Friday, January 30, 2009

Wise Conversation with Competitors

Yesterday’s conversation with a student-athlete here at Southern Illinois University affirmed some things I’ve been thinking about for several months. Let’s discuss the sorts of questions we should ask and matters for wise conversation with the people of sport.

1) Don’t focus solely on outcomes. This is all the media and fans seem to care about and it wears them out. They constantly hear questions like, “Will you go all the way this year?” “How many wins will you get this season?” “Are you going to win the championship again this year?” “How badly will you beat that team this weekend?” “How could you lose to that team, they’re horrible?” “Why didn’t you win yesterday?” And more ad nauseum. These kinds of questions about ultimate outcomes are nearly impossible to answer and just frustrate them. We need to do better than that as we engage them in conversation.
2) Don’t spiritualize the sport and their lives. This is too often the way of people in the Church and sometimes the way of sport chaplains. In a discussion of their recent lack of success we’ll ask if they’ve been faithful in their quiet times. We’ll ask if they’ve been in church or if they really prayed prior to the game. Such questioning only leads to confusion, inappropriate guilt and shame and sometimes even to the shipwrecking of one’s faith. Some try to lessen the sting of loss by saying that “it’s only a game” and the real important matters of life revolve around the church, not sport. Such dualistic thinking only serves to deepen their frustration. For competitors, it is much more than a game and hearing that creates immediate distance between them and those who speak in such terms.
3) Do focus on the process. Talk about the matters over which they have some control. Ask about how well they practiced this week. Ask about how well prepared they feel. Ask about the health of the team or certain individuals. Ask about how they feel they have progressed to this point. Ask about where they are in the pursuit of their goals. Ask about practice habits, effort, attitudes, team dynamics, relationships and leadership. These are all matters related to the process of preparation for and competition in their sport. They have some measure of control and the ability to shape these matters and they’re much more willing to talk about them. They also more highly respect those who ask such questions because they reflect a higher level of respect for the sport, the competitors and the process.

In summary, let’s be sure to engage our coaches and athletes in wise conversation. Let’s avoid the kinds of questions so often asked by the media, fans and other casual observers. Let’s ask better questions about the processes involved in sport and fewer ones about the ultimate outcomes. In doing so we’ll gain more favor, we’ll grow in our understanding of the sport and our subjects’ hearts and we’ll deepen the relationships which are so vital to our ministries.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Below is an article by Bill Houston, chaplain to the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League in the USA (American football). It contains good insight and perspective. Thank you Bill.

In December, the Arena Football League owners made the decision to cancel the 2009 season. The reason: to restructure and re-evaluate the way they do business. In light of these tough economic times, we should not be surprised. The goal is to come up with a business plan that will allow them to take the field once again in 2010.Still, I was crushed! I have enjoyed serving as team chaplain for the Grand Rapids Rampage for the last 10 seasons. I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing it has been getting to know coaches, players, front office staff, and arena personnel.

The Lord truly gave me the desires of my heart. (Psalm 37:4) But I have been giving a great deal of thought to this whole idea of restructuring. Businesses (and professional sports leagues) face it and I believe this happens as followers of Christ.

The Lord has impressed upon my heart how I can "restructure" during this down time. Here are just a few suggestions that you are probably already doing, but serve as good reminders:
· Journaling. Jot down those thoughts God places upon your heart as you read His Word and spend time in prayer. Ask "where do I need to restructure in my life?"
· Get away from the office, the phones, the emails and text messages for a day or two. Spend time alone with God and work on your restructuring plan.
· Invest in someone's life one-on-one.
· If you do not already have someone, seek out a trusted friend who you can be accountable to.
· Most of all... pray without ceasing, trust God's goodness and grace, and follow the principles He has outlined for us in His Word.

I have adopted James 1: 2-8 as my "restructuring" point of reference, knowing that trying times are necessary for growth, stability, and opportunities for future ministry. I am hoping the Arena Football League will come through their time of restructuring with a plan of stability and growth... I am trusting the Lord for the same in my life.

Bill HoustonChaplain-Grand Rapids Rampage

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Singapore Sport Chaplain Training

At this writing I am in Singapore in the second day of sport chaplain training with 60 people as they prepare for this country’s hosting of the first-ever Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

Our attendees are from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and other Asian countries. They are marvelously attentive and have firmly grasped the training that I offered on Thursday and that Armenio Anjos from Portugal is offering today (Friday). Their hunger and eagerness to learn is remarkable.

Our friends Moses Lim, Steven Tok, Andy Lim and others from Singapore have organized this event and they coalesced the United Methodist Church and the Singapore Bible College with their own sports ministry to offer this training experience.

I spoke with them from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm Thursday in discussion of the principles for chaplaincy from my book,
“Transforming Lives in Sport.” Armenio is sharing with them all day Friday re: major event sport chaplaincy and even more information about the sports world and points of emphasis for sports ministries.

Please join us in praying for favor with the Youth Olympics Organizing committee in Singapore and that they will make room for a religious services center and possibly more during the games in 2010. Singapore is a wonderful, modern city of 5 million with people from all over Asia as well as the rest of the world. Please pray that our Lord will use the events of the Youth Olympics and our newly trained team of sport chaplains to impact the whole world.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Battle with Cancer

Much of the time our role in serving people in sport is exhilarating, fun and it’s mostly enjoyable. Sometimes, however, it’s painful and full of grief. Most of the time it’s a mixture of both at the same time. These recent days are such for me. I have a friend who is a college baseball coach and he’s in a battle for his life with an aggressive form of cancer. My friend is very irreligious, but I’ve been after his heart for the last 14 years. I’ve been building trust, demonstrating genuine love and respect and suddenly, his need has outpaced his resistance to the Lord’s Spirit.

I sat in his office a few weeks ago and talked about baseball for 90 minutes so I could get 30 minutes to talk about his heart and his health. With more trust established I started emailing him more directly about my prayers for him and then on Christmas evening I started sending him short sections of scripture which can encourage his heart and fortify his soul for the fight with disease. I also included model prayers for him to pray in private moments as these painful, terrifying days progress. A sample of one of these simple emails is below.

May I encourage you to do whatever it takes, in whatever form and by whatever vehicle to communicate the love of Christ with those whose hearts desperately need Him. Take the risk, their eternal souls are worth it.


Here’s some more food for your soul and strength for your heart. Let the Lord encourage you through this scripture.

Philippians 4:6-8
Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

· Thank You for loving me on my best days and on my worst days.
· Thank You for my family, my friends, my coaching staff and my players – past and present.
· I am trusting You to daily help me battle this disease and to be the man you made me to be.
· Again today, I commit my life to Your care and I ask You to restore my body, to keep my mind clear and to sustain my soul’s courage.
In the strong name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Reading List

I strongly believe that reading is a vital part of our preparation for serving well. That is certainly true of reading the Scripture, but it is also true of reading books related to the various sports in which we serve. If we will read about these sports, their players, coaches, strategies, and values, we will be better able to understand who they are and how to better serve them where they are.

We will probably not like all that we read, but we will be better informed related to the culture in which we’re serving. I am sure the prophet Daniel didn’t necessarily like all that he saw around him in Babylon, but he was well informed, engaged and even embraced the culture in which he lived. Thus he was able to be used of God as an agent of transformation in Babylon. May we each be such agents in the world of sport.

Below are some books I’ve read in the last couple of years which could be of interest to you:
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, tells the story of a kid from Memphis, Tennessee who becomes a college football player. He is just finishing his career at the University of Mississippi now. It is very insightful into the world of college football and all that went into his arrival in it.

Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes is a good book to either affirm your life disciplines or to challenge you to build some new ones into your lifestyle. It reads like a sermon series (probably because it was…), but it still has real value.

Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL by
John Feinstein is a very insightful book as the author spent a year with the Baltimore Ravens with access to everything and everyone. He tells us a lot about the players, coaches, management teams and more. It also contains some less than flattering information about how sports ministry is viewed by sports professionals.

Starfish and the Spider : The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman, Rod Beckstrom is a brilliant book from the business world about networks and how they operate. It contains tremendous insights for us as we network people and ministries together to accomplish the Lord’s will. Focus in on its descriptions of how “the values ARE the organization.”

I am now reading,
Every Week a Season : A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football by Brian Curtis and I’m finding it to be quite good. The author spends a week with nine different major college football teams with unfettered access to the programs. He tells the stories and gives us a look into the guts of such teams.

The Man Watching : A Biography of Anson Dorrance by Tim Crothers is one of the most insightful books I’ve read in years. He is the head coach for the University of North Carolina Soccer program, the winner of dozens of national championships in the USA. The book contains tremendous information for those of us who work with young women as well as cautionary tales for us in terms of how relationships with players and their parents can become terribly broken. This is not a “Christian” book. It contains more F bombs that many of us could handle.