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.