We just completed the second Fellowship of Christian Athletes Sport Chaplains Conference at St. Simons Island, Georgia in the USA. It was an excellent conference with outstanding presenters from both FCA staffers and volunteers who serve in both the high school and college sports.
Below is the address which I delivered as the keynote address on Monday evening. I hope it serves to encourage and to challenge you. We are in a unique and exciting position. Let’s serve wisely and well.
The Significance of Sport Chaplains and Character Coaches in the 21st Century
Ministry in Sport has changed greatly in the last sixty years.
• It began with iconic figures and very few details about their lives. FCA was founded on this dynamic. FCA’s founder, Don McLanen, selected high profile, Christian athletes to proclaim their faith in public, just as they were being used by companies to promote their products.
• Ministry in Sport grew through the influence of two-dimensional, heroic Christian athletes who were used by various ministries to achieve growth and financial development. FCA grew through this dynamic.
• The last twenty years have revealed a huge tear in the fabric of many sports ministries. Our intentions have been questioned, our integrity has been examined and our methods have been scrutinized. FCA is part and parcel of this dynamic.
The present world of sport and much of sports ministry is characterized by three primary weaknesses.
• The prevalence of compartmentalized lives; that is a lack of integrity. This is easily seen in situations like the fall of coaches, players, and even prominent Christian athletes (the names of coaches, athletes and Christian athletes I mentioned are withheld here).
• The horrible lie of performance based identity. A player’s sense of personal worth may rise or fall based upon his most recent performance on the field of competition. A coach’s sense of God’s pleasure with her may ride on her team’s win/loss record. Even worse, a sport chaplain’s sense of his or her being in God’s will can be shaped by the relative success or failure of the teams being served. Each and all of these scenarios are emblematic of the terrible lie that assaults the hearts of sports people.
• The collapse of the American family structure. Most of the young men and women whom we serve are now from single parent families. They start their lives relationally and spiritually handcuffed. Worse still, if they are so blessed as to be athletically gifted, they may find that their coaches, teammates, agents, peers, lovers, even their parents and sport chaplains use the player for their own personal gain.
Sport Chaplains and Character Coaches in the 21st century are uniquely qualified to address these issues.
• If we will lovingly lead and serve with integrity of heart and not simply follow the culture’s flow of compartmentalization, we can make a real difference. We can lead players, coaches and our colleagues in ministry toward lives of real integrity and don’t treat it as a mere buzzword to impress our donors.
• The issue of performance based identity is most poignant for these days and will only increase in importance in the future. Please watch this three and one half minute video clip from Dr. John Ashley Null. Ashley leads the International Sport Coalition’s Serving the People of Sport - Major Sports Event Chaplaincy Team. http://vimeo.com/15621759
• The self-perpetuating cycle of broken people growing up in broken homes can be overcome by the life transforming power of the Gospel of Christ in the lives of sportspeople. Not for the sake of the masses who follow them, but for their own lives and families. They are worth it, regardless if anyone else is watching.
My challenge to each of you, to FCA corporately and to sports ministries globally is:
• To conduct your ministry with a whole heart. To fully integrate the presence and power of Christ in all of life; sport, ministry, family, all of it.
• Guard your hearts and those you serve from the insidious lie of performance based identity. Help them to see that their lives are inextricably tied to the infinite value of Christ Jesus as they are in Him.
• Dynamically impact the lives of the people of sport with the Gospel and thereby extend Christ’s influence in their families, teams, communities and the world.