Friday, December 31, 2010

Thank you!

Thank you! As 2010 draws to a close, I would like to say, “Thank you.” I’m glad to see this year go away. It was full of disappointment and grief. I’ve had enough for one year.

I am sure that you spent more time in medical facilities with players who were having surgery, were struck will disease or were otherwise indisposed. I did that six or seven times just this fall. For those you visited, I say, “Thank you.”

I am sure you made some visits to funeral homes for wakes or funerals or both. I did that several times this year also. For those who experienced such pain and many who are still grieving, I say, “Thank you.”

I imagine many of you fielded phone calls from coaching friends who were fired or from players whose roster spots had just evaporated. I received a couple such calls. No fun. Nothing I could say could fix that pain and disappointment. For those who trust you enough to make the call, I say, “Thank you.”

I have recently had some conversations with coaches in transition. I am sure you’ve had similar talks recently. One coach made a move and tripled his salary; he’s on the way up. One coach declined a new opportunity, hoping another would appear soon; he’s staying put. One coach feels like he’s the odd man out with his coaching mates; he feels like he’s standing on one foot. One coach is happy where he is; he’s the rare exception. For all those whom you have counseled, consoled, encouraged, challenged and inspired, I say, “Thank you.”

Thank you. Your ministry with the men and women of sport matters. May 2011 be your most effective and rewarding to date.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas morning - what can we be?

It’s 5:30 am, Christmas morning, here in Carbondale and our home will soon be flooded with family, young, old and one in the womb. This year I’m reminded of two people who are usually forgotten in the whole sweep of Christmas and its following days. Luke 2 tells the story of Jesus’ first days on the earth and on day eight he meets Simeon and Anna.

“In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:

God, you can now release your servant;

release me in peace as you promised.

With my own eyes I've seen your salvation;

it's now out in the open for everyone to see:

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,

and of glory for your people Israel.

Jesus' father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,

This child marks both the failure and

the recovery of many in Israel,

A figure misunderstood and contradicted—

the pain of a sword-thrust through you—

But the rejection will force honesty,

as God reveals who they really are.

Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.

When they finished everything required by God in the Law, they returned to Galilee and their own town, Nazareth. There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.” Luke 2:25-40

Can we be like Simeon with those we encounter today and this coming year? Can we be long-term faithful? Can we patiently wait for the Lord’s promises? Can we bless our friends and even strangers? Can we see the potential for greatness in a child and the potential for pain in a mother? Can we see the purposes of God in a young life?

Can we be like Anna who worships night and day? Can we be as single-minded as she? Can we have hearts so full that we break into song as we recognize the Lord’s presence? Can we talk with everyone we encounter about the true source of freedom?

Can we be like the child Jesus? Can we grow strong in body and wise in spirit? Can we carry the grace which the Lord God puts upon us?

I pray we can be such on this day, on day 8 and on each remaining day of our lifetimes. Merry Christmas to one and all. Bless you, my friends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dawg Blog on Team Building

Below is an article from our university’s media services department director, Tom Weber, about my work with the Men’s Basketball team. I think he summed up my role with this team pretty well.

Roger Lipe can't teach Saluki basketball players the finer points of trapping the high ball screen or how to execute a pick-and-roll, but the expertise he has brought to this year’s team cannot be underestimated.

Lipe is an expert at team-building — bringing players together from all walks of life and teaching them how to interact and work together for the good of the unit. There's a spiritual component, as well, but a player doesn't have to be a Christian to benefit from Lipe's teaching.

Ever since Jerry Kill was head coach, Lipe has worked with Saluki football — doing team-building exercises during training camp and leading team chapel on game days. He leaves the Xs and Os to the coaches.

"What I am doing is working on what is going on between their ears and in their heart," he explained. "It gets down to commitment level and values."

Like most Saluki fans, he wondered how a basketball team with so much talent could finish in ninth place last year.

So last summer, he got together over coffee with Coach Lowery to offer his assistance. Lowery welcomed the idea.

Lipe's sessions with the team began immediately and with two goals in mind.

"First, I wanted to create a sense of community — where they know each other, trust each other and are committed to each other as teammates," he explained. "The second part was to develop a culture that is shaped by values. What do we care about? What do we think is important?"

These sessions with the team took place in the player lounge — a comfort zone for the team, where guys can open up and speak frankly.

"We are able to talk about what makes a winning community," he said. "It was a matter of getting to know each other on a successively deeper level so they are committed to each other as teammates."

The team agreed that there were chemistry problems on last year's squad.

"You could tell a lot of the players were contemplating what did happen last year," Lipe explained. "They said that will not happen again. You could tell there was more of a sense of self-discipline growing. That came from the values that Chris has for this program. It is just a different voice and a different way of approaching it. Sometimes, the coaches are saying it all the time, and it can be helpful to have an outsider's voice come in, especially someone older."

Lipe said he was struck by the negative body language of the players on the bench at times last year.

"Watching last year's group and this year's group — it is like night and day," he said. "This group likes each other. They really enjoy playing with each other and work hard for each other. They are not jealous of minutes or things like that. It has also helped develop leadership."

At a recent Saluki game, Lipe kept a careful eye on a player who was pulled from the game and had to sit on the bench for an extended period of time.

"He sat on the bench quite a while, but what I was impressed with was that he was engaged the whole time," Lipe said. "He wasn't pouting or griping because he wasn't getting minutes. That comes out of a community that likes each other and wants to play together, and they understand the values of the program."

As players understand each other better, they are more likely to make sacrifices and play hard for one another, Lipe said.

"The problem is in human nature — I'm not going to commit to someone I don't trust," he said. "We ask questions and discuss topics that are right to the core of who each person is. Guys self-reveal and show what they are about and what they are committed to. All of that gets you to play selflessly as opposed to selfishly."

The basic principles Lipe espouses are religiously based.

"When we do chapels, I am talking about the same principles that were discussed in team-building," he said. "I just illustrate it from what I see in scripture. Last week we talked about how championship teams love the game and make sacrifices for it. Instead of talking just basketball, I also illustrate it from the life of Jesus and how he showed great commitment and love in the sacrifices he made."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sports Liars - Here's some Truth.

In April of 2010 I wrote about two of the greatest liars in Sport – Success and Failure. I spent a lot of time exposing their lies, half-truths and a little about the truth of their whispers, shouts and snide remarks. Here is some Truth about our worth to God, the security of our identity in Christ and our freedom from condemnation.
All these lies gnaw at our souls, impeding our progress as lovers of God and hindering our Lord's gift of fulfilling enjoyment of sport. Both Success and Failure speak these lies with equally damaging consequences to our hearts, minds and souls.
The truth is that we have infinite value to Christ. The true value of something is determined by what another is willing to pay for it. In our case, God paid an infinite price to redeem us from our hopeless state of sin and rebellion. Romans 5:8 states, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” Such a strong, consistent and unmistakable expression of worth counters the sports liars’ assertions that our value is measured in wins and losses.
The truth is that our identity is inextricably in Christ Jesus. On our worst days, Ephesians 1:3-14 is true and these verses remind us of who we are.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ; 4 for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him 10 for the administration of the days of fulfillment —to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.

11 In Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.

13 In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation—in Him when you believed—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.

On the day of our worst performance and in our least successful seasons, the truth is that “He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
The truth is that we are totally without condemnation before Him. Romans 8:1 states, “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus…” Even when our own minds condemn us because of our weaknesses, our sinful habits and our persistent flesh, the Spirit of Christ whispers to our hearts and encourages us with the Truth. Our Advocate speaks courage and confidence into our formerly condemned minds, enabling us to boldly seek God’s strength for the next practice or competition.
There is powerful wisdom to be found by focusing our hearts and minds on the process of training, competition, personal and team development in sport. Take care to listen wisely to the reports of success and failure. Understand that statistics, win/loss ratios and other measurements of sporting achievement speak truthfully about performance, but they lie about identity, worth and significance. The truth about these issues can only be found in an abiding relationship with Christ Jesus.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

Here in the USA, yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. It’s a national holiday for the expression of thanks to God for a year of bountiful blessings (and for gluttony, three professional and one college American Football games on television and ridiculous consumerism).

Below is a short list of people and things for which I am thankful this year:

• My wife – she tolerates my long work week and odd hours. She is supportive of my calling and helps me connect with coaches and competitors when she is aware of situations I am not. She welcomes collegiate student-athletes into our home every week. We have been married for 35 years and I trust our best days are ahead of us.

• My church – this is a place where I can just be myself. I don’t have to fill any particular role to be accepted or valued. They love me just as I am.

• My network of coaches – I love, appreciate and respect this broad network of men and women who are among the most influential people in the USA.

• My network of Sport Chaplains and Sport Mentors – this worldwide set of men and women are a constant source of inspiration, ideas, challenging thought and innovation. I am thankful for those with whom I’m privileged to serve from Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, Central America and even North America.

• Technology – the 21st century ways for communicating are so vast and immediate that it has enabled people like me to broaden our networks and to be more responsive than ever. Through email, SMS text messages, phone calls, facebook, twitter and more we can connect with the people we serve quickly and effectively, no matter where they are and no matter what time it is. Amazing.

• The abiding presence of Christ in my life - I often wonder what kind of person I would be if I had not trusted Jesus with my life when I was ten years old. How would my life have been different had I balked at His invitation? How much pain and despair have I been spared because I responded to His call so many years ago? At every step along my path I have been carried by the Lord’s grace and have been the beneficiary of situations even when I made foolish decisions and poor choices. I am given favor in places and with people which I neither deserve nor have earned. This is surely evidence of Christ Jesus’ work of transformation in the life of one as weak and flawed as I. For this I am eternally thankful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief

Our Lord is “A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3 Many of us have become similarly acquainted with grief through our service of people in sports. The last week for me has been one of multiplied sorrow and grief. Last Friday I wrote about a coaching friend who had come home to hospice care after science had exhausted its options for curing his particular form of cancer. My friend died mercifully quickly on Monday afternoon with his wife and two daughters present. Laid on top of that was the four day process of dying experienced by my mother-in-law. She decided on Saturday to no longer take insulin for her diabetes and to discontinue her kidney dialysis treatments, effectively saying, “I’m ready to die.”

Coach’s death was peaceful and thankfully quick. Betty’s was slow, painful and very difficult for her husband, children and grandchildren to witness. My last week has been filled with hospital visits, little sleep, emotionally charged meetings with college baseball coaches, players and administrators, long hours of waiting in hospital rooms, occasional conversations with dying people, and much prayer for God’s mercy to be extended to the dying and the grieving. We have had multiple conversations with the coach’s widow regarding the planning of a memorial service for her husband in person, by phone, by text message and by email. We have done similarly now for my mother-in-law with family members and have hosted numerous extended family members in our home as we became “family central.”

Having grown up with a large extended family and thus attending many funerals, wakes and having made hundreds of visits to emergency rooms and hospitals for any number of issues, I have become “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” We who serve as sport chaplains or sport mentors, like our Lord, are uniquely qualified to help people in sport to deal with the grim reality of death and dying. We must be prepared and willing to walk with people “through the valley of the shadow of death.”

For the 30 young me with whom I sat in their locker room last Friday and Monday afternoons, they are 18-22 years old and perceive themselves to be bulletproof. Death and dying are the farthest things from their minds, until tragedy assaults them with the inevitability of mortality. To help them understand the process of dying, the emotions that would accompany their grief and proper ways to respond to the situation was an immense privilege for me. To walk through it with the coach, his wife and daughters, as well as with the other coaches, the team and others was both painful and comforting. To be in it with my family keeps me from taking a cold, unfeeling and clinical approach to the grief or to simply see it as a part of my job.

Normally for us in high school, club, collegiate or professional sport, tragedy is a torn knee ligament or a separated shoulder injury, things from which one recovers over a few months and returns to competition. For our friends in motor racing, tragedy means someone has died in an accident. Drivers, pit crews, even spectators are all in harm’s way as the cars or motorcycles are flying by on the razor’s edge of control and chaos. Death is a much more frequent visitor to their sporting events. We would do well to learn from our motor racing chaplain colleagues related to handling issues of grief, injury and certainly, death among sports people. My conversations with Indy Racing League Chaplain, Bob Hills, have been invaluable to me. The brief training and the book I received from Sports Chaplaincy Australia were also helpful in preparing me for weeks like this one.

I would challenge each of us to be prepared and willing to walk boldly into the arena of injury, disease, tragedy and death with the people of sport. We carry the living presence of the Lord Jesus into that terrible environment and thereby transform it into a place where men and women can hear the voice of the Savior, finding hope and comfort. “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1

Friday, November 12, 2010

Battle with Cancer - Final Update

This is the last update on my coaching friend who has been battling cancer. It’s been two years since I first received word that he was undergoing experimental, radical treatments in a valiant attempt to keep him alive until his daughter would graduate high school the following May. My friend has battled courageously and has inspired the hearts of many in the game of baseball and across our region.

I received the call I have often anticipated, but hoped would never come. They are bringing Coach home today to begin hospice treatment. He has entered his final few days. I was honored that his wife would call me and request that I be there with him today. A little later in the afternoon I received a call requesting me to spend some time with the baseball team. I have cleared my calendar in order to be with the family and the team.

If I said that I feel totally confident and fully prepared for this day I’d be lying. I prepared my heart and my mind all through yesterday afternoon and evening, slept poorly last night and can already feel the weight of the pain, loss and grief which will characterize the emotions of those with whom I’ll speak today.

I will attempt to carry the same heart of grace and mercy which the Lord Jesus displayed at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He was gracious and kind to Mary and Martha and even shared their emotions, but our Lord also knew the power of God and held tightly to hope and faith. That will be my approach today. To love extravagantly and to believe strongly will be my agenda. To communicate compassionately and to feel deeply will be my emphasis.

Please join me in praying for this coach and his baseball team and coaching staff as we look death in the face with peace, hope and love in our hearts. (I’m not naming him so as to protect his family’s privacy in these most sensitive days.)

Friday, November 5, 2010


The first eight weeks of this college football season (American Football) have brought some perspective to my role with our team. For the previous seven seasons we had enjoyed unequaled success in the history of the program. We have won numerous conference championships, have been in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs for the last seven seasons in a row and entering the season, had expectations for more of the same. We presently have three wins and five losses on the season. Suddenly – perspective.

When our teams are performing well it’s easy to see our value to the team, to individual coaches and players, reflected in the win/loss record or in gaudy championship rings we receive because of our association with the program. When the team is not so successful, we gain some perspective regarding our true worth. I have had more and better quality conversations with some players this season of mediocrity, multiple injuries and surgeries than I remember in our more “successful” seasons with high national rankings, media adulation and community approbation.

The quality and commitment of our service with the people of sport should not be affected greatly by the relative success or failure of those whom we serve. If we pull back in times of loss and struggle, we’re showing less of the Lord’s unchanging love than we might. If we act just like the fans who jump on the team’s bandwagon as they finally prove their worth, we’re so fickle that the coaches and players will be rightly slow to trust us. However, if we maintain a proper perspective, if we hold tightly to the Lord’s way of loving without respect to class, status or rank, we will be in the perfect spot to serve faithfully.

I say all this knowing the incredibly competitive nature of my heart and the incredibly contentious nature of my flesh. I really like to win and I abhor losing. To keep my flesh at bay I must maintain a perspective on why I am with the team and who I am serving. I’m here to represent the Lord Jesus and to bring His gracious presence to the locker room, coach’s office, sideline and onto the field of competition. I am here to serve the Lord Jesus and those whom He has given me, not my own ambitions nor the weakness of my underachieving flesh.

The challenge for each of us is to maintain the proper perspective on the days we experience thrilling wins as well as on the days we feel the gut wrenching pain of bitter loss. Let’s be the ones who carry the Lord’s grace of perspective and unconditional love to the people of sport and thereby share the love of God in word, action, facial expression, gesture and embrace.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


After a week of being out of touch (little Internet access in Cuba) I’m ready to share some thoughts about another of the essential qualities for a Sport Chaplain or Sport Mentor. This week – Discernment“the trait of judging wisely and objectively.”

For decades I have heard people say things like, “Don’t judge him. Don’t be too quick to make judgments. We’re in no position to judge.” However, every day we desperately need the trait of judging wisely and objectively in order to serve the people of sport well.

We need discernment to decide if something is genuine or artificial? Was that a genuine or artificial apology to his teammates? Is that coach being genuine or artificial in his statements about matters of faith?

Is this course of action being proposed wise or foolish? A discerning person can see the end result well before it arrives. He or she can help avoid the consequences of a poor decision by asking good questions or reframing the discussion with insight.

Is this person an ally or an enemy? A discerning person can see through the smoke screens of deception, flattery and inflated resumes. A person of discernment can be of tremendous value to an organization in the recruiting, hiring and development process.

Is he or she real or simply posing? Discernment helps us see the true nature of a person more clearly. The discerning person can see through the posing of the player who says what he thinks the coach wants to hear. She can hear the conviction and purity of heart of a young lady whose motivations are pure.

Should we commit to this decision or wait for a while? Pull the trigger or no? Move or stay? Hire or not? Fire this person or be patient with him? The discerning of heart seem to have an intuitive sense of timing and then confidence with their decisions, long before the fruit of the decision is visible to everyone else.

If you are a person of discernment serving as a Sport Chaplain or Sport Mentor, you are of immeasurable value. When asked for your thoughts on a matter requiring discernment, share your thoughts freely and confidently. If they ask your opinion, you are free to share the wisdom God has given you. It’s precisely because you are trusted and are perceived to be discerning that the question is asked. Ask the Lord Jesus for an extra measure of discernment and then employ it well in serving the people of sport as they make important decisions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Today we’ll consider another of the essential qualities for effective service as a sports chaplain or mentor. Confidence is a most important characteristic for such service as we live in a culture of people who vacillate between arrogance and humiliation depending upon their last performance. In either case, we must act confidently to be of value to their growing lives in sport and faith.

We need confidence when we walk into uncomfortable situations. If we’re well prepared and confident in our training we can step into the coach’s office after a crushing defeat knowing we can serve the team well. To be of assistance with questions related to discipline of a player or staff member. To help our charges deal with illness, disease, injury and even death requires a confidence which is born of a liberated heart, a pure conscience and a humble attitude.

Confidence is important to help us know where we fit. If we’re in a sport setting and confidence wells up within us, we feel like we fit in here, we relax and we’re free to be our best.

Confidence is a byproduct of our being genuine in our roles with the players, coaches, teams and support staff. They perceive that we’re not playing a role. We’re not pretending or posing as those who say they want to serve, but are secretly just seeking access to the players and “off limits” areas.

Confidence is indispensable when we walk into hospital rooms where the coach is receiving chemotherapy. It’s of immeasurable value when we step into the uncertain world of the emergency room. We’re immediately perceived to have it or to be lacking it when we step onto the field, pitch, floor, ice or the court.

Let’s build our confidence upon the unchanging nature of Christ’s love, grace and mercy toward us. Let’s find it more in our Lord’s calling upon or lives than in our background, experience, education or affiliations. Let a genuine confidence grow in your heart, show on your countenance and flow from your mouth as you extravagantly love the men and women of sport.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Another of the important qualities for sports chaplains and sports mentors is a sense of Timing. The ability to be at the right place at just the right time is both serendipitous and strategic. We can stumble onto such timing on occasion, but we should also choose the times and locations which best facilitate our ministries with coaches and competitors.

One should know when to speak and when to keep quiet. Nothing is as annoying as the person who can’t be quiet when the moment requires silence and reflection.

“Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;

When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” Proverbs 17:28

One should think carefully about when to be present with the team. For your sport, is it more advantageous to attend practice or competitions? Is it better to be with people prior to or after a contest? Is your presence more helpful after losses or victories? There are surely some situations which better lend themselves to conversation and open hearts.

“Oil and perfume make the heart glad,

So a man's counsel is sweet to his friend.” Proverbs 27:9

One should know when to leave people alone. Some people really want to be alone after wins, others after losses. Some value privacy in pre-game preparations while others are very social. Some of us can really get on the nerves of those we seek to serve simply because they feel smothered by our presence at the wrong time.

“Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend,

And do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity;

Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.” Proverbs 27:10

One can make a tremendous impact upon people when we say the right thing at just the right time. When you hear encouragement, challenge, affirmation or direction in your heart for the player or coach and you deliver it in the appropriate moment, it is immeasurably valuable.

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver

Is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11

Let’s consider the when and where of our ministries. Let’s plan wisely to be present in the most advantageous places and times to serve well. Let’s also be willing to act on a hunch, an intuitive thought or to answer a random request to visit a player, to hang out with a coach or to show up at the training room, hospital or funeral. We may find our timing is perfect and we’re speaking words of life to starving souls.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Today we will consider another in the long list of necessary traits for sports chaplains and sports mentors – Compassion. It can be defined this way: “Compassion is a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering.”

The Bible is full of expressions of our Lord’s compassion and this one is among my favorites:

Psalm 103:13-14 (New International Version)

13 "As a father has compassion on his children,

so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust."

We who serve the men and women of sport must be conscious of each one’s background and the factors which have brought him or her to this place. Many are from homes with poor parents, no parents and at least ½ in the USA come from broken families. We must be mindful of from what they are made – as the Lord is aware that we are made from dust.

We must treat our work with them as a long-term process and not think that we can solve all of life’s issues with one simple prayer, a ritual or with a skillful talk. It may have taken 20 years for the knots in the person’s heart to be tied, it may take a while to untie those knots of sin and brokenness.

We must also exercise compassion with coaches, administrators and other adults in the system. Let’s be mindful of the pressures, the weight of decisions, the constantly changing factors and the relational dynamics which result in their reactions to people or situations. Many of these people are just as fragile in heart as they youngest players they lead. These adults just have more powerful positions and a more mature appearance.

Let’s purpose in our hearts to practice compassion as an essential part of our ministries. Let’s remember how the people of sport are formed, knowing that they are made of dust, as are we. Let’s care deeply for them and thus wisely reflect our Lord’s heart toward those who revere Him.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dynamic Ministry

In a recent conversation with a local sports reporter I was asked the question, “After sixteen years of serving as a sports chaplain, why do you still do it?” I had not thought about this before, but replied, “Because it’s dynamic. It changes all the time.” I am usually more of a short-term project oriented person rather than long-term. For me to stay at anything for sixteen weeks is rare, let alone sixteen years. I have given more thought to the dynamic nature of sports chaplaincy and some of those thoughts follow.

In a university setting like mine, there is constant turnover in players. One fourth of the team leaves and another fourth comes in every year. There is a new opponent at least once a week, often twice. In sixteen years we have worked with four different coaching staffs in American Football and five staffs in Women’s Basketball. We’ve also gained and then lost our relationship with Women’s Volleyball, have recently gained a relationship with Men’s Basketball and have a growing presence with Women’s Softball. These things change constantly; some for the better and some for the worse.

Each week there are new problems to solve, there are new crises to meet, new questions to answer, new injuries to be healed, new hearts to love, minds to challenge, souls to inspire and new Christ-followers to mentor.

In addition, as each year unfolds my own life changes dynamically. When I began in this role I was thirty-eight years old and the father of a seventeen year old son. A few years later, Sharon and I were empty nesters. A little later we became in-laws and now I’m a prospective grandfather with responsibilities for aging parents and in-laws.

I believe that these daily, monthly, seasonal and annual changes keep this ministry from becoming routine, formulaic and mundane. By staying relationally oriented rather that programmatic, this ministry keeps my heart, mind and body fully engaged, challenged and reliant upon the Lord’s provision. Please join me in maintaining a relational approach and thereby experiencing the Lord Jesus’ best in dynamic ministry with the people of sport.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Today we will consider another necessary quality for effective service as a sports chaplain or sports mentor – Availability. To be available to the people one serves is of greatest importance. Finding a way to be at the right place at just the right time is most strategic for effective service and for depth of impact upon the lives of coaches, competitors and support staff. Let’s consider a list of places, times and options for making oneself available.

Be available to sportspeople:

• In moments of distress – crisis and pain don’t own watches.

• To talk, to counsel, to discuss issues in sport and life in general.

• Emotionally – don’t fear their pain, frustration and loss. Feel it with them.

• To simply relax with the coach or player. Give them a break from being constantly “on.”

• At practice.

• In the training room.

• When it’s convenient to them.

• When it’s inconvenient to you.

• By phone.

• By SMS text message.

• By email.

• In person.

If you will make yourself available you can expect to find an open heart, a trusting soul, a receptive mind and a warm smile from the people of sport whom you lovingly, humbly serve.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sports Films with Significance for Sports Chaplains and Sports Mentors

"Chariots of Fire” – This Academy award winning film is my personal favorite sports movie. It contrasts the lives of two sprinters whose lives intersect on the track, but vary widely in terms of identity.

“The Legend of Bagger Vance” – This film tells the tale of a golfer who matches up with some high profile golfers in a much hyped contest. It helps the viewers see what the golfer sees when he is well focused and has good concentration.

“Bull Durham” – This often crude film shares a view of minor league baseball which varies between crude, lewd, endearing and humorous. It does detail some of the sacrifices players and coaches make to stay in the game as long as they can.

“Hoosiers” – There are layers of relationships developed in this film and many are authentic to lives in sport. It displays a number of broken people and how sport sometimes helps them restore their relationships and even their own sense of identity.

“The Natural” – This is a story which portrays a player’s love for the game, his broken relationships with people and the game, and finally restoration of those relationships.

“Field of Dreams” – If you can cut through the mysticism and post-modern dogma, you’ll find some solid insights into a player’s mentality in this film. Watch in particular the segments when Joe Jackson is on the field. Listen to his words and watch his movements. This looks like someone who loves baseball.

“Eight Men Out” – This is a story of the “Black Sox” gambling scandal and faithfully portrays the pressures which would lead a player to shave points or otherwise cheat the game he loves

“Remember the Titans” – This movie about two high school football which were merged due to racial integration in the USA. Watch the relationships which are layered throughout, coach-player, player-player, coach-coach, white-black, white-white, black-black, coach-community and even more.

“61*” – The pressures which high profile and elite players feel are highlighted in this film about Roger Maris’ pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single season home run record.

“The Blind Side” – Like most films, this one is not as good as the book, but it has real merit. It gives us a look at how a player’s unique athletic abilities can make a way for him to escape his environment of poverty and crime and learn to achieve and relate to people outside his culture.

“For Love of the Game” – This film is about professional baseball and the broken relationships so prevalent in that culture. It does a good job of getting inside a pitcher’s head and his ability to focus his mind for high level erformance.

“Cinderella Man” – This film about boxing deals with the pressures and drives of a competitor. It shows his relationships with his family, promoters and competitors.

“Hoop Dreams” – This film follows two young basketball players from the housing projects in Chicago. It tells a sometimes despairing tale of their lives and their dreams that basketball will be their tickets out of this life.

“Rudy” – This overly sentimental movie about an undersized kid who grew up dreaming of playing football for the University of Notre Dame is inspiring none the less.

“Miracle” – This film tells the story of the formation and the performance of the 1980 USA Ice Hockey Gold Medal team. It’s insightful as to how a coach evaluates players and builds a team.

“Breaking Away” – This movie about bicycle racing displays the sacrifices a competitor will make to pursue his dream. The protagonist deals with misunderstanding, cultural bias and family conflicts on the way to fulfillment of his goals.

“Finding Forrester” – This film about a young, black basketball player who is mentored by an older, reclusive, white writer is fascinating. They do a good job with the basketball and provide some good insight into mentoring.

“Invictus” – This film tells the story of how President Nelson Mandela used the influence of Rugby to help unify South Africa across ethnic and cultural barriers.

“Seabiscuit” - is a 2003 American dramatic film based on the best-selling novel Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. The film recounts the life and racing career of Seabiscuit, an undersized and overlooked thoroughbred race horse, whose unexpected successes made him a hugely popular media sensation in the United States near the end of the Great Depression. (Wikipedia)

"Bend it like Beckham” - An Indian girl living in England who wants to play soccer and her battle against prejudice. Girls in that culture don't play sport.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. My aim here is not to endorse any of these, their value systems or worldviews. Rather, I simply have found these to offer insight into the relationships, values, hearts and minds of coaches and competitors in sport. Short clips from these films are often useful as teaching tools to illustrate such insights for those in training to serve as sport chaplains, sports mentors or even parents and spouses trying to understand their competitive family members.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Leadership Guidelines for Small Group Discussions with People of Sport

Goals and Objectives:

• For men and women of sport to have their lives to accurately reflect the Spirit of Christ in all their ways.

(Proverbs 3:5-6, Colossians 3:23)

• To live with a heart of integrity. To live with one’s life in Christ Jesus fully integrated into all facets of life; family, church, athletics, leadership, academics, etc…

• To live with the understanding that as athletes and coaches, “…Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Colossians 1:27) is as fitting for you as for the minister, priest or pastor.

• God would be most honored if our lives were consistently committed to Christ at church, in the classroom, at home, on the field of competition and in all areas of life.

Settings for meetings:

In meeting with people of sport for quality time of prayer, study, discussion and fellowship, the setting is best determined by the opportunity you’re afforded. This may mean a meeting with a team at the practice facility prior to practice or immediately thereafter. It may mean an early morning meeting at a restaurant including breakfast. It may mean a weekly study prior to team meetings. The opportunity with those whose lives you wish to impact determines the where, the when, the how long for your setting. There is plenty of flexibility within the forms listed as models.

As a rule, the best option is nearest the sports experience for the group. That could mean the right place to meet is at the stadium, arena or practice facility. It may mean meeting in the place where the team has meals together. It could mean the building where the players are housed. Make it as convenient as possible.

It is normally best to arrange chairs in a circle or to meet around a table. This way the leader can see everyone in the group face to face. This is also the best arrangement for discussion between members of the group. Chairs arranged in rows or classroom style allows for the leader to see everyone, but inhibits discussion between various other members.

It’s often wise to set a finite number of weeks or months for the group to meet together. This makes for a natural time to adjust details, to change subject matter, to add new people and for some people to gracefully leave the group. The group can then adjust and begin again with new focus, direction and energy.

Procedures for success:

What are the procedures that should be the core of our meeting together? How do we effective lead our group to study the Bible and have the Spirit of God impact their lives? The following is a simple list of instructions for leading such a group.

1. Prepare for the group study with personal study.

• Your preparation with each of the study questions is key to your leadership of the group.

• You may have insights or applications beyond those indicated by the study writer.

• Pray for the members of the group and take time to personally invite them to the first sessions.

• Prepare for the logistics of the meeting room, refreshments (if needed), Bibles, etc…

• Think through particular illustrations and applications of the study to the individuals in the group. The more you can apply the scripture to the experience of this team and its sport, the greater will be the impact of the study.

2. Take time for prayer in some form.

• Share requests aloud and pray for each other in the group.

Prayer builds team unity and helps them learn to pray for others.

3. Read the text for the study aloud.

• You or someone who can read well aloud should read the text. (Some people don’t read well aloud and are embarrassed when asked to do so.)

4. Read and discuss the study questions, one at a time.

• Leave time for them to think and express their ideas, tell their stories, share their feelings.

• Don’t worry about finishing the list of questions; your objective is to have them interact with each other and the Scripture.

• Don’t worry about times of silence, they might be thinking! If the question seems clumsy or confusing, rephrase it or shape it in a way that better fits your group. If it’s helpful, you may offer your ideas or experiences as an example.

• Encourage everyone to take part in the discussion and welcome all responses, especially the stories and experiences of the group.

• Judge wisely the responses to questions that relate to truth and error with respect to the Scripture. Be ready to correct or affirm such responses.

• Look for ways to take the questions to deeper levels of their hearts. The goal is to get to the fourth level and deal with matters of the heart.

1. Personal experience. These questions invite the group to share experiences they've had related to the themes in the text. These also invite everyone to participate and lead to later applications of scriptural principles.

2. Observation of text. These are mostly questions that are easily answered simply by observing the material in the text. These questions welcome everyone’s participation and invite all into the discussion.

3. Interpretation and application. The principles seen in the scripture will lead the group to grasp the moral implications and personal applications of the text. They are now wrestling with God’s will for them as Christian people of sport.

4. Matters of the heart. Some questions will probe deeply enough to challenge the members about their identity in Christ. They’ll be confronted with their tendency toward performance rather than unconditional acceptance in Christ Jesus. The motives and attitudes of the heart are uncovered by these probing questions.

• It is the role of the leader to ask the questions, to facilitate discussion and to ask follow up questions at the appropriate levels. Doing these things will result in your group being deeply impacted by the Spirit of God in all areas of life.

Evaluation of results:

How do we know if we’re doing well or if we’re doing poorly? How can we measure our effectiveness? There are a few things that are good indicators of our effectiveness in studies like this.

• Consistency. If the participants are consistently attending, are bringing their Bibles, are participating enthusiastically in the discussions, you’re doing well.

• Faithfulness. If you can see a growing faithfulness to Christ in the group members’ behavior, on and off the field of competition. If their lives become more reflective of Jesus’ character, day to day, you’re doing very well.

• Integrity of heart. If you see the participants growing more Christ-like in their on and off-field behavior, if their lives as Christians and lives as people of sport are beginning to overlap, then to become one… you’re watching God at work!

When and how to begin?

• Pray and watch for an opportunity.

• Personally recruit those who should be at the center of the group and pray. Ideally these would be coaches or players from the team. There will be a greater ownership of the group this way among the team and coaches.

• Arrange the details for time, day, location, duration, and subject matter and pray.

• Set the details for the first meeting and pray.

• Prepare for and execute the first meeting and pray.

• Continue the meetings, recruit, nurture, love and pray.

May your experience be one of great joy and excitement as you help men and women of sport form hearts of integrity in relationship with Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Sixteen years ago when I started working in sports ministry, I had a pager on my belt and responded most quickly to people by using a pay telephone beside the road. My staff manual was in a massive 3-ring binder. Cellular phones were huge, bulky and of poor call quality. I had a desktop computer with a massive 30 megabyte hard drive. All my correspondence with the ministry’s national office was by snail mail or phone. How did we communicate in those days?

Today, my Blackberry is in constant use. My staff manual is 100% digital and on-line. Cell service is now international. My laptop has some ridiculous number of gigabytes for its hard drive. Most all my communication with our national support center is electronic, by web site, email, phone call or text messages. A monumental shift in sixteen years.

What are the implications of such changes for us as sport chaplains and sport mentors? From my perspective the answer is communication and the content of our correspondence is more important than ever. Let’s consider some guidelines for communicating with our colleagues and those whom we serve:

Encourage, encourage, encourage – the sports world is so full of bottom line, results oriented people that we who focus on the process and the relationships are very important.

Use every instrument of technology at your hand – at fifty-four years of age I am finding new ways to speak to the hearts of an ever-widening sphere of influence.

o Email enables one to communicate quickly with people across the world.

o SMS text messages are quick, brief and make it easy for others to respond. One can even create groups within his phone to make sending one text to dozens of people very quick and easy.

o Social networking sites (facebook, twitter, Linked In, etc…)

o Phone calls

o Blogs (many of these can be done at no charge)

o Personal web pages

o Contributions to organizational web sites, on-line magazines, blogs, etc…

o Contributions to colleagues’ web sites, blogs, etc…

Take a moment to see who is in your network (local, regional, national and international) and look for ways to encourage them.

o Coaches

o Players

o Support Personnel (administrators, physios or athletic trainers, equipment managers, office managers, etc…)

o Other sport chaplains or sport mentors

Look for the most advantageous moments for communication.

o Pre-game – I often send SMS messages to coaches and players both the day/night before they compete and a few hours prior to game time. I write so as to encourage, to challenge and to inspire.

o Post-game – I also write them after I know the results of the games in order to either congratulate or console, always to encourage, to affirm their value and being unconditionally loved.

o Randomly – As someone’s face or name runs through my mind I’ll often take it as a prompting from the Lord to send a quick email, text message or to make a call.

• Use some wisdom related to content of your communication.

o Be very careful to not divulge privileged information about players, coaches and situations. A tweet related to a player’s injury could change the betting line on a game and your information could suddenly be the subject of a gambling investigation.

o Never make critical comments on-line about the coaching staff, decisions made, players, their performance, etc…

o Don’t expose players’ spiritual lives to public scrutiny. If they want to be “public Christian sportspeople” they will give you permission and will hopefully ask your guidance.

o Keep your relationships with the sportspeople as your highest value and the measuring stick for what is appropriate for one to write, speak or text.