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.