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