Friday, November 28, 2014

Ministry in Athletics (Track and Field): an Evaluation

Over the twenty years I have been privileged to serve as a sports chaplain, I have gained greatly from my colleagues in the USA and abroad. Among those who have contributed most greatly to my service has been Stuart Weir, of Verite Sport ( in the United Kingdom. Stuart is a dear friend and a trusted colleague. His unique approach to chaplaincy in Athletics (Track and Field for the Yankees), is effective and fruitful.

Stuart recently wrote an evaluation of this ministry which is very insightful and inspirational. It is included below. I hope his ministry inspires you as it does me.

Athletics ministry: evaluation of a model Version2


I have been operating as an unofficial chaplain to track and field athletics for the past five years. In this paper I attempt to analyse what I do, partly using the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) tool. I am interested in exploring whether this is solely an individual approach or if the methodology would have wider application. I never planned to be in athletics chaplain. It started almost by accident – when someone introduced me to an athlete - and has developed gradually.


My purpose is to encourage Christians in elite athletics in their faith. I am trying to add 5% to an athlete's Christian life by a little input when I meet them at events.

What I do

In 2013 and again in 2014 I attended 14 athletics events - as well as meeting a number of athletes at their training centre on occasions. This is supplemented with emails, texts and phone calls. 

Most people who do sports chaplaincy in a single sport use a chapel or Bible Study model.  While I have led an athletes’ Bible Study and have read the Bible 1-2-1 with athletes, my model is more based on prayer.  I have prayed with far more athletes than I have read the Bible with.  In addition I pray for athletes – daily – and they know that I do.


I have led a formal chapel type service for team GB three times – twice at the World Indoor Athletics Championships which conveniently runs all day Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon – leaving Sunday morning free and the 2014 European Championships.     In 2014 the meeting was semi-official in the sense that the GB team management was aware and allowed us to use the team room. (When GB’s top athlete clearly identifies herself with the event, it certainly makes asking management a lot easier!) 

In both cases I only invited GB athletes – first time the GB athletes wanted to do it just themselves.  In 2014 I would have invited others but the logistics – athletes in 6 different hotels - ruled it out. There is also the tricky issue of whether athletes want to meet their opponents on the morning of their race.

In addition in 2014 I led Bible Studies at three Diamond League events in 2014 with 4-12 athletes attending. This is logistically difficult but seems to work.


There is no set pattern.  Sometimes athletes ask me to pray for them before a race.  One athlete always wants to meet for prayer before each race when we are both at the same event. At the World Indoors, one athlete asked me to pray with her before and after each race. Often it just happens as I chat to an athlete.  I make it known that I am there and available to pray but also try to avoid two pitfalls.  Prayer becoming a superstition – I have a prayer I will win! And prayer for my benefit, to boost my stats and justify my presence.

Target group

The target group is elite athletes - those who are good enough to get into Diamond Leagues, World Championships etc - who are Christians or who have expressed an interest - from whatever country. I am currently in touch with athletes from Britain, Croatia, Romania, USA, Jamaica, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and New Zealand. Unlike a club chaplain I am not seeking to minister to (or evangelise) everyone in the GB team or event.  I am focusing on supporting Christians.  In addition I am developing relationships with administrators.


My accreditation is normally media. By writing for the Oxford Mail and other publications I am now established as an athletics writer and am, more or less automatically, accredited for any athletics event. The accreditation gives me access to athletes in team hotels, possibly in championship villages and always in a mixed zone at the end of competition. I have never sought a chaplaincy accreditation as I feel that mixing media and chaplaincy accreditations risks confusing athletes and administrators.

While I have no official recognition of the ministry, British Athletics know what I do and are comfortable with it - at times very encouraging. Officials have said to me that they see that athletes appreciate me and therefore they feel what I do is positive.

In addition I meet UK athletes at training centres where no accreditation is needed.

Case study 1 - world Championships 2013

A major championship lasts up to 8 days. A Diamond league is normally in one evening event, although athletes may be in the hotel for three days. What I actually do varies greatly according to the nature of the event - its length, the ease of access to athletes etc

In August 2013 I attended the World Athletics Championships in Moscow where I knew 34 athletes.  This is what I did at that event; I would say that I did six different things:

1 prayed for the 34 athletes and told them that I was praying for them;
2 I do a weekly devotion - a Bible verse applied to sport. In Moscow I did a daily devotion which I emailed to the 34 athletes, or to all whose email addresses I had.
3 when appropriate I prayed with athletes.
4 I kept in touch by text and personal email.
5 because of my journalistic accreditation I have access to the mixed zone [where athletes meet press after a race] and spoke to more than 20 athletes after they finished races.
6 I spent hours sitting around in hotel lobbies for the opportunity to snatch a quick word or prayer or greeting with an athlete.

Case study 2 – Olympics 2012

In 2012 I served as the Togo Olympic Attaché – at their invitation.  I did odd jobs for the Togo Olympic Committee in exchange for which I got an accreditation with gave me access to the Olympic Village, athlete dining and athlete transport plus the athletics warm-up area.

Because there were official chaplains and chapel services, I did not offer any Bible Studies during the Olympics but prayed with over 20 different athletes, on several occasions with certain athletes.  Occasionally these were pre-arranged but mainly chance meetings because I had access to where the athletes were.

This was a really productive time for two reasons: I knew a significant number of athletes in advance and I had easy access to where they were.

Model evaluation (SWOT)


The strength of what I do is that I attend enough events to be an accepted part of the entourage.  I know enough athletes that I always have someone to talk to.  Sufficient athletes seem to appreciate my presence to make it work. The advantage of a media accreditation is that it gives me a reason to be at an event and access to athletes. There is always media accreditation at an event, while there is not always chaplaincy – nor Olympic Attaches.

While my priority is to minister to athletes, I do the journalism with integrity. In 2014 I wrote for Oxford Mail at seven events and interviewed athletes or worked for 2K+ radio at most of the others.  Thus I could not really be accused of using a media accreditation as a flag of convenience.

The positive attitude of British Athletics to me is a great help.


I am not sure I see any weaknesses but there are certainly challenges.  The challenges may relate more to the nature of the ministry than the model.

The nature of the ministry makes it hard to evaluate what one is achieving.  If you go an event to do a chapel/Bible Study then if it happens and athletes come, you have achieved your goal.  So much of my work is a prayer here, a word of encouragement there, that it is easy to feel that you have been there all day and achieved nothing.

It can be a very lonely existence as you are at the events but not part of it.  You are always at outsider, occasionally allowed in briefly. 

Much of my time is spent sitting in hotel lobbies.  There is the challenge of knowing when to stay and when to go. Am I in danger of outstaying my welcome?  Even appearing like a groupie?


It is an immense privilege to be allowed into someone’s life and to be part of their support team as they represent Jesus in elite sport.  Being at a lot of events creates a consistency of ministry.  People expect me to be there.


I see three possible threats.  There is certainly a potential conflict of interest between being a journalist and being in a pastoral/chaplaincy role. I feel that I manage that well. As long as athletes understand who I am and what I do, there isn’t a problem.  I say to athletes as I get to know them, if I have my recorder in hand, anything they say may be used but otherwise anything said to me is confidential. Athletes seem to understand and be comfortable with that distinction. I could honestly say that in my five years of doing this I have only once made a significant error in this area.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Christian athletes are female represents a certain challenge but as I meet people in public places and am not seeking to conduct a deep pastoral discipleship ministry, it seems to work OK.  Because of my age, I am seen as an “uncle” or perhaps grandfather! I am developing a partnership with Julia Wilkinson at Christians in Sport which helps significantly in this area.

Because the work is lonely and because one may be anxious to feel that one is doing enough to justify being there, there is the danger of wanting to minister to athletes for one’s own benefit, not theirs.  That is the need to do a Bible study or pray with athletes to boost my statistics - so that the athletes are effectively ministering to me.


It is an obvious question – what happens when I become more senile. Some have suggested that I look for a possible successor to mentor into the role.  Just not sure that is feasible.  The partnership with Julia Wilkinson certainly helps. Because my primary accreditation is media, anyone working with me would need to have to media accreditation too.  That is they would need to need to have a media outlet in order to get the accreditation as well as the desire to serve the athletes.  Just can’t see how I could make that happen


I recognize that this is very individualistic model which would only work for someone with journalistic skills as well as a desire to serve pastorally.  In my first draft I wrote “it is not a very reproducible model.  However, it is one which works for me”. People who commented on the first draft suggested that it might be more reproducible than I was recognizing. I know of one person who is taking a coaching qualification, partly as a means of being with athletes.  One of European golf tour “chaplains” has a job on the tour which involves standing for hours in the area which players practise.

26 November 2014

Version 2

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Recommendation from the Sports Chaplaincy Table

Over the last fifteen months, the men and women of the Sports Chaplaincy Table of the In Sport Group, a network of sports ministries around the globe, have been collaborating to produce a set of recommendations for sports chaplaincy training agencies. We have sought to determine what would be the global standard for such training. After much correspondence, prayer, sharing of ideas, and editing, the recommendation below is the document we will now begin to share with those agencies in various nations. If you represent one such agency and would like to adopt these standards, please email me and I’ll be pleased to add you to our list of adherents to the standards.

There is soon to follow exciting news about a new and powerful delivery system for basic, introductory sport chaplaincy training that reflects these same standards.

A Recommendation from:
The Sports Chaplaincy Table of the In Sport Group
International Sports Coalition

The Chaplaincy Table respectfully submits the following recommendation to all agencies that train, certify, and place sports chaplains all across the globe.
We have collaborated with many of the leading agencies and individuals who have decades of experience in training sports chaplains and we believe the set of items below constitute the global standard of comprehensive sports chaplaincy training.

We would be very pleased to see your organization join with the others listed below in committing to sports chaplaincy training which adheres to these standards. We will not presume to dictate the methods for training, nor the cultural nuances of the sports cultures in your nation.

Please prayerfully consider these training standards and contact us if you would like to join us in adopting them. We will refer inquiries about training that come through our network to the agencies that adopt these standards and develop training that is in keeping with them. We would also be privileged to collaborate with you in the design and implementation of such training.

I.             An Introduction to Sports Chaplaincy
It is wise to define what sports chaplaincy is, to state clearly what it is not, and to identify who and where sports chaplains serve.

II.           A Biblical Foundation to Sports Chaplaincy
It is critical to Christ-honoring service of sportspeople that the sports chaplain be well supported by scriptural principles and biblical models. The sports chaplain’s service is built upon Jesus’ Great Commandment and His Great Commission.

III.          A Profile of a Sportsperson
To serve well as a sport chaplain, one must have a clear understanding of those being served. To perceive the unique pressures, opportunities, challenges, and heart issues experienced in the world of sport enables the sports chaplain to wisely apply the truth of scripture and to care for the sportsperson.

IV.         A Profile of a Sports Chaplain
There is a particular set of character qualities, gifts, and experiences that make for the most effective service as a sports chaplain. This section of training would enlighten the trainee and catalyze his or her development as a sports chaplain.

V.          A Code of Conduct for Sports Chaplains
Where chaplaincy has been effectively modelled a tri-partite agreement between the sporting organisation, chaplain and local chaplaincy organisation has existed.  This module would look in detail at the code of conduct, assessing the roles of responsibilities not only of the chaplain, but of the sporting club/organisation being served and how they should inter relate with a chaplaincy body.  In particular the module would look at the importance of accountability in the execution of chaplaincy, guarding against the seductiveness and influence of elite sport.

VI.         A Sports Chaplain’s Relationships
The nurture and development of relationships is at the core of all ministry roles. To serve as a sports chaplain is no different. Understanding the unique attitudes and the power of being present is of tremendous value in sports chaplaincy. This element of training would inform the trainee of the most strategic relationships in sports cultures and how best to develop them.

VII.       Sports Chaplaincy Strategies
To serve effectively in the world of sport requires an understanding of one’s audience and prayerful consideration of the strategies and methods to be used. This section of training would inform the trainee about the wide variety of strategies and methods that may be employed and factors for wisely choosing them for his or her sporting environment.

VIII.     Resources for Sports Chaplains
The last several years have seen remarkable growth in resources for the development of sports chaplains and their ministries. Wise training would include resources for both the personal development of the sports chaplain as well as resources for direct use with the men and women the sports chaplain is serving. Resources could include books, periodicals, websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, films, and more.

IX.         Sports Chaplaincy in Critical Incidents and Crises
Depending upon one’s place of service, a critical incident or crisis could be a player’s retirement, a coach’s being fired, an injury, or even death. Excellent training for sport chaplains should include some basics for how to serve well in such situations.

X.          A Process for Beginning to Serve as a Sports Chaplain
Upon the completion of a training process, the prospective new sports chaplain still needs guidance related to the process for beginning to serve. Prescribing a step by step process is helpful to both the sports chaplain and to those he or she will serve. The process will vary widely depending upon the sport and culture being served, thus making this a most important factor for the earliest days of a sports chaplain’s service.

Please reply with our questions, your concerns, or with your desire to join us in committing to this standard of sports chaplaincy training.

Respectfully submitted by:
Roger D. Lipe – Chaplaincy Table Chair (Fellowship of Christian Athletes – USA)
Cameron Butler – (Sports Chaplaincy Australia)
Dr. Andrew Parker – (University of Gloucestershire – United Kingdom)
Ross Georgiou – (Sports Chaplaincy New Zealand)
Richard Gamble – (Sports Chaplaincy United Kingdom)
Paul Kobylarz - (The Gathering Place - USA)
Andreas Anderson – (Sport for Life – Sweden)
Ken Cross – (Sports Chaplains Network – USA)
Bill Houston – (Sports Chaplains Roundtable – USA)
Hans-Günter Schmidts – (SRS Pro Sportler – Germany)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Best Day in Sport Chaplaincy

Here in my twenty-first season of serving Saluki Football (American Football at Southern Illinois University – USA), I experienced the best day of my whole career. On 13 September we were all set to play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks. They are a local rival for our team and we have enjoyed a history of competitive and interesting games the years. This year’s situation was quite unique and remarkable.

The Redhawks’ new head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator are all dear friends of mine and their team chaplain is my son. I have decades of relationship with these coaches and an obvious bond with my son. This is his first season of serving as team chaplain and he seems thrilled to be in the role.

As the day for this game approached I was flooded with mixed emotions and thoughts. I always want our team to win and to experience success, but I also want my dear friends and my son to do the same. It’s the nature of sport that when we meet, one will win and the other will lose. Game day arrived and I was suddenly freed of such internal conflicts.

My son and I consulted with each other about our chapel talks. We made plans to see each other during pregame warm up drills. I made plans to be on the field very early that day to soak it all in.

As I was on the field very early that afternoon, the head coach came in to do some radio interviews and we had some time for private conversation. I am so proud of him and how he has developed as a man who loves Jesus, a husband, a father, and as a football coach. I was able to encourage him for a little bit before the radio people were ready for him.

As pregame activities moved along, I spoke with the other coaches whom I have known for years. One played for our university and was a great competitor. Fourteen years ago, he and I prayed together for his mother as she had a cancerous brain tumor. I was at his wedding. I traveled to see him play in the Arena League and consulted with him numerous times as his coaching career has developed. The other coach and I also had a few moments to talk. He and I were roommates on road trips when he coached with us. We experienced some great and some terrible days of college football together. We celebrated his sobriety one afternoon as he reflected upon ten years free from drug and alcohol abuse. Warm hugs and pats on the back were the rule of the day. To stand with my son at midfield on a game day afternoon was rich and fulfilling.

Possibly the best part of the whole day was the way I finished each of these conversations. For me, this is the best part of sport. When one is privileged to have an opponent that is competent, respected, honorable, and loved elevates the sport to its best state. To look the coaches of our opponents for the day in the eye, to hug them strongly, and to say, “I love you and I am very proud of you,” is high privilege and made for my lifetime’s best experience in sport.

I would pray that each of us are so privileged, at least once, to have an experience in sport that is so full of love, respect, and honorable competition.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Notes on Coaching Staff Transitions

The month of November in the USA not only ushers in thoughts of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it is football coaching staff transition season. At every level of American football there have already been and will continue to be coaches resigning, retiring, and being fired. Below are some notes from 2007 related to how sports chaplains can help those we serve to navigate these turbulent waters effectively.

Related to the outgoing staff:
· If the staff was fired, understand that this feels like failure and a lot like death to them.
· Help the coaches to see this situation within the sovereignty of God. The Lord is not surprised by this.
· Understand that the transition is probably harder on the coach’s family than on the coach.
· Be available to them. They may not want much company, but if they welcome your presence, be there.
· Be prepared for the termination of some relationships. Some relationships will live beyond their tenure with your team, but others will cut off all ties to this place and you could be cut off as well. 
· Communicate respect and thankfulness for their time with your team as well as hope for their future. 
· Assure them of your prayers and availability to serve.
· Written communication is very good and can be an enduring encouragement to them. Send a card, an email and/or periodic text messages to stay in touch with them.

Related to the incoming staff:
· Pray for favor with the athletic administration and the new head coach.
· When a new head coach is announced, send a letter of congratulations immediately (keep it to one page).
· When the coach is settled into the office, get an appointment to welcome him/her and to offer your assistance. 
· Bring a gift (a book) that is reflective of your desired relationship with the coaching staff and team.
· A wise attitude is reflected in offering to do, “as much or as little as the head coach believes appropriate.”
· When discussing a role with the team one can reference his/her role with past coaching staffs, but don’t lock into those methods or activities exclusively. 
· Let the coach paint the parameters for your role and work to build trust and credibility from there.
· It is always wise to offer to serve with no strings attached. Guard your attitude from presumption.
· Come prepared to discern the coach’s perception of his/her, the staff and the team’s needs.