired soon, should I give him a call?
· I heard that _____________ is having surgery today, should I go by the hospital or back to the office?
· Coach ____________ seems to be under a lot of pressure, shall I send her a text message?
· There’s something about this player which seems a little off, shall I ask her if everything’s okay?
· About what should I speak at this week’s chapel?
· What is the condition of this player’s heart? What would God say to him?
· What would encourage Coach ___________’s heart in this trying season?
· ______________ just came across my mind, shall I contact her?
· I can’t get ___________ off my mind today, shall I go see him?
· My heart is broken for _____________. Lord, what do You want me to say to her?

As one who is often distrustful of intuitive thoughts, may I challenge you to take some risks? Last Thursday I was talking with a colleague and he mentioned a coach who is our mutual friend. I asked about our friend’s job security, given the long losing streak he was enduring, and was asked to give him a call. I made time the next day, researched the phone number and called, only to reach his voice mail. Undeterred, I left the same message on the voice mail that I would have delivered directly to his ear. I ended the call feeling my effort was weak and wondering at its value. Monday afternoon I learned that my friend was fired that morning. I was so glad that I had made the call, that I had followed my hunch and my friend’s urging.

Bottom line: let your gift of intuition work for you and for those whom you serve. Take some risks, even if they seem illogical to you. You may be making the call, the visit, text message or the email at just the right time and your words could be as valuable as apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Platform = Spotlight

Below is an article which ran in a recent edition of USA Today. It is about the role of faith and religion in the arena of sport and mentions sports chaplains directly. It should not shock us that we would encounter criticism when the media sets the rules for public discourse and truth is seen to be a matter of popular opinion or majority rule, like this author espouses. We should not make ourselves out to be martyrs in such moments.

We must also be conscious of the fact that the higher the profile of those we serve in sport, the greater public scrutiny they will encounter related to all facets of their lives. The same “platform” which they occupy for proclamation of the Gospel will serve as a glaring “spotlight” for the world to observe each and every flaw, inconsistency, statement of political incorrectness, and weakness of those who stand upon it. Let’s be wise enough to be careful about who we shove onto the platform and the exposing spotlight which comes with it.

Rather than simply take offense at or quickly defend ourselves from such opinion, we must look it squarely in the eye, discern its truth and/or error, take correction where needed, affirm the truth, and press on as committed servants of Christ and His Church.

"And I'd like to thank God Almighty "

In big-time sports, God often gets a prominent place on the field of play. A shout-out here, a prayer there. But this faith surge is being powered by a brand of conservative Christianity that is — like" two teams competing on the field — very ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’

By Tom Krattenmaker

October is the sports fan's Promised Land.
America's pastime (baseball) enters its sprint toward the World Series, and the sport that is America's pastime in more than just name (football) has fans transfixed from coast to coast.

Anyone who watches pro and college football or follows the drama of the baseball playoffs can't help but notice something else that often competes for our attention amid the passes, pitches and home runs: religion. Players point skyward to the Almighty after reaching the end zone or home plate, star athletes voice thanks and praise to their savior after a big win, and sports heroes use their media spotlight to promote the Christian message. These are the outward signs of a faith surge that has made big-time sports one of the most outwardly religious sectors of American culture.
Far less visible, but worth knowing about, are the infrastructure and strategy of the sports-world evangelicalism that powers these pious displays. Athletes' expressions of Christian faith reflect decades of hard work by evangelical ministries to convert players and "coach" them to use their stature to promote a particular version of conservative Christianity.

Christian chaplains are embedded with all the teams in professional baseball, basketball and football — and many college teams as well — to provide religious counseling, Bible studies and chapel services. Given the misbehavior and self-seeking that plague sports, who could doubt the benefit of bringing moral guidance and a broader perspective to locker rooms and clubhouses?

The good with the bad

But Jesus' representatives in sports aren't just practicing faith. They are also leveraging sports' popularity to promote a message and doctrine that are out of sync with the diverse communities that support franchises, and with the unifying civic role that we expect of our teams. Typifying the exclusive creed taught by many sports-world Christians is the belief statement published by Baseball Chapel, which provides chaplains for all major- and minor-league baseball teams. Non-believers in Jesus, the ministry declares, can look forward to
Urban Meyer, Tebow's coach at Florida, has praised his quarterback's faith-promoting ways as "good for college football ... good for young people ... good for everything." Such is the rhetoric usually heard from those who defend sports-world Christianity as wholesome and harmless.

But should we be pleased that the civic resource known as "our team" — a resource supported by the diverse whole through our ticket-buying, game-watching and tax-paying — is being leveraged by a one-truth evangelical campaign that has little appreciation for the beliefs of the rest of us?

Having researched and thought about Christianity in sports for the better part of a decade, I am impressed by the good that's done by sports-world Christians. Jesus-professing athletes are among the best citizens in their sector, and they commit good deeds daily in communities across this country.

These sports stars, like all Americans, have a right to express their faith.
Evangelical players and ministry representatives in sports aren't out to harm anyone, of course. On the contrary, they see themselves as fulfilling the Bible's Great Commission ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," Matthew 28:19). In this sense, their mission is pure altruism: They seek to share the gift of eternal life.
But there's a shadow side to this. If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.
Not a mere abstraction, this exclusiveness sometimes morphs into a form of chauvinism and mistreatment of non-Christians. Witness the incident with the Washington Nationals baseball team in 2005, when the Christian chaplain was exposed as teaching that Jews go to hell.

Then there was the New Mexico state football team, which was the target of a religious discrimination lawsuit in 2006 after two Muslim players reported being labeled "troublemakers" and were kicked off the team by their devoutly Christian coach. The case was settled out of court and the students transferred.
It's not just non-Christians who might have a thing or two to say about this exclusive theology. According to a December 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, of American Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Our pluralism is a defining and positive reality of American life — but not one that is much valued by those who define the faith coursing through the veins of sports culture.

One size doesn't fit all

As anyone who has seen Tebow on television would know, broadcasters cannot find enough superlatives to describe him. What's not to admire? He plays with a rugged, infectious enthusiasm. He's a born leader. He's a Heisman Trophy winner and a two-time national champion. He spends his off time speaking at prisons and doing missionary work in Asia. It's good to see he has mended from his concussion and returned to action.

But there's more to his story. Tebow does his missionary trips to the Philippines under the auspices of his father's Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. The Tebow organization espouses a far-right theology. Its bottom line: Only those who assent to its version of Christianity will avoid eternal punishment. The Tebow organization's literature estimates that 75% of the Philippines' inhabitants "have never once heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ." This in a country where more than 80% of the citizens identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

In making and acting on rigid claims about who is or isn't in good standing with God, the Bob Tebow organization is working at cross purposes with the majority of Americans — indeed, the majority of American Christians — and their more generous conception of salvation.

Certainly, Tim Tebow must be applauded for the good he does working on his father's missions, but he should be seen, too, as one who promotes a form of belief that makes unwelcome judgments about everyone else's religion. Let's not forget the twinge that is felt by sports-loving Jewish kids and parents, for example, or by champions for interfaith cooperation, when adored sports figures like Tebow use their fame to push a Jesus-or-else message.

Is sports-world evangelicalism really "good for everything"? Certainly a lot, but not everything. Not if you're Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, non-evangelical Protestant, agnostic or anything else outside the conservative evangelical camp.

Tom Krattenmaker, a writer based in Portland, Ore., specializing in religion in public life, is a member of the USA TODAY board of contributors. He is the author of the new book Onward Christian Athletes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Powerful Team Leaders

Mark 10:32-45
Three Team Discussions

Powerful Team Leaders Boldly Face Their Opposition.
1. Who are the best team leaders you’ve known?
2. How did these leaders boldly face their opposition?
3. How was that similar to or different from how Jesus did it? (read verse 32)
4. Tell us about a time when a team leader gave your team an ominous scouting report about an upcoming opponent.
5. How would you have reacted if you were one of Jesus’ disciples hearing this report? (read verses 33-34)

Powerful Team Leaders Know the Cost of Leadership.
1. When have you seen teammates play political games to gain leadership positions?
2. What would be the football equivalents to the positions for which James and John were asking? (read verses 35-37)
3. Why would they be asking for such positions?
4. What was the cost associated with the “cup to drink” which Jesus would drink?
5. What would it cost to be “baptized with Jesus’ baptism”?
6. What might it cost you to be a powerful team leader? How willing are you to pay the cost?

Powerful Team Leaders Pay the Price to Lead.
1. Let’s make a list of some characteristics of great team leaders.
2. What does Jesus say makes a leader great? (read verses 42-43)
3. Why would that be true?
4. How does one serve his teammates?
5. Who is the most ambitious team leader you’ve ever known? Who is that one who always wants to be first?
6. What does Jesus say someone who wants to be first should do? (read verse 44)
7. How and with whom does such a leader do that?
8. Who is someone you know who leads sacrificially and frees those he leads? (read v. 45)
9. How can you take on Jesus’ style of powerful team leadership by:
· Serving your teammates?
· Being the slave of everyone associated with your team?
· Sacrificing to free others?
(Choose one and tell us how you will do that.)

Friday, October 23, 2009


I hear it every week on television sports broadcasts and occasionally from the mouths of players and coaches, “We play with a swagger…” “This team has a real swagger about it.” What do they mean when they say it? From where does swagger come? Is it a good thing or not?

For some, their swagger is a strong confidence which comes from hard work, good coaching, and sharpened skills. The real, authentic swagger is genuine and resides in the players’ hearts.

For others, their swagger is a mask of hollow bravado which covers their inadequacy, their fear and poor preparation. The false, imitation swagger is plastic and resides in the players’ imaginations.

On the field of competition, it’s easy to discern the difference between the two. False swagger reveals itself when the first moment of adversity arrives and it tucks its tail in retreat. Authentic swagger is equally apparent when the same adversity reveals a solid confidence and unshakable emotional composure.

We who play our hearts out often seem to have an attitude characterized as swagger. Let’s be sure to check the source of such swagger. Is it authentic or artificial?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where are the Leaders?

I have noticed an alarming trend in sport over the last several years. The leaders have disappeared. I see it when watching both high school and college athletics teams. Many of the teams with which I’m familiar seem leaderless and their coaches are pulling their hair out.

For decades the world of sport has been an incubator for leadership skills and both players and coaches have used it for training and development. That seemed rather natural for a long time, but no more. No longer do the strongest competitors and most powerful personalities become a team’s leaders. Too often they simply blend into the background and defer leadership to the coaching staff.

I have given this a good deal of thought and prayer over the last few years and have reached one simple conclusion. Most competitors of this generation would rather be popular than be leaders. They sacrifice their influence and authority to lead on the altar of popularity and politeness. They rightly assume that leadership may require them to confront foolish behavior, to challenge their teammates to higher performance and to raise everyone’s expectations. They believe these actions will lead to their being less popular with their teammates and would hinder their social standing.

What they misunderstand is the true nature of leadership. To quote Chris Lowney’s book, Heroic Leadership, “We’re all leading and we’re leading all the time. The question is whether we’re doing it well or poorly.” These players are leading, even without trying to, but they’re doing it passively, by default and very poorly.

If you are a whole-hearted competitor, you are a leader already. Lead purposefully. Develop your leadership skills and determine to take the risks to lead strongly rather than to foolishly prefer popularity over wise service of your teammates. We who serve the players and coaches must help them choose to lead strongly rather than passively. Let’s further challenge them to lead in a Christ-honoring manner.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I was thinking overnight about some of the qualities which enable sports chaplains and sports mentors to be most effective in their work with coaches and competitors. One of those is Empathy. Empathy is the ability to see situations from another’s point of view, to even feel what the other is feeling. Empathy shapes our attitudes and aligns our hearts and emotions to be most effective at communicating God’s heart in any given situation.

For those of us in sports ministry, we need empathy to properly engage people’s hearts. In failure, empathy helps me to feel the pain along with the player or coach. In success, empathy allows me to rejoice with them and to share their joy. In frustration, empathy keeps me from saying something foolish or acting as if their frustration is unwarranted or foolish. In pain, empathy keeps me from communicating in trite clichés. In loss, empathy keeps me from saying, “It’s just a game,” thus creating distance and distrust with the coaches and players.

Empathy is dangerous and brings about significant emotional and mental risks. It’s easier and safer to stay aloof and untouched by the pain, frustration, loss and even the exhilaration of success. To remain untouched by these emotions limits our connection with those we serve. To risk the dangers of empathy also brings with it the reward of deep connection, trust and genuine community with those our friends in sport.

The challenge for today is to take the risks to empathize with the men and women of sport in your circle of influence. Give them your heart and trust the Lord to sustain you and to speak through you in the process.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Notes on Team Travel

Let’s think for a moment about the various ways we have traveled to and from competitions across our lives in sport. Low rent or first class, those who play their hearts out find joy in the journey.

· I remember traveling to high school wrestling meets in school busses. I remember teammates spitting in paper cups to lose the last fractions of a pound so as to make weight. I remember the smell of oranges being peeled and snacks from mothers being shared among teammates. I remember the raucous rides home after victories and the deathly quiet following painful losses. I also remember being slapped by a cheerleader, but not having enjoyed the offending pinch.
· I remember riding twelve hours with three charter busses from Carbondale, Illinois to Cedar Falls, Iowa for a football game at the University of Northern Iowa. One bus broke down before we even got out of town. Thankfully, the Athletic Director was in the seat in front of mine and we’ve flown there ever since.
· I remember a road trip to Northern Iowa and Peoria, Illinois with a Women’s Basketball team. It was so cold the VCR froze up and we couldn’t watch movies. What a boring drive! Worse yet, we lost both games.
· I remember a bus ride with that same Women’s Basketball team between Des Moines, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. The head coach and I both knew she would likely be fired upon our return home. We had a very good heart to heart talk on the quiet bus in the late evening. We anticipated accurately and I was very glad to have had that talk with the coach.
· I remember boarding the chartered plane after our football team had just lost its first game of the season. We had entered the game 10 and 0 and had a lead in the fourth quarter, but came up short. I sat down and the head coach asked me if I was okay. I said, “Coach, I forgot what it felt like to lose.” It was a bitter flight home.
· I remember a whole college football team traveling to Tampa, Florida on commercial flights. This was before 9/11/01 and security was a little easier. Still, trying to get a traveling party of 85 through two international airports was a logistical nightmare for our office manager.
· I remember a friend who played college football for our team and went on to play in the Arena 2 League for 4 years. His team had a sweet, tricked out bus in which to travel. It included beds, big screen televisions, video games and more. I asked him once about what he would miss about football, “Road trips,” was his answer. He loved everything about being with his teammates, the bus, the hotels, the meals and all the camaraderie which we who play our hearts out enjoy in sport.

Whether you ride in a rattling yellow school bus, a shiny motor coach, a Boeing 737 or even a private jet, find the joy of travel with your team in the rich relationships to be cultivated in every mile of the journey.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Significance in Sports Ministry

For the last fifteen years I’ve watched various sports ministries, including the one which employs me, with alternating feelings of excitement, gratitude, disappointment, dismay, wonder and dilemma. A number of factors lead to these conflicted feelings and questions. One of the hardest questions I’ve asked myself follows.

Is ministry with the highest profile and among those with greatest influence more significant than ministry with the most obscure and least influential? Is my ministry with an American college football team more significant than my work with a rural junior high girls basketball team? I’d like to think that the answer is simple and obvious, but our actions and attitudes often betray our true values.

This becomes magnified when we gather sports chaplains and leaders in sports ministries together. Often those who serve with the highest profile teams are given the spotlight and the microphone while those who work with the less prominent sports programs are relegated to the corners of the room and given little thought or consideration. Sadly, we sometimes fall prey to the world’s way of elevating the powerful and prominent while neglecting the gift of God in the simple and obscure.

Do we really think that the ministry which occurs among Division III female tennis players is less significant than that which happens among the players and coaches of the Division I BCS national champions? I would hope not. If so, we stand in direct opposition to James chapter 2:1-4, “1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

There is no doubt that the more high profile coaches and players whom we serve have a greater “platform” for the sharing of their faith and that is certainly the ethic which drives some of our ministry with them. Let’s be very careful with that approach. We may find ourselves using the player or thrusting him into public declarations which don’t match his level of commitment. We’ve all seen those who are quoted in the news one week, sharing their faith or thanking God for a victory, only to see the same player’s name come up in a police report in the same newspaper for driving under the influence the following week. In this case, his profile neither serves him nor the Lord’s Kingdom very well.

In my own ministry station, I sit in the middle of this continuum. Our area university and its sports program is considered “mid-major” and thus neither among the elite nor among the least powerful. When leaders of sports ministries gather, I see my colleagues from all points along the spectrum and am often saddened by the perceived pecking order. Even in our roles of service to Christ’s Kingdom we place ourselves in rank according to the prominence of our programs or the most recent season’s record. For some the perception seems to be, “That team just won a national championship, their chaplain must be doing a great job.” This is foolish and diminishes each one involved.

Let’s be sure to value all those whom we serve in the way Christ Jesus does. Let’s be sure to see the significance in each heart and to value each encounter, regardless of the relative prominence of the person. Your ministry with the twelve year old novice competitor is of equal significance to your service of the highest profile professional of your acquaintance. I certainly would and I imagine you would do well to recall James’ challenge, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I just returned from a week in Cuba. I met with a number of sport federation officials and with people whose churches are doing ministry in sports. There is such a hunger for ministry in sport there that I was stunned. Their society has been so secularized that the integration of matters of faith have been totally removed from their approach to sport. Now when I or others speak about how one’s faith can be woven into the fabric of the sportsperson’s life, it’s like fresh, cool water to their souls and they want more.

I took the recently translated devotional book, “Corazon de un Campeon” (Heart of a Champion in English), with me and gave twenty copies to various people. They all received it gladly and some were very enthusiastic about its potential for the individual players’ lives as well as for use in groups. Two different sports federation presidents were thrilled to discuss the integration of faith and sport, a radical concept for their sport culture.

One pastor drove seven hours to Habana to meet with us. I was thinking, “I wouldn’t drive seven hours to meet with me, but he did.” Such a demonstration of commitment and hunger spoke deeply to me and I was ready to commit similarly to him and to his church. We are making plans to work together to train sport chaplains and sport mentors in the near future.

Every time I’m in less privileged environments than what I daily experience in the USA, I am taken back by the hunger, drive, perseverance, determination and passion of the men and women of sport in these places and even more so by the Christian sports people. This last group’s passion for sport and for achievement is amplified by their love for Christ and their passion to honor Him as they compete.

My challenge for today is to seek out the hungry and thirsty among those we serve in our home communities. If we live in the wealthiest of countries or in the poorest, there are hungry and thirsty coaches, players, physios, support staff and more who desperately want the life we carry in our souls. Let’s give it away freely. We have a promise of rivers of living water which we can distribute broadly, at will.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Space for God

From Times Online
August 21, 2009
Space for God
Stuart Weir

“It is good and right that our churches are setting a clear Christian emphasis during this World Championship. We are opening up space for God. It is necessary that sportsmen and women have the opportunity…to turn to God in prayer and share about their faith”.
So said Dr Wolfgang Huber, the most senior Bishop in the German state church at the special worship service held in the Berlin Cathedral at the beginning of the World Athletics Championships (15-23 August 2009).
To some it may seem strange that you would want to accommodate God in a sports event but really it is the most natural thing in the world. If God is the creator of the world and of all that is in it, then that must include sport and our ability to play and enjoy it.
Yet the step taken by the German churches to hold a special service was a formal recognition of the connection between sport and faith. As well as leaders of the German Catholic and Protestant churches, those taking part in the service included Clemens Prokop, President of the German Athletics Federation, Stephanie Brown Trafton, reigning Olympic Champion in the discus and Solomon Gacece from Kenya, representing the internationals chaplains to the championship.
The Berlin Organising Committee has also recognized the spiritual needs of the athletes by appointing a team of 20 chaplains from all continents. An “Oasis of Silence” in each of the two official team hotels as well as the chapel, which was built as an integral part of the Berlin Olympic Stadium, are available for athletes to sit quietly, pray or talk to a chaplain.
Allyson Felix, two-time world champion in the 200 metres is in no doubt about the value of chaplains. “A major championship is a time when you definitely rely more on your faith. The Bible studies that the chaplain has done with the US team have been a help to me”.
One of the clearest arguments for the need for spiritual support during a major championship, was found on the website of UK athletics, which quoted Marilyn Okoro after the Women’s 800 metres semi-final this week, “I’ve been a nervous wreck all day. I’ve had to call on my strength and my faith in God and really believe why I’m here”.
A senior coach in the Kenyan team insisted that the chaplain, Solomon Gacece attended the first team meeting in Berlin to pray a blessing on the team.
Nett Knox, who has worked with the Australian Track and Field team for several years says of the World Championships, “I am here to support the athletes and team officials in any way I can – practically, emotionally and spiritually”.
Former 800 metres World Champion, Zulia Calatayud said that Armenio Anjos, who has been a chaplain at many major events had “helped me to know how to face fear, success and failure”.
Anjos describes his role as being there “to serve the athletes and to help them perform to the best of their potential. If an athlete shares with me their fear and struggles, I try to help them deal with it so that they can go to the stadium with no distractions. The question for me is always ‘How can I help this athlete?’ Prayer is a big part of that”. Competitors with no obvious faith are often open to prayer in the stress of competition.
Chaplains are called upon to meet a wide range of needs during a major sports event. That can range from how to deal with media attention for the successful or how to cope with the crushing burden of failure or the disappointment of an injury or a fall in a race, which deprives the athlete of the chance of competing for a medal. In one Olympics chaplains had to console an athlete whose husband was killed in an accident during the games.
The Berlin Organising Committee of the World Athletics Championships have done well to recognize the spiritual – as well as the physical and emotional needs of the athletes. The Christian community has been quick to respond to the invitation.
Let’s give the last word to Bishop Huber: ”One can bring before God both the joy over a victory as well as disappointments over defeats. In one as in the other case we know that with God the everlasting crown and everlasting dignity are ours”.
Stuart Weir is the director of Verite Sport

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Love the Game

How much do you love your sport? Is it something for which you make sacrifices? What are you willing to give up to compete at your absolute best? What will it cost you to play your heart out?

We who love sport and seek to compete honorably, wisely and successfully express our love in specific ways. Some are listed below.
§ We speak well of our game. We talk about it in a loving manner.
§ We sacrifice for it. We carve out time from busy schedules to train, to watch video, to get in some extra practice and to rehab injuries.
§ We respect the game. We refuse to act in ways which cast our sport in a poor light. We won’t cheat its rules and we won’t tolerate others who do.
§ We’re passionate about the game. Our heart rate elevates when we get near the gym or the field. We can smell the aromas and feel the emotions associated with the sport even when we’re away from it.
§ We live in the culture of the game. Our language is full of its metaphors, clichés and stories. We wear clothes and our hair in ways peculiar to the sport’s culture.
§ We defend the game. We take great offense at those who would misuse the sport, defame it by their attitudes or actions and those who would use it for their own selfish ambitions.

Do you love your sport or do you simply tolerate it to get what you want from it? If you play your heart out, you’ll develop a deep, passionate, love relationship with the sport and those who compete. In doing so, we find the real rewards in sport and enjoy it most fully.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Aroma of Sport

I love the aromas associated with sport. I recall vividly the smells, both beautiful and not so pleasant, from my life of playing my heart out.

I love the aroma of:
· Icy Hot on my elbow on October evenings as I drove to the softball field.
· My new baseball glove with 3 in 1 oil rubbed into it, a ball in the pocket and tied shut with a shoestring – laid carefully by my pillow for the night.
· Charcoal smoke wafting from nearby tailgaters into the football stadium during pre-game on fall afternoons.
· Newly mowed, dewy grass on spring mornings at high school baseball parks.
· A busy, August, football locker room; less than pleasant, but smelling of competition and passion.
· New baseballs, fresh from the box as we free them from their cloaks of thin paper.
· Popcorn and roasted peanuts at a major league baseball park on a June evening.

I love these aromas because when I smell them they lead me to recollections of simpler days, of passionate competition and of rich relationships with teammates and opponents who played their hearts out.

When you next go to the gym, the ball park, the stadium or the locker room; take a deep breath and drink in the aroma of sport. It smells like life!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Integrated or Compartmentalized?

It has happened again, a sportsperson’s private life has invaded his public life and another furious storm of controversy has erupted. A high profile college basketball coach has found his indiscretions from six years ago suddenly coming to light with brutal clarity and startling consequences. The details are still coming out in the mass media of his adulterous affair, the resulting pregnancy and the payment for an abortion, all leading to accusations of extortion by the formerly pregnant adulteress.

The radio talk shows, newspaper columns, blogs, web sites and television shows are all speculating about whether the coach should be fired, should resign or should be given a total pass. The whole sports world seems confused by the facts and their feelings of betrayal, moral outrage, disappointment and more. They do all this without any real basis for making moral judgments. Confusion reigns. Many of these people are classic secularists and would strongly hold to a highly compartmentalized world-view. They still want to make moral judgments, even though they only have arbitrary bases for making them.

Bottom line – they, like the coach, have fallen into a trap of their own making. At the core of the dilemma is that we only get one life. Our private life, our public life, our work life, our Church life, our love life, our family life, our fill-in-the-blank life will keep bumping into the other areas of life because, in reality, we only have one life. As much as we may want to compartmentalize and to keep these various areas of life separate, they will invariably each invade the others. The compartmentalization is a self-deluding illusion. We rationalize and convince ourselves that these various facets of life don’t directly affect the others, but in doing so we make fools of ourselves, sooner or later. Sometimes six years later.

So what are we to do? Live a life of integrity. Be the same person all the time. Rather than living as if our lives are lived in separate compartments with no overlap, we must have our life’s vision and values fully integrated into all areas of our lives. Let’s choose to be the same person all the time. Let’s be the same people on the field of competition that we are while tucking our children into bed. Let’s hold to the same ethical standards at work on Tuesday that we would at church on Sunday. Let’s apply the same moral standards to our lives as we do with those we follow from afar in the sport world. Let’s be like diamonds, multifaceted and wholly integrated. Let’s not be like filing cabinets, compartmentalized and foolishly disconnected.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chaplains Roundtable 2009

If you’re in the USA, please give this series of events some consideration. The Chaplains Roundtables are good events for learning, networking and encouragement in our ministries with coaches and competitors. Please contact Bill Houston for more information. His contact info is below.

Chaplains Roundtable 2009
Charlotte October 7th…Indianapolis November 10th…Lansing December 1st
“Sports Ministry for Our Generation” that’s the theme for the 2009 Chaplains Roundtable Conferences in Charlotte, Indianapolis and Lansing. God continues to provide a wonderful list of speakers. Please visit our webpage to see the complete list of speakers.
Charlotte Roundtable @ the Church at Charlotte-October 7
Keynote Speaker: Victor Lee - Author and Speaker
Indianapolis Roundtable @ the Media Center of the
Indy Motor Speedway-November 10
Keynote Speaker: Barry Collier - Athletic Director @ Butler University
Lansing, Michigan Roundtable @ South Church-December 1
Keynote Speaker: Jeff Totten – Chaplain - Detroit Tigers
Cost to attend this year is only 10$ per event, per person...this increases to 15$ for those who register within two weeks of the event(s) they would like to attend. This will cover the cost of the meal which is provided.
Checks can be made payable to: Chaplains Roundtable…and mailed to:
Bill Houston
9749 Parmeter Ave. NE
Rockford, MI 49341
Note: please indicate on your check which event(s) you will be attending. Thank you.
Thank you for your prayers for the Chaplains Roundtable Ministry. Looking forward to seeing you later this year. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to give me a ring. It is always good to hear from you!

For Him Alone,
Bill Houston
Sports Spectrum Radio
Chaplains Roundtable Ministry
616-974-2583-office #

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coaching Staff Transitions

Through my fourteen years of service as a sport chaplain with college football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and other teams, I’ve endured several staff transitions. Some were due to resignations to take new opportunities and some due to firings. Either way, they’re not easy do deal with for the staff or the chaplain. Below are some simple thoughts on how to make the transition and to maintain your relationship with the new coaching staff, the support staff and the players.

Related to the outgoing staff:
· If the staff was fired, understand that this feels like failure and a lot like death to them.
· Help the coaches to see this situation within the sovereignty of God. The Lord is not surprised by this.
· Understand that the transition is probably harder on the coach’s family than on the coach.
· Be available to them. They may not want much company, but if they welcome your presence, be there.
· Be prepared for the termination of some relationships. Some relationships will live beyond their tenure with your team, but others will cut off all ties to this place and you could be cut off as well.
· Communicate respect and thankfulness for their time with your team as well as hope for their future.
· Assure them of your prayers and availability to serve.
· Written communication is very good and can be an enduring encouragement to them. Send a card, an email and/or periodic text messages to stay in touch with them.

Related to the incoming staff:
· Pray for favor with the athletic administration and the new head coach.
· When a new head coach is announced, send a letter of congratulations immediately (keep it to one page).
· When the coach is settled into the office, get an appointment to welcome him/her and to offer your assistance.
· Bring a gift (a book) that is reflective of your desired relationship with the coaching staff and team.
· A wise attitude is reflected in offering to do, “as much or as little as the head coach believes appropriate.”
· When discussing a role with the team one can reference his/her role with past coaching staffs, but don’t lock into those methods or activities exclusively.
· Let the coach paint the parameters for your role and work to build trust and credibility from there.
· It is always wise to offer to serve with no strings attached. Guard your attitude from presumption.
· Come prepared to discern the coach’s perception of his/her, the staff and the team’s needs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


What is it that most frustrates you when you compete? Is it when you fail to accomplish what you had expected? Is it when your teammates fail to hold up their end of the competition? Maybe it’s when your expectations exceed your abilities? It’s easy for people to say; “Don’t be frustrated,” but we who play our hearts out don’t find that so easy.

In my life of competition, I have found that my frustration is normally found in the situations where my expectations don’t match the results realized. For years I expected our football team to win championships, but we were mired in mediocrity. We finished 1 and 10 a couple of times. We were 3 and 8 several times and 5 and 6 twice before breaking through into success. I was constantly frustrated in those early years as my expectations were consistently unmet.

This frustration left me with a set of hard decisions to make. Should I continue in the same way and endure constant frustration? Should I lower my expectations and feel the internal betrayal I would have perceived toward our players and coaches? Should I find some other way to deal with this pain gnawing at my soul?

This process was neither easy nor quick. My commitment to the team would not allow me to expect any less from them than I ever had. I decided to take a lesson from them and to adopt their approach to goal setting. Rather than hanging all my expectations (and attitude) on the ultimate result (final record), I went with them in setting a number of goals which built toward an ultimate goal – a championship.

This approach allowed me to find joy and satisfaction in the incremental achievements which continually progressed toward the season’s summation. I could rejoice in each game’s successes and still feel the sting of each one’s failures. I found I could walk with them through the season fully engaged in each game, win or lose, with equal passion and commitment.

As you prepare to play your heart out this season, give some time to setting incremental goals which each one build toward the apex of being a champion. Allow the daily successes and failures to shape you into the competitor, coach or team which you have envisioned. Such planning and goal setting shapes one’s expectations and can keep the paralyzing effects of frustration at bay.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Coach Tuke

“Who’s speaking at chapel tomorrow?” That was the pivotal question in my relationship with Coach Tom Matukewicz of Southern Illinois University. We were walking off the football field after a Friday practice and I simply told Coach Tuke who our guest speaker would be. He continued, “I’m thinking I ought to pray.” I chuckled and thought to myself, “That’s a good idea, coach, you ought to pray.” I was suddenly shaken by the thought, “He means tomorrow at chapel.” I asked him if that’s what he meant and it was. I immediately assured him that I’d set him up to do that and began thinking about how to not let him fail. I knew this was probably the biggest spiritual risk he had taken in his lifetime.

The next day as chapel was wrapping up and I was having players and coaches to pray for various facets of our team, I asked for someone to pray for our defense and turned to Coach Tuke. He agreed, prayed and thereby catalyzed his continuing development as a Christian coach, husband and father.

Over the next few years I watched a marvelous transformation as I saw Tuke become a tremendous model of all that God means for a man to be. His growing faith permeated everything in his life. His coaching became even more dynamic. He was hungry to know God’s will. He was eager to serve and to grow. He demonstrated integrity and wisdom as he led his players.

It has been my privilege to watch his love for his wife, Lenna, mature and to have participated in a vows renewal service for the couple. A few weeks later, on Super Bowl Sunday, they welcomed Georgia to their home; a beautiful little girl with a lovely smile and a warm heart.

Sadly for me and for Southern Illinois, Coach Tuke, Lenna, Georgia and most of Coach Jerry Kill’s staff left SIU after our NCAA Division I FCS semifinal appearance in 2007 and moved to DeKalb and Northern Illinois University. I am pleased to report that Tuke’s growth and development continues. People like Tuke, those who play their hearts out, who love their teammates and families, are those who inspire our souls and lead us to becoming all we were created to be.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lessons from Tragedy

This week the USA Sports world grieved the tragic loss of a high profile, recently retired professional football player. He was shot several times in his sleep by his mistress, 16 years his junior, who in turn killed herself. It was a horrible tragedy and a too common occurrence. The media jumped on the story and they have danced all around the issues related to the killing, but have not really dealt with the central question, “Why does this kind of thing happen?” The statistics related to divorce and bankruptcies among recently retired sports professionals are staggering. Education, brochures, presentations by former players, therapy sessions and professional consultations are having little effect on this issue.

I have pondered this a great deal this week and have had conversations with a wide range of players, coaches and friends. I believe a strongly contributing factor is what the sport world does to the highest achieving among us. The culture of sport squeezes them for all they have and force them to identify themselves solely by how they perform on the field of competition. From the time they’re 8 or 10 years old they are judged, rewarded, punished, acclaimed, criticized, valued or derided for their performance in sport. Beyond that, they derive most of their values, structure, discipline and sense of purpose from those who direct their sporting life. Many times that comes from the coaching staff, the club, agent or organization for which they compete. Suddenly, at the end of the player’s career, all that ceases and the player is cast adrift. Years or even decades of structure and organization, provided externally by their life in sport, is removed and many players have no internal structure or guiding values to provide discipline for even the simplest aspects of life.

Imagine you were the recently murdered football player. Since his boyhood, he lived in the highly structured world of high school, college and then professional American Football. Suddenly at age 35, that’s all gone and he’s adrift in an ocean of leisure time, directionless passion, adrenaline with no outlet and a lack of identity since he is no longer a football player. All of these factors are only amplified by millions of dollars, a lifetime of having been indulged and an expectation of preferential treatment.

My aim is not to minimize the tragedy, to diminish the gravity of his series of foolish decisions, or to excuse his behavior. Rather I’m trying to understand what happened here and to discern what we should learn from such situations. How shall we as sport chaplains, sport mentors and character coaches guard those whom we serve from similar fates? How can we help them build an identity, in Christ Jesus, which respects and understands their strong identity in the sport world, but also helps them see beyond that world to who they are in relation to their families, their community, the Church, and the Kingdom of God?

The answer is surely not simply a matter of education. It will certainly take a transformed heart to deal with these issues. The process outlined in Romans 12:1-3 must be applied to our lives and in turn with the coaches and competitors we serve. Let’s help them resist the temptation to be conformed to the world’s way and let’s challenge them to trust Christ for transformation of life which permeates their entire beings. Such life transformation will have effect on and off the field of competition. It will impact them during and after their careers in sport. It will change their relationships with teammates, coaches, friends and family. It will certainly save their lives in a spiritual sense, but may also save them from tragic consequences related to foolish decisions made by a deluded mind, driven by a poorly developed heart.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Emotions of Sport

Sport brings with it a series of risks. We regularly risk injury, misunderstanding, disappointment, frustration, failure, loss and more. If you play your heart out, the risks are even greater, especially the emotional ones. Trust me; it’s worth the risk to taste the wide variety of emotions which bring richness to life.

I love it when I feel:
· The momentum swing from the opponent’s sideline to ours when an athlete makes a big play.
· The breathless excitement of a victorious locker room after a last-second win.
· The gut-wrenching grief of a comeback that came up one point short.
· The flush of emotion I feel when a coach reveals the ache in his heart.
· The calm assurance of having done our best when a game, match, season or career is completed.
· The heart-in-throat, watery eyed emotion I feel when I see a player press through his fears or her frustration and into satisfaction.
· The warm sense of well-being I have when I see my wife outside the locker room after a victorious afternoon.

Not all these emotions are pleasant and some of them are filled with real pain. They all are full of the stuff of life. They bring richness to the emotional fabric of our lives and are the direct result of our playing our hearts out. Compete with all your ability and feel life richly and deeply.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Over the last few weeks I have walked through some of the darkest days of a friend’s career in sport. She had never failed at anything, but the last two seasons of her coaching career had been a constant nightmare.

My friend’s coaching staff had disintegrated, several key players had left the program and still others had been actively seeking her dismissal. All these factors led to great frustration and more than a little discouragement.

This coach battled through these factors and tried to right the ship, but its crash seemed inevitable. As we talked over coffee it was apparent that she was considering resigning her position. We talked over her options and I could see the pain on her face and I could hear it in her anguished voice. This felt like total failure and it was terribly hurtful.

A few days later, the severance package was negotiated and her resignation was announced. I grieved like someone had died. My friend took some time off to rest, recharge and to gain some focus for the future. I took some time to think about resignation.

Resignation looks to me like the exhaustion of physical, emotional and spiritual resources needed to accomplish a task or to fulfill a role of leadership. We resign from something when we’re completely spent and we’re bankrupt of the necessary capital for the daily grind.

This is a hard spot for those of us who play our hearts out. We refuse to quit or to give up, so resignation feels like total failure. It hurts us deeply and assaults our hearts. It’s almost like a moral failure to our souls and we feel shame at having lost the battle.

Here’s a word of encouragement from one who has resigned more than once in life, but has lived to tell the story. You can come back. You can do like my friend and wisely consider your options, form a plan of action, resign and then retool, refresh your heart and regain your focus for the future. There is no shame in resignation, only in cringing from the despair which barks at your heart’s door. Chase despair away with loving friends, wise counsel and then come back to play your heart out again.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Volunteer Character Coaches / Sport Chaplains

Last weekend I was in Brunswick and Savannah, Georgia (USA) for some conversations and a training session with some of my Fellowship of Christian Athletes colleagues who are developing a new strategy for their areas. They are recruiting, training, equipping and mentoring a set of volunteer Character Coaches / Sport Chaplains for area schools, sport clubs and more.

Both David Gittings (Brunswick) and Ed Pulkinen (Savannah) have done a fine job of finding people to serve in this way and they have even found volunteers who can be the trainers and ongoing mentors to the others.

I spent a couple of hours with each of the trainers/mentors and then on Saturday, in Savannah, we did 6 hours of training in 3 hours. They were marvelously receptive and I believe with the long-term commitment and mentoring, they will do remarkably well in serving the coaches and athletes in their respective communities.

If you’d like to have more information about how this works and the processes we’re developing, please contact me or my teammates in Georgia. Thanks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Battle with Cancer - update

Back on January 8 I wrote the first of three updates on my developing relationship with an area coach who is battling cancer. He has made it beyond one of their goal dates, the graduation of his daughter from high school, and continues to battle. He sent me an SMS message last night that he’s making his return to on the road, overnight recruiting this week. Another huge milestone.

Below is one of the latest emails I sent to him with scripture to read and a prayer to pray. Please consider this simple, direct, personal method as an effective way to touch a sportsperson’s heart.


You would have been proud of how Nathan E’s team handled their run to a state title over the last couple of weeks. He led with great poise and got the best out of his players. That’s no doubt a reflection of your coaching investment in him over his career at the university.

Psalm 139
1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I'm never out of your sight. You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too— your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful— I can't take it all in!

Prayer –
Merciful Father in Heaven,
My life is an open book to You.
You know everything about me, even what I’ll say before I say it.
I feel Your presence ahead of me, behind me and beside me.
I even feel Your kind and gentle presence inside me, in my heart.
I feel Your presence, but don’t really understand how.
Your gracious presence and powerful Spirit are more than I can comprehend.
I surrender! Live powerfully in me and do Your will.
I commit myself to Your care again today and trust You fully.
In Jesus’ kind and compassionate name,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Chaplains Roundtable 2009 Update

Charlotte October 7th…Indianapolis November 10th…Lansing December 1st

“Sports Ministry for Our Generation” that’s the theme for the 2009 Chaplains Roundtable Conferences in Charlotte, Indianapolis and Lansing. God continues to provide a wonderful list of speakers. Please visit our webpage to see the complete list of speakers.

Charlotte Roundtable @ the Church at Charlotte-October 7, 09
Keynote Speaker: Victor Lee-Author and Speaker

Indianapolis Roundtable @ the Media Center of the Indy Motor Speedway-November 10, 09
Keynote Speaker: Barry Collier-Athletic Director @ Butler University

Lansing, MI Roundtable @ South Church-December 1, 2009
Keynote Speaker: Jeff Totten-Chaplain-Detroit Tigers
Born and raised in the Detroit Area, Jeff began SCORE Ministries in 2000 following 20 years of pastoral staff experience. SCORE stands for Sharing Christ through Outreaches, Resources, and Encouragement. Jeff has served as the Baseball Chapel Leader to the Detroit Tigers since 1991. He has also worked with the Detroit Rockers, the Detroit Fury, and other professional and amateur athletes. In 2002, Jeff was selected to serve as a chaplain to the athletes in the Olympic Village at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Cost to attend this year is only 10$ per event, per person...this increases to 15$ for those who register within two weeks of the event(s) they would like to attend. This will cover the cost of the meal which is provided. Checks can be made payable to: Chaplains Roundtable…and mailed to:

Bill Houston
9749 Parameter Ave. NE
Rockford, MI 49341

Note: please indicate on your check which event(s) you will be attending. Thank you.

Thank you for your prayers for the Chaplains Roundtable Ministry. Looking forward to seeing you later this year. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to give me a ring. It is always good to hear from you!

For Him Alone,
Bill Houston
Sports Spectrum Radio
Chaplains Roundtable Ministry
616-974-2583-office #

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Ambition is a word which evokes strong reactions from people. Some see it as a powerful tool for accomplishment while others see it as a terrible vice to be avoided at any cost.

Which are you? Does ambition seem to be an insidious evil or a genuine virtue to be developed? The real issue may be toward what ends is the ambition aimed? Are we ambitious for selfish gain or for the good of others? Are we ambitious toward superficial fame or lasting significance?

This quality, like many others, is given its moral weight by its object. If I’m only ambitious toward power, fame, money, and personal pleasure, my ambition will bring out many of the worst parts of my nature. However, if I am ambitious toward matters like altruism, service, philanthropy, building community among my teammates, the development of others and a legacy of truth and love, the best of my heart will be fully engaged.

Toward what are you most ambitious? What characterizes your highest priorities and most lofty goals? When realized, do they most fully serve your interests or would they benefit others? Do you compete your heart out to win MVP awards or team championships? Are you more ambitious for individual recognition or for team achievement?

May I challenge you to check you ambitions and to purposefully direct them toward your teammates and friends? You can then play your heart out with no pangs of conscience due to latent selfishness or personal ambition. You will have directed ambition wisely and properly toward the betterment of those you love and respect, your teammates.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with one of our university baseball players. He is a junior pitcher from a local small town. He is very unremarkable to look at, 5’-11” in height and about 165 pounds with a boyish face, but he can throw a baseball 95 miles per hour. He is the team’s closer and has rewritten the team’s record book for that position with a perfect record this year and he has tremendous prospects for the future.

He’s young in his Christian faith, has made some mistakes and now his young fiancé is pregnant. We have been meeting together periodically to discuss baseball, being a father and husband and how to grow one’s faith. I count this as a great privilege.

On this particular day we were discussing some wedding plans and the likely results of the professional baseball draft due to arrive on June 9. I asked him what his chances were for being drafted and he said that others tell him that he would probably go between the 3rd and 5th rounds and that he would probably be offered a signing bonus between $100,000.00 and $300,000.00. I about choked. How can a 21 year old handle that kind of money and responsibility when he has struggled with simpler matters? It was rather an intimidating situation to him.

I offered the help of an acquaintance who had played 12 years in the Major Leagues who also grew up in our area and maintained his “Southern Illinois” identity and values, even with millions of dollars in annual salary. I was thrilled to connect these two by phone and they enjoyed a 30 minute conversation about the whole process of the draft, agents, coaches, team management, maintaining one’s identity and more.

This is often our role in ministry when subjects are outside our areas of expertise. Let’s be humble and wise enough to connect our friends with others who can serve them with their particular knowledge or experience. This in no way diminishes our value to the player or coach, rather it enhances it and further builds trust. Let’s first and foremost serve the needs and opportunities given us with those around us and we’ll watch them become all the Lord has purposed for them to become.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Building Team Unity

Last week a friend and colleague of mine, Johnny Shelton from Virginia Tech University, called me and we discussed the problem of division among players on certain teams. There were apparent divisions between the white and black players on a team and we were looking for solutions, how to develop unity where division exists.

As we talked I reflected on how we have done that with Saluki Football and how I’ve heard others attempting to do it. A brief summary follows.

For our football program, we approached it relationally. We reasoned that for a championship team we needed players to be committed to each other, but people won’t commit to those whom they do not trust and they certainly don’t trust people they don’t know. We knew we must start at the “who are you?” level and work our way up. Our process looks like this:

Facilitate a discussion with the whole team, broken into small groups of around 8, introducing about 1/8 of the team per session.
Ask questions of the player about facts – name, uniform number, home town, field of study, etc…
Ask questions of the player about the sport – anything which can evoke the player’s passion for the sport.
Ask questions of the player about his or her heart – anything which can reveal the person’s core values, most important influences, etc…

The fact questions help us know who the player is – Who are you?
The sport questions help us begin to trust the player on the field of competition – Can I trust you?
The heart oriented questions help us begin to commit to the player – Can I commit to you?

This sort of relational “team building” activities have helped us bridge wide gulfs of division related to race, socio-economic barriers, class, region, etc… They have helped us reach unparalleled success on and off the field of competition. We’ll discuss in the future some other strategies employed by other coaching staffs for overcoming division and for building team unity.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Satisfaction would seem to be one of the most elusive commodities on the planet. In the world of sport it is not uncommon for a sideline reporter in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to ask a player or coach for his thoughts and to hear, “We’re going to win it again next year!” The game isn’t even over yet, but the player is already thinking of next year.

Sadly, this is often due to the inability of the highly achieving to simply be satisfied with their achievements. There is the constant push for more, bigger, greater and higher.

I recall from my youth the story of a championship player who had just experienced the highest achievement attainable in his sport, only to lie on his hotel room bed and stare at the ceiling thinking, “Is that it? Is this all there is to the championship experience?” The whole thing was hollow and without meaning to him. It was wholly unsatisfying.

Is there a way to experience real satisfaction as we play our hearts out in sport? I believe there is and I would challenge you to give it a try. When you next take the field or court, pay close attention to the people with whom you compete; teammates, opponents, officials and support personnel. Think about your relationships with them. Surely some are characterized by love and genuine fondness. Others may be respected rivals and some may even be contentious or worse. Take a moment to reflect upon your relationship with the sport itself. Do you love it, hate it, respect it, need it, obsess over it, or all the above?

If we can cultivate healthy relationships with the sport and those with whom it is played, we have a real shot at finding satisfaction in it. Whether we win at the highest level of the sport or languish at its lowest end, we can be satisfied with our performance and even more with our life in it. Satisfaction is to be found in relationships of love and respect more than accomplishment and rewards. Compete your heart out and give your heart completely to the significant relationships in sport.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reflections on College Softball

This spring I have had the privilege of relationship with several college fast-pitch softball players at our university. I have been to a number of their games through February and March and took some notes about the things which characterize this game and its culture. Most of them are things unique to softball and some to this particular team.

· They play with an optic yellow ball, 12” in circumference with raised seams.
· They swing bats made from a composite material which are very light and extremely hard. It feels like swinging a feather made of titanium.
· They chant all manner of nonsense from the dugout. Some chants are related to the game situation, others to their teammate’s name, still others are related to the ball/strike count and some I don’t even understand.
· The pitchers throw rise balls, curve drops, fast balls, knuckle balls and straight changes. Some pitchers throw as many as five different pitches.
· The players have pony tails and hair ribbons peaking from beneath their batting helmets.
· Their uniforms start bright and clean, but are usually streaked by mud, dirt, grass stains and sweat by the third inning.
· Their bases are sixty feet between and rather than having a mound like baseball, they have a circle on the same level as the plate.
· The fences are 190 feet down the line and it’s 240 to straightaway centerfield.

After having breakfast and conducting a chapel with several of these players every Sunday morning of home games, I could see past all the details mentioned above and the obvious differences between their sport and baseball. I could see in their hearts the powerful desire to compete and to excel. I could hear in their voices the passion for their teammates and their coaches. I could see in their eyes the drive to be champions.

I saw them playing their hearts out when they returned to the field that day. This is who they really are and where they want to be. They are most at home in those uniforms, with gloves on their hands and that optic yellow ball in flight. They are at their very best when they see the ball on its way to a violent meeting with their bats, knowing an extra base hit is about to be.

Play your heart out and join these lovely young ladies in their pursuit of victories and the fulfillment of their lives’ great passion.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Email Conversations

Below are a couple of email responses I sent recently to a college baseball coach when he asked me, “Does the Bible have anything to say about failure?”


I’ve been thinking through the issue of failure and the Biblical examples of it, they’re all over the place.

• Moses failed by committing murder and was exiled for 40 years, but came back to Egypt and was used of God in a powerful way.

• David the king failed by committing adultery with Bathsheba and conspiring to have her husband killed, but was restored and was used of God in a powerful way.

• Peter the apostle failed by denying that he knew Jesus three times, but was used of God in a powerful way.

• Judas failed by betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and hung himself in despair.

• Three utter failures who were restored and one failure who lost all hope and was destroyed.

These were Jesus’ words to Peter, even before he was to fail later that same night, "Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start."

The point seems to be that failure is the human condition, but that we can press through it, we can be restored and emerge better than we were before the failure. That has certainly been my experience through 53 years. I have failed plenty, but I trust God to make me better through the experience.

Baseball is built on failure and recovery. A hitter goes to the hall of fame if he fails 2/3 of the time. Hitting is one player vs. nine, a perfect design for failure. It takes 4 balls to walk, but only 3 strikes for an out. Just throwing strikes is terribly challenging for pitchers.

It seems that the ones who deal best with failure are the ones who don’t treat it as an enemy, but as an ally. They strongly pursue success and excellence, but know that short-term failure is inevitable and they learn from it and improve. The batter who strikes out his first three at bats can come up in his 4th and get the game winning hit. Suddenly successful in the midst of failure.

Coach’s reply:

Thank you so much, Roger. I have read this, and I am going to save it and reread it on occasion. I have to remind myself that failure in baseball is inevitable. I just do not like it; and because of that, I take the losses way too personally and way harder than I accept the wins. Thanks for caring.

My reply:
Sadly failure is not only a part of baseball, but life in general. I also take losses in sport personally and feel them at the heart. To do otherwise feels like betrayal to me. I feel I owe it to my teammates to care deeply and to feel the sting of loss as acutely as I feel the exhilaration of victory.

I believe that's a part of what Christ Jesus has done for us, to give us hope beyond the failure and to fuel our hearts for competing our hearts out again in the next game, the next day, the next treatment.
Let's both commit ourselves to pressing through life's failures to experience Christ's gift of hope and faith.
I believe the Lord uses such communication, simple and direct, in a similar way to the way He uses epistles in the New Testament. Paul wrote to his disciples and churches he had founded very directly, whereas he was much more gentle when face to face. Let’s prayerfully consider the power of the written word as a way to communicate God’s heart for the people of sport and then we can follow up those words with face to face, compassionate and caring relationship building.