Friday, May 22, 2015

Sports Chaplaincy is Growing Globally

We are most grateful to everyone in our network of sports chaplains around the world. We each learn from the others and it is my aim through this weekly email and other avenues to share information I either create myself or gather from others.

Possibly the best expression of this worldwide collaboration is the training now available

There is a growing movement of sports chaplaincy in South Africa. They just held their first conference and training earlier this month. Thanks to Bruce Nadin for his invaluable leadership. There is also a growing movement in East Asia, Hong Kong in particular. They are hosting a training event this week. Thanks to Jung Ho Jung and to Cameron Butler for their leadership in that area of the world.

Next week, Sara Hurst a sports chaplain at the University of Illinois, and I will lead a three day training with our colleagues of FCA Ukraine and other sports ministry leaders from that area of the world. We will be leading our training in conjunction with the material at The trainees will have read all the materials and watched the videos before we meet. During our meetings together we will work with them to process that information, to enculturate the ideas into their sports cultures, and to apply the principles for effective sports chaplaincy.

Thanks to each and all who have contributed so richly to the growth and global development of this form of ministry in sport. I believe our best days are still ahead.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ministry in Minor League Baseball

The first weeks of May bring with them the beginning of the Frontier League Baseball season. The players reported to Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois on April 29 for the 2015 season of the Southern Illinois Miners. The Frontier League is a set of teams in independent professional baseball. Their being independent simply means these teams are not affiliated with a major league organization. The salaries are small, but the hearts are large and passionate.

I am thrilled to be serving this particular club because of the culture being nurtured by the manager, Mike Pinto. Mike has been the manager of the Miners since their first season in 2006, having declined opportunities to join other clubs of independent baseball as well as affiliated teams. Mike brings a professionalism and an attention to detail that is uncommon at this level of baseball.

Among the factors that make for good ministry with this club and at this level of professional baseball are these:

· My relationship with the manager and the coaches. From the first day of my service, Mike has welcomed me into every part of the team’s life. I am careful to not overstep my bounds, but when I consult him with opportunities to serve, Mike is quick to make room for our ministry efforts. In addition, being intentional to build relationships with the coaches (hitting, pitching, bench, etc.) and the support staff (clubhouse manager, athletic trainers, ushers, front office, etc.) has borne fruit as well.

· Baseball is a “hang out” culture. To build relationships with baseball players, one must simply show up, hang out, and talk about whatever comes up. For type A people, like your humble correspondent, this is often difficult. I am much better with an agenda and a set of objectives, but to faithfully serve this group requires flying by the seat of one’s pants. To stand around the hitting cage as batting practice takes place is invaluable. To lean on the dugout railing and to idly chat wins favor and trust. To ask questions about family, home towns, college teammates, or one’s path through baseball that landed him in Marion, Illinois is the stuff of relationship and the foundation for more meaningful and spiritual conversations in the future.

· A 4/1 ratio of appearances to talks. It seems to require four appearances at batting practices to each Sunday home Baseball Chapel talk to be effective. The more faithful I am to make time to hang out at batting practice, the more the players and coaches trust me and the more they will take their pregame time to sit with me in the dugout after batting practice on Sunday afternoon to hear my five minute talk and to pray with me.

· My home is 16.1 miles from the ballpark. From my garage to my parking place at the baseball park is short enough for me to make time to be there. If it were 30 miles, it would be significantly more difficult, but would still be worth it. If it were 50 miles, I would likely not serve well.

· These players are desperate to play baseball. If I told you the amount some of these young men are paid you wouldn’t believe it. They live with host families who provide a room, meals, and laundry when the players are in town. Some of our players have recently exhausted their college baseball eligibility and were not taken by the major league draft. Some of our players have already played a number of years in affiliated baseball, but have been released by those clubs. Some of them have been in other independent baseball organizations and still others have simply been out of baseball for a while due to injury. Some of them are Latino players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, or Mexico and staying in baseball allows them to stay in the USA and to send some money home to family. All of them are twenty-seven years or younger. All of these factors lead to a desperation to be in baseball that enables them to press through low pay and often rather Spartan conditions. This desperation also places their hearts right at the surface. After earning their trust, I find them eager to ask for advice, to air problems, or to ask for prayer. The come to Baseball Chapel services on Sundays and excitedly make time for our discussions of scripture midweek during home stands.

· Baseball Chapel’s legacy and reputation in baseball. This ministry has long been the standard for faithful ministry within professional baseball at every level. It is of tremendous value for me to be able to open a chapel talk by saying, “This afternoon, at every level of baseball from Yankee Stadium in New York to stadiums in the Dominican Republic to Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois, men just like you are sitting in dugouts to pray and to hear the truth of scripture applied to their lives in baseball.” Baseball Chapel provides handouts, in English and in Spanish, that we can download from their website to use with the players, coaches, umpires, management, wives of players, and even support staff. The faithfulness of Baseball Chapel and that of their wide network of men who serve in their ministry have paved the way for many relative newcomers, like me.

If you should have opportunity to serve a minor league baseball club, if you have any background in the sport, if you are adept at “hanging out,” or even if you can make yourself do it, please consider serving in this way. Please consider the various factors listed above as potential keys to effective ministry and jump in with both feet. I have just begun season four with our club and cannot wait to see what will occur this summer. Between this 16th day of May and the early weeks of September are a myriad of opportunities for the Lord Jesus to invade the lives of desperate young men, grizzled older coaches, ambitious management personnel, and the families of each and all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Legacy - Lessons from the All Blacks

During a recent preseason workout of the minor league baseball team I serve as team chaplain (, as our manager addressed his team in the dugout, he referenced the book, Legacy - 15 Lessons in Leadership: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr. He talked about their culture of excellence and imported their practice of cleaning up after themselves to our club. Rather than the players regularly drinking from a paper cup and then throwing it onto the floor of the dugout, he said we will no longer do that. Instead of leaving the visitor’s clubhouse (changing room, locker room, shed) in total disarray and covered with the litter of athletic tape, dirt, mud, soiled towels, etc., for the clubhouse manager to clean, we will bring our own cleaning equipment and we will leave the place even cleaner than when we arrived. Noble intentions for sure. We will see how well the players, especially the team leaders, embrace this ethic and make it their own.

Following is a simple paragraph that describes the book, which I will soon purchase and read. “Champions do extra. They sweep the sheds. They follow the spearhead. They keep a blue head. They are good ancestors. In Legacy, best-selling author James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal 15 powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business. Legacy is a unique, inspiring handbook for leaders in all fields, and asks: What are the secrets of success – sustained success? How do you achieve world-class standards, day after day, week after week, year after year? How do you handle pressure? How do you train to win at the highest level? What do you leave behind you after you’re gone? What will be your legacy?”

It seems that Yanks like me have some things we can learn from our Kiwi brothers, especially from a culture of excellence like the All Blacks Rugby club.