Friday, December 29, 2017

Baseball Observations with the Manager

Prior to Christmas I met for coffee with the manager and COO of the minor league baseball team I serve to discuss the past season and the season to come. I asked lots of questions, probed for answers to the team’s underachievement, and was very pleased that he trusts me enough to discuss so many matters of great importance to him. He is certainly not a believer in Christ, but he trusts me for such discussions. The 2018 season will be the seventh of my serving the club. Below are some of the observations we made and discussed.

There were a number of changes in the starting lineup from 2016 to 2017. There were even more changes to the bench and the pitching staff. That led to a loss of culture and a loss of team leadership, on the field and in the clubhouse.

There were changes in all the coaching staff roles, and their poor fit for the club also contributed to the loss of culture.

The manager wrongly assumed that the returning veteran players would step into team leadership roles and enculturate their teammates into the team’s way of doing baseball. As we talked, I mentioned that the introverted nature of these two veterans probably short-circuited their leadership potential. Whereas the manager expected these players to be the ones who would hang around the clubhouse after games to encourage, celebrate, console, or challenge, they were the first two out the door. I told the manager they had been at the ballpark for eight or more hours by that time and their relational tanks were probably empty. They wanted to get away to some solitude. He nodded his ascent and I could tell he was processing this leadership factor.

We also talked about the fact that all his players are now Millennials and the challenge that presents to managers and coaches of his (my) generation. I mentioned that I had observed the importance of having Millennials on the coaching staff and how that is working to great effect on college football staffs. We talked about the former player and team captain who is returning as hitting coach, as well as the two other offers he has out for the 2016 season’s bullpen coach, and the 2016 starting catcher to return as pitching coach. All are Millennials and may have a unique way of relating to Millennial players in ways that are more challenging to Baby Boomer leaders.

You may wonder, where is the ministry in this conversation? I would reply, it is everywhere. The manager has told me, very directly, about the hardness in his heart toward the Lord due to the death of both parents when he was quite young, growing up in an Italian Roman Catholic family. I have been building relationship with this man for six years and I am gaining his trust. I have given him good materials to read that both enhance his leadership of the club and inform his heart of the Lord’s truth, grace, and love. I have walked with him through his cancer scare and with his wife through hers. Ministry is woven into the fabric of each interaction I have with him, whether in person, via text message, email, or in the form of a book.

May I challenge you to look beyond the most traditional, pragmatic, and blunt ministry methods, to be more creative, more relational, and more deeply impactful by loving people extravagantly, and serving them selflessly.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas - It's About Jesus.

During these days approaching the Christmas holiday, I have been taking some time off and have been reflecting upon the central figure of Christmas. The popular culture being what it is, the central figure of Christmas is often lost among the clutter. Without trashing all of the holiday’s pop culture trappings, I would like to remind us of the central person in Christmas as revealed in the gospel of Luke. It’s Jesus Christ.

When the angel Gabriel visited Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, it was about Jesus. When his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant at an advanced age, it was about Jesus.

When Gabriel spoke to Mary, Jesus’ mother, his message was about Jesus. When Mary responded in what we now call the Magnificat, her response was about Jesus. When Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit, it was Jesus.

When Zacharias’ tongue was loosed and he began to prophesy, his message was about Jesus.

When Caesar Augustus decreed the census, it was unwittingly about Jesus.

When an angel spoke to shepherds near Bethlehem, it was about Jesus. When they came and found the holy family, it was about Jesus. When all those who heard the story wondered and when Mary pondered in her heart, it was about Jesus.

When the Lord’s family came to the temple on the 8th day, it was about Jesus. When Simeon prophesied, it was about Jesus. When Anna gave thanks to God and spoke of the redemption of Jerusalem, it was about Jesus.

When the magi showed up, about two years later from Persia, their visit was about Jesus.

As we gather with the Lord’s Church this weekend to pray, to sing, to study, and to proclaim, it’s about Jesus.

As we gather with family and friends on Christmas eve, and or Christmas Day, it’s about Jesus.

When we send Christmas cards, when we tweet, post, or email greetings to family, friends, and colleagues, it’s about Jesus.

When we present gifts to those we love, it’s about Jesus.

When we experience the love, mercy, grace, and presence of God, it’s about Jesus.

I pray you experience the immeasurable love of God, through relationship with Jesus, during this Christmas season and beyond. The season, the year, the century, the millennium, the epoch, the eternity is about Jesus.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Supply Side Ministries

During the recent PowerUp Sports Ministry conference in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA), we heard twice from San Francisco Giants chaplain, Mark Mitchell. Mark is also a pastor and he delivered a couple of talks that day. The second of those talks is outlined below from the notes I took. I hope his challenge is of value to your soul.

Supply-Side Ministries

As Jesus and His disciples journeyed toward Jerusalem, they arrived in Bethany just as their physical and emotional tanks were approaching empty. They stopped in to stay at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, siblings to each other and among the dearest friends of the Lord Jesus. The first moments of this occasion are chronicled in Luke 10:38-42.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Mark’s commentary on the text was outlined in these observations: “Martha’s spirit spoiled her service.”
·        Martha’s spirit spoiled it for Martha. v. 40a
·        Martha’s spirit spoiled it for Mary. v. 40c
·        Martha’s spirit spoiled it for Jesus. v. 40b

Mark also commented that, “Mary put herself in a position where the Lord could serve her.”

In applying this text and his observations to our service as sports chaplains, Mark asked us to analyze the people, activities, and places surrounding our service. Which are on the “supply side” and which are on the “demand side?” His challenge was that we must manage both sides well. We will have plenty of demands, that is for sure. Do we have plenty of supply side people, activities, and places in our lives? To neglect the supply side is to fall into Martha’s way of serving, all demands with no joy.

Mark concluded with the admonition from the Apostle Paul to the leaders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:28, to “be on guard for yourselves and the flock of God.”

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

We would do well to learn from Mark’s admonition, from the Apostle’s challenge, and the Lord Jesus’ example. Be sure you have some “supply side” people in your circle of friends. Make time to be with the people who encourage, strengthen, and nurture your soul. Make time to go to some “supply side” places. For some of that will mean a wildnerness, a lake, or a river. For others that will mean hours, days, or weeks of solitude. For others it may mean museums, art galleries, and cathedrals. In any case, get there regularly. Lastly, be sure to make room in your calendar for “supply side” activities. For me that is a game of racquetball, an afternoon watching baseball, or a walk with my granddaughter. Make time to restore your soul with activities that build you up instead of tearing you down. Build some supply side ministries into your life’s rhythms and thereby avoid Martha’s spoiled service.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Strategies and Challenges of Accountability in Sports Ministry

During the most recent PowerUP Sports Ministry conference in Indianapolis, Indiana we heard several excellent presentations. Among them was “Strategies and Challenges of Accountability in Sports Ministry” by David Gittings. David serves with FCA at the Campus Director at Virginia Tech University. He serves as the chaplain to Hokies Football. Below are the notes I took from his presentation.

Galatians 6:1-3 – “You’re not that important.”
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

For what are you accountable?
·        Your relationship with God.
·        Your relationships with family.
·        Your ministry
·        Your self (your soul)

Challenges to being accountable
·        Ignorance (you just don’t know how)
·        Busyness (failure to make time)
·        Pride (you won’t be vulnerable)
·        Those last two are the biggest monsters.

Strategies for being accountable
·        Confession (James 5:16, Galatians 6:1-3)
·        The Word (Hebrews 4:12, Jeremiah 23:29, II Timothy 3:16-17)
·        A Partner – Someone you will give an “All Access Pass” to your life. (I Thessalonians 5:11, Luke 17:3)
·        Boundaries (I Corinthians 15:33)
·        Follow Through

I hope these notes are of value to you as you develop strategies for and experience the challenges of living in accountability.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Miracles are Wrapped in Mundanity

Miraculous moments are wrapped in daily mundanity. We must embrace the latter to experience the former.

When we read the Bible, we are amazed at the miraculous works of God through people like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Samson, the apostles, and certainly by Jesus. What we often overlook is the daily mundanity that envelopes all of those miraculous moments. Not featured in those stories are the daily tasks of gathering firewood, building fires, removing ashes, preparing food, cleaning utensils and dishes, taking out the garbage, and all the other mundane, ordinary, and essential elements of daily life. They are there, but are harder to see.

If we measure ourselves by the miraculous moments and wonder where they are in our lives and ministries, we can get pretty depressed. However, if we can embrace the mundanity of our daily existence and grasp the certainty that our heroes of the faith had to wade through similar daily tasks, we can find courage and affirmation.

I would challenge you to embrace the ordinary, mundane, and even boring parts of your life because it is in the midst of such days that the power of God appears to transform lives. Your life and the lives of those you serve can be marvelously changed by the unexpected appearance of Christ’s lovingkindness. Expect Him to meet you in the most unexpected places. He lives there.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Who cares for your soul?

A couple of months ago I was brainstorming ideas to fill this space week to week, and I had several good ideas. I have sent those items along over the last seven weeks. As I was writing those ideas on a piece of paper, I had the thought, “Who cares for your soul?” I thought about so many of our colleagues who serve in isolation, with few colleagues nearby, and whose service is seldom met with the degree of success that most would judge to be worthy of their time and energy. That could easily lead them to loneliness and despair.

That thought brought to mind this verse from Psalm 142 -
“For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.”

I am sure some of our coaching friends experience that sort of emotion, and surely some of the sports chaplains and character coaches in our networks do as well. Again, I ask, “Who cares for your soul?” The more I thought about that, I remembered that I had written a note in a similar vein back in January. It is below. I hope is of value to you.

One of the items of great interest to me in the book, Replenish – Leading from a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt, is the terrible fact that far too many pastors and other ministry workers are terribly isolated. Too few of us have strong relationships with trusted friends or mentors.

This leads me to ask, “Who is your chaplain?” Who is there in your life to provide the same sort of service that you regularly dispense to others? If you didn’t immediately have an answer, this is a problem to be addressed. Who cares for your soul? Who knows you well enough to ask you hard questions about your use of time, energy, and relationship? Who understands your life’s pressures, your weak spots, your character flaws, and loves you through them?

Are you close enough to your pastor for this sort of relationship? Have you given him or her permission to enter your life beyond your “public persona?” Is there a friend or colleague with whom you meet often enough to be vulnerable about your life?

Although I am an off the chart extrovert with thousands of acquaintances, there are few people I trust with my life’s pains and struggles. My introverted friends may find this even more difficult, but with a smaller circle of relationships.

Again, “Who is your chaplain?”

I meet with two men every Tuesday at 6:30 am at a local coffee shop. One of those gentlemen and I have been meeting together for over twenty-two years now. We three have walked together through family health issues (cancer and epilepsy), a divorce, a suicide attempt, a remarriage, multiple family issues, financial growth and challenge, joy, grief, and pain. Such is life. We know and trust each other. They are my chaplains.

Once more, I will ask, “Who is your chaplain?” I challenge you to find an answer to that question, to commit to an enduring and vulnerable relationship with someone who knows you well enough to care for your soul’s health. The long-term success or failure of your ministry as a sport chaplain or character coach may be determined by this relationship or the lack thereof.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chapel Talk Series - Be a Man

Across my twenty-four seasons of serving our college football (American football) team, I have done 200+ chapel talks. Over the years I have changed styles and forms many times, sometimes just to keep them from being too predictable or so ritualistic that the players and coaches would treat them like a good luck charm.

In the best seasons I had a strong tie in with the head coach and the ideas he was building into his team’s culture. With our most recent head coach, I have done two seasons on the program’s theme of, “Be a Man.” As probably 80% of our young men have grown up with no father in their homes, being a man is an idea with which they are not necessarily familiar. I have taken it as part of my role to define terms and to provide models of what it looks like to be a man.

During an FCA 3Dimensional Coaching presentation, I imagined a new and innovative way to introduce each week’s point of emphasis. I would borrow the 3D Coaching concept of a “spotlight drill.” As I stand to begin chapel, I will introduce the idea with a sentence or two, then ask for a volunteer to pray. After the prayer, I will continue the introduction by saying something like, “This week I polled your coaches and team captains as to who among the players is a man who demonstrates this quality. I received __ of your names, but first among them was (player’s name)”. I ask that young man, or as many as two or three to stand up. I would now like to ask you to share with us how he exemplifies this quality of “A Man……….” I then wait for various players to offer brief comments about the spotlighted player. The players and coaches make their statements of affirmation and after six to ten of them, I thank them, ask the young man to be seated, and continue with my talk from scripture. After I have quoted or read scripture, I will make application of its truth to the weekly emphasis and then challenge them to live out the scripture’s principles as they compete and in all of life. To wrap up the chapel, I will pray or we will stand and pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

I do all the chapel talks for road games, but during some seasons I have worked with local pastors to be guest speakers for our home games. This enables me to introduce the pastors to our players and to affirm the quality of their churches, encouraging the players to attend them. It also enables me to affirm our partnership with local churches. It is not without peril. Some pastors can deliver a five to seven minute talk, others find that much more difficult. I give them clear directions about expectations, the environment, and the nature of the group to which they’ll be speaking. Most do very well, some do not. This season’s guests have been outstanding.

This season’s weekly points of emphasis are below along with the name of the guest speaker (home games) and/or the scripture I plan to use:

Be a Man -

• A Man Takes Initiative – Mississippi Valley State University (Pastor Swims)

     Joshua 14
• A Man Takes Responsibility - @ Southeast Missouri State University
    Nehemiah 6

• A Man Loves Deeply - @ University of Memphis 
     John 15:13

• A Man Protects his Friends – University of Northern Iowa (Scott Pilkington)

• A Man Serves Others - @ South Dakota State University 
     Mark 10:43-45

• A Man Cares for his Family – Illinois State University (Troy Benitone)

• A Man Demonstrates Compassion - @ Indiana State University

    Matthew 9:35-38

• A Man Lives with Integrity - @ University of South Dakota
     Proverbs 11:3
• A Man Is Loyal – Missouri State University (Bob Pankey)

• A Man Tells the Truth – Youngstown State University (Casey Raymer)

• A Man Gives Maximum Effort - @ Western Illinois University 
    Colossians 3:17

I would challenge you to communicate with your head coach about the themes, ideas, the culture he or she is working to build in the team. Join the coach in affirming those themes, with Biblical examples, and thereby both assist the coaching staff and further develop your relationship of trust with the head coach.

Friday, October 20, 2017

No Scale of Level

One of the most pernicious and destructive notions in sports chaplaincy is the confusion of level, success, and significance. Many assume, but would not likely state aloud, that ministry at the lower levels of sport (junior high, high school, community college, minor league baseball, lower division football) has less significance and is of lesser value than the ministry taking place at the highest levels of sport (Premier League Football, NCAA Division I, NFL, NBA, MLB). Somehow, we buy into the fan mentality and judge “higher” levels of sport to be more significant. We value the players’ “platform” over their experiences and relationships in their sporting communities. I believe this to be a grave error.

I would assert that there is no level of scale in our service of sportspeople. There is no greater value to the ministry taking place among a NCAA Division I SEC Football program that can be found on television every Saturday, than there is with the junior high school, nine man football team in the most remote corner of Minnesota. The ministry that I provide an independent minor league baseball team is no lesser in significance than that shared with the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers. There is no appreciable difference in the Lord Jesus’ economy.

Faithfulness is the standard. Whether we serve in the obscurity of “less important” sporting communities or live as the presence of Christ in the blinding glare of television cameras at the “highest level” of sport, our standard of measure and success must be faithfulness. The Apostle Paul declared this value in I Corinthians 4:1-2. “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Significance is the goal, more than success. A focus on success will spend a lot of time measuring attendance at meetings, distribution of materials, funds received, bank balances, and more. Significance is focused on depth of commitment, progress toward faith, development of spiritual disciplines, growth of disciples’ faithfulness, and long-term development of Christian sportspeople. Paul wrote to Timothy with specific instruction about the goals of his instruction in I Timothy 1:5. “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is the language of significance, not success.

My opinion is certainly biased. The perceived level of the teams, coaches, and competitors I serve varies from mid-major to the very bottom. I see the perceived highest levels of sport from a great distance, usually from the cheap seats or on a television screen. I would like to finish today’s thoughts with a strong challenge.

If you are at the “highest level” of sport – guard your heart from the pride of platform. The higher the platform you, your team, your coaches, and your competitors occupy, the greater the peril they must constantly endure. The same spotlight bringing attention to their faith in Christ will shine glaringly upon the weaknesses of their flesh. Give them your best, every time, and faithfully pursue significance.

If you are at the “lowest level” of sport – guard your heart form the pride of obscurity. Your service has great value and must be treated with care, discipline, and diligence. To undervalue your service, to minimize its importance, to neglect those you serve because no one seems to be watching is foolish and not worthy of Christ. Give them your best, every time, and faithfully pursue significance.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ministry in ERs, Hospitals, Surgery Centers

Across my twenty-three years of serving sports teams I have had many occasions to visit emergency rooms, hospital rooms, and surgery centers with players, coaches, and administrators of the sporting community. While these are never pleasant occasions, they are regularly moments of the most profound and impactful ministry. I’d like to offer some observations from those visits and some tips for how to approach them, as they will certainly come to you as well.

One never feels competent when walking into an emergency room, hospital, or surgery center. Every time I approach the front door of one of these facilities I feel inadequate. I wonder what I have to offer. I wonder about what I am about to encounter. I wonder if I’ll be able to handle the gravity of the moment and the potential emotional flood that awaits me. Every time, I stop, pray, and keep walking. This is not about me, nor my training, nor my ability to empathize, nor my ability to console, it’s about being Christ Jesus’ presence in a time of crisis. The Lord invariably carries me along in each situation, to my utter amazement.

Care for the people, respect the medical personnel, listen to the hearts. Early on in my experience I felt compelled to have the right words to say, but of late I seldom have anything to say. There are no magic words to make everything okay. A much better approach is to ask questions to open their hearts and to help them deal with their fears, questions, and worries. Treat the medical personnel; nurses, technicians, administrators, and doctors, with respect and understand your boundaries. Ask permission to go to more secure places in serving the patient, his or her family, and significant others. I have been allowed into intensive care units, maternity rooms, surgery prep rooms, recovery rooms, and other locations that are highly privileged spots because I treated the personnel with respect and earned their trust over time. Ask good questions, speak in low tones, respect privacy, and look people in the eye. Their hearts will open widely to you.

Bring a resource for their encouragement. The coming hours and days are likely to have a lot of time to read as their normal life of activity is interrupted by bed rest, doctor visits, waiting for appointments, and weeks of recovery. I often bring a devotional book, a book of prayers, or simply a card written with encouraging words and scriptures. I will fold down the corners of pages of the devotions that could have particular relevance to one recovering from injury, or I’ll put Post It notes in pages of a prayer book to catch the attention of those being served. Long after we have left their presence, these resources speak to their hearts and enable them to connect with the Lord in their most desperate hours.

Offer to pray, privately. When I am with a patient and his or her family, I watch for the most appropriate moment to pray with them. As I am chatting with the people, I am listening for their hearts to open. I am seeking a moment with sufficient privacy to lean in, to offer to pray, to take a hand or to touch the injured shoulder, knee, or ankle, and to lift a quiet, intense, and unashamed prayer for the Lord’s healing power to move in my friend’s life. I pray for the immediate concern, for the patient’s anxiety, for the doctor’s skill, for quick and complete recovery, and for restoration to the sport they love. Above all, I pray for the Lord to accomplish His purposes in this person’s life.

Leave with encouragement and an invitation to stay connected. I don’t normally stay throughout the entire surgery, nor a long time in a hospital visit. Staying too long usually becomes awkward and ends poorly. After we have chatted, connected well, and prayed together, I am usually headed for the door. I will leave my card and an invitation to stay connected by phone or SMS message. I say, “I’ll see you at practice. Let me know if I can serve you in any way. I’ll look forward to your return to the team.” This visit is simply one step in the long process of relationship development, but it is an important one. Make the best of this opportunity and then watch for the next one.

As I have been writing, a number of situations have flashed through my mind. Many of them have been instrumental in the development of relationships with coaches, competitors, doctors, nurses, and even administrators. I pray that your service is also graced by the beautifully intimidating experience of ministry in hospital rooms, ERs, surgery waiting rooms, and even hospice situations. The Lord Jesus walks into those moments with us, carries us along in His purposes, and accomplishes His will through us.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tips for Your Study Retreat

In recent years I have written in this space about study retreats and their value to my ministry. There has been a good deal of development to this process over the few years in which I have employed it. I would like to share with you some of the important factors to study retreats that I have discovered and that I would recommend as you consider scheduling such an event.

Choose a good site for solitude – As I am a terminal extrovert, I know I need this sort of solitude, but I find it terribly difficult. Having a place to study, pray, and to create that is free from distractions is of paramount importance. My son’s in-laws own a lake house in rural Missouri. It is relatively simple, but has enough creature comforts to make it very well suited for retreats. It has no Internet connection, which is helpful to eliminate distractions. The homes that surround it on the lake cove are usually vacant when I am there as they are mostly weekend or vacation homes. This leaves me mostly all alone in the area with lots of solitude for walks, sitting by the lake, watching the sun rise or set, and for outdoor contemplation. Choose a site with a strong measure of privacy for your retreat.

Take productivity tools with you – Music, videos, books, and other materials that may fuel your creativity and productivity are invaluable for such a retreat. I play music that stirs my heart, and this time I took a DVD of U2 videos for visual images to supplement the music’s inspiration. I take my computer for writing. I take my favorite Bible for reading. I take my notebook with a good pen for writing outlines. I take other books that inspire and fuel creativity. Take whatever you need to make you most productive.

Eat, drink, and sleep well – There are probably particular foods and drinks that fuel your creativity and productivity. Take them with you. I take foods that are easy and quick to prepare so I don’t lose a lot of time. I take good coffee. I need a good breakfast to work well, so I am most particular about that meal. I take some simple snacks and drinks. I seek the best place for sleeping and prioritize this as an important part of the process. I find that long periods of concentrated thought, writing, planning, and analysis is even more fatiguing than physical exercise. Be sure to rest well as it will restore your energies for the coming hours and days.

Take a break to let your brain rest – In April, I went to the retreat with a good deal of preparation already in hand. I had done some idea incubation for several months, and when I arrived at the retreat I could jump right into writing. In August, I was not nearly as well prepared. I had hoped to jump into writing, but I had not done the work to be at that stage. That required me to spend eight hours of the first day writing more detailed outlines. I took a break or two during the day to walk, to make lunch, to go out for dinner, and then to sleep overnight. My brain needed the rest to finish the task. When I got up on day two, I was fully prepared and spent thirteen hours writing. I took mind breaks a few times during those hours, to walk, to eat, to snack, to read, and even to reply to a phone call and text messages. I was able to complete the project with clarity of thought, primarily because I took the necessary breaks throughout the day to rest, to refocus, and to resume the deep work of writing.

Learn how your mind works best and schedule to be at your best – When I first did these study retreats I used a friend’s lake home. It is about thirty-five minutes from my home. It was convenient, but maybe a little too close. I could plan the retreat, but it was also pretty easy to cut it short or to simply not go. The present location for my retreats is about two hours from home and requires more planning to accomplish. I set aside particular days well in advance and I protect those dates on my calendar. I make plans to leave my home in the morning, arrive prior to noon and eat lunch. This is my time for adjusting from normal, fast paced life, to a slower, more contemplative speed. That process used to take me a whole day, but I can make the shift in about ninety minutes now. I schedule that first day as primarily for preparation. I schedule day two for maximum productivity, and I schedule day three for review, editing, relaxation, and for anticipation of returning home and reentering the normal schedule and work.

Please take a day, three days, a weekend, or a whole week for a study retreat. Engineer your environment, your menu, your schedule, and your heart for maximum productivity, amazing creativity, and inspiring contemplation. Your heart and your ministry will be greatly enhanced.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Road Trip Journal - College Football

One of the methods I have used to capture memories, to gather details, and to learn is to journal. For several seasons, in years past, I would journal all my interactions with a team, and at the end of the season I’d print the journal and give it to the head coach for his review.

People will occasionally ask me, “What is a typical weekend like for you?” For the purposes of this week’s note, I decided to journal this past week’s experience with Saluki Football as we traveled to play the University of Memphis in Tennessee. The journal of those days follows. I hope it is some value to you.

I attended practices on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, speaking with coaches and players while observing the drills.

Friday – The usual Friday walk through was at 8:45 this morning and it was followed by breakfast at 10:00. The three buses of players, coaches, and athletic trainers departed at 11:00. A couple of hours down the road, we stopped at a truck stop in the Missouri boot heel for sandwiches and Gatorade. As we rode the bus, I read a book, wrote some tweets, did some thinking, and did some more reading. As we crossed the Mississippi River bridge we picked up a police escort with seven motorcycles and two cars. They led our buses to weave around and through city traffic on the way to the stadium. We arrived at the Liberty Bowl and did a simple walk around to see the field, the locker room, and other facilities we would need for tomorrow’s game. We bumped into four former Saluki Football players from around 10 years ago and had a great chat with each.

We re-boarded the buses for the trip to our hotel. We arrived at the Hilton Memphis, picked up our key cards and I went to my room. I took some time to relax until it was time for the 5:00 dinner. I reminded some players to remove their caps and asked them to lower the volume of their voices. The head coach asked me to bless dinner and I prayed. We enjoyed the team dinner as I sat with our director of football operations, strength coaches, a graduate assistant, the cornerbacks coach, and the head coach. The dinner was followed by a team meeting at 5:45, and position group meetings followed that. I returned to my room to relax and went to bed early.

Saturday – I was up at 5:30, made coffee in the room, sent text messages and tweets as I do each morning from the Proverbs, from Heart of a Champion, and from Corazon de un Campeo’n. I checked on some Southern Illinois high school football scores, and went to the coffee shop for better coffee. At 8:00 another former player and a former coach texted us that they were in the lobby. I talked with Jason Emert and his wife, and with Coach Larry Warner for a while. I went to the 9:00 staff meeting where they analyzed last night’s agenda and timing. The coaches see opportunities for us to make plays against a very good Memphis team tonight. They discussed ways to protect our players from today’s heat and potential fatigue by going to the field a little later in the day. After the meeting wrapped up, I walked across the hall for breakfast, scheduled for 9:30. Fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey bacon, hash browns, pancakes, and spaghetti with meat sauce were on the buffet. During breakfast I chatted with a couple of coaches and Alicia Hill, the head coach’s wife.

After breakfast, I returned to my room to prepare for the day. I was shaved, showered, and dressed way too early. I did some reading and watched some early college football. I finalized my plans for this afternoon’s chapel and gathered all my gear. At around 1:30 I checked out of my room and went to the banquet room to prepare for chapel. I laid out the chapel handouts on each table at each place setting.

At around 2:30 my three invited guests arrived for chapel and I introduced them to the coaches. John Goode, Mark Gagliano, and Brodie Gruver were each former football players at SIU and are now dear friends. After special team reminders from four different assistant coaches were completed, Coach Hill addressed the team, clarifying our goal for the day – Win the game. After he finished, he gave me the floor and I launched into the chapel.
o   Introductory thoughts on this theme – “Be a Man – A Man Loves Deeply.”
o   I introduced Brodie Gruver for the opening prayer. He is a man who loves deeply.
o   I then introduced Mark Gagliano and John Goode, both former Saluki Football players and both All-Americans. Both are men who love deeply.
o   I then introduced Withney Simon, Saluki Linebacker #42, the young man who was most often mentioned by his coaches and team captains as a man who loves deeply. I asked his teammates to tell me when and how they observed Withney to be a man who loves deeply. We heard several excellent responses from the team.
o   I then asked Withney to return to his seat and I spoke of Jesus being the best possible example of a man who loves deeply and quoted John 15:13. I spoke of how Jesus used this language to challenge His teammates, and then demonstrated His love by dying in their place the following day. I said that sacrifice is the stuff of loving deeply, and that would be key to today’s contest.
o   I finished the chapel with prayer.

Pregame meal followed chapel and it included salad, fruit, spaghetti and meat sauce, baked potatoes, and baked chicken breasts. It was all very well done. After the meal, we had some time to relax. I went to the bus while the team had some final position reminders. At 4:30 we were all aboard the buses and we followed our police escort to the Liberty Bowl. I walked around the field, prayed, chatted with coaches, and then had a great talk with Braxton Brady. He and I met several years ago at a Champaign, IL church’s men’s event. Between sessions in that event, we discovered we were each serving as team chaplains. We have stayed in touch ever since. He has grown his volunteer chaplain role into a full-time staff position as the player relations director for Memphis Football. He is serving well and faithfully.

After more waiting, I helped Coach Flyger identify key players from the opponents. The warm up period continued and I made my way to the locker room, located the countdown clock inside and helped coaches with time to kickoff reminders. We called the players together in the locker room at seven minutes to kickoff, the head coach did a brief talk and then all the coaches and players knelt and held hands to say the Lord’s prayer. We left the tunnel for the field at three minutes to kickoff.

We scored on our first possession, and then prompted Memphis to a three and out on theirs. We led 17 to 14 at the half. They dominated the third quarter, and a kickoff return for a touchdown after we had just drawn within three points really hurt us. We competed strongly, right to the final play of the game, but lost 44-31. Through the game and across the 24 seasons of serving with this program, I have accumulated a number of tasks.
o   I am the “get back coach.” I work to keep the coaches and players in their proper places, so as to not interfere with the officials’ movements on the sidelines.
o   I call up various special teams units, according to down and distance situations.
o   I carry a bottle of water to coaches, officials, and the chain gang on the sidelines during timeouts, quarter breaks, etc.
o   I carry and mark changes on a special teams depth chart, and communicate with the trainers, to help the coaches know who is available for each of those units.
o   I keep the scoreboard game clock on my wrist watch during pregame and half time so as to keep the coaching staff on time for their responsibilities.
o   In encourage, challenge, pray, shout, jump and down, gesture broadly, and otherwise serve the coaching staff and team.

After the game, back in the locker room, the head coach talked of the pain of the loss, but focused on the task ahead, eight straight weeks of Missouri Valley Football Conference games. We have the University of Northern Iowa next week at our place. We all knelt to say the Lord’s Prayer. I spoke to a couple dozen players at their lockers and then went back to the field to speak to a few friends who were still there. I cut the tape from one of our captain’s ankles, picked up a box of Chick Fil-A and a bottle of water for dinner, and ate it on the bus.

We drove away from the Liberty Bowl, again with a police escort, near 11:30 pm. We arrived in Carbondale just before 3:00 am. By 3:15, Sharon and I had chased a stowaway cat from our home. After the feline expulsion, we finally went to bed, hopefully to rest well. Now, four days later, we are still dealing with the foul odor the cat left for us.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book recommendations

Reading is an essential part of learning in any role, and it is certainly so for those of us serving as sports chaplains, character coaches, or sports mentors. One of the hardest tasks for me is to choose books to read. I find the recommendations of friends and colleagues to be the best way to choose. In keeping with that thought, I would like to recommend a few books to you. They are from a variety authors, but most all are non-fiction. I hope they enhance your development: personal, professional, and spiritual.

Soul Keeping by John Ortberg is an excellent book about the author’s relationship with his mentor and friend, Dallas Willard.

Deep Work by Cal Newport is a deeply challenging book about how we think and all the matters that distract us from thinking deeply. After reading this book in April, I was challenged so deeply that I removed Facebook from every device that I own, except for one. I found that it consumed too much time for too little benefit.

The Captain Class by Sam Walker is a review of the most dominant sports teams in history and their leadership. Like most books based on research, the author tells us more about his research methods than we really want to know, but his conclusions are fascinating. If you serve a team oriented sport, the insights within are valuable.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance is a remarkable book with tremendous value to those serving in the USA’s Mid-south and Midwest regions. Vance discusses the paralyzing effects of the culture in which he was reared, and chronicles how he was able to escape it to become a college graduate and a successful attorney.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson is a collection of sermons he delivered as a pastor, earlier in his career. I read everything I can find by Peterson, but this volume is significantly different, as it is pastoral in tone. The reader feels as if this is a personal conversation with the author. Much like Francis Schaeffer’s No Little People, No Little Places, this collection of sermons engages differently than most of the authors’ more scholarly works. This is rich.

Originals by Adam Grant details some of the advantages of having people, just a bit off center, on your team. The author explores the power of non-conformists and their points of view for all sorts of organizations, companies, non-profits, etc.

Occasionally, I will visit Stuart Weir’s book review section of the Verité Sport website for some good ideas. Here is a link to this invaluable resource -

I hope this brief list is of value to you and to those you lead. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Global Sports Chaplains Network

In January of 2016 key leaders from the sports chaplaincy ministries from across the world met together to discuss how to develop chaplaincy globally.  One of the outcomes of the meeting was to create a secure worldwide registry of sports chaplains. This will launch at the end of September. is developing this global registry.
The benefits of the registry is as follows;
1. It will allow chaplains to connect across the world
2. It will allow chaplains to connect across their sport discipline
3. It will provide chaplains with resources from all over the world to support their ministry.

Special attention in the construction of this registry has been given to its security.  It will be accessible only by chaplains, and additional features are also in place to protect individual privacy.  No data will be shared with third parties.

We hope you will benefit from the resources available and connecting with sports chaplains across the world. 

Please reach out to Allie Dyar to register or with your questions at

Friday, September 8, 2017

PowerUp Sports Ministry Conferences for 2017

If you are in the USA, I’d like to make you aware of some upcoming Sports Chaplaincy conferences hosted by Our Daily Bread Ministries of Michigan. I have attended and participated in these many times over many years. I highly recommend them to you.

Power Up Sports Ministry Conferences are one-day events for sports chaplains, coaches, athletic directors, or anyone involved in sports leadership. These exciting events are designed to spiritually encourage, equip, and strengthen you through challenging messages, workshops, videos, and panel discussions. The day is also filled with practical advice, networking opportunities, and free resources. Join us for a great day away to renew your energy and focus.

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM EDT

Indianapolis, IN
Tuesday November 7, 2017
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM EST

PROGRAM – Grand Rapids
8:00 am Our Daily Bread Ministries Tours (optional, pre-registration required)
8:30 am Registration Opens
9:00 am Greeting and Opening Comments
9:10 am Opening Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
9:45 am Roundtable Discussion
10:05 am Workshop Session #1 with Tim Hiller, Former Western Michigan University Quarterback
11:05 am Workshop Session #2 with Issah Meade, Virginia Tech FCA Chaplain 
12:00 pm Prayer and Lunch
12:30 pm Our Daily Bread Ministries Tours (optional)
1:00 pm Panel Discussion hosted by Tom Rust, Face to Face Ministries
1:45 pm Closing Comments
2:00 pm Closing Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
2:45 pm Closing Time of Prayer

PROGRAM - Indianapolis
8:30 am Registration Opens
9:00 am Greeting and Opening Comments
9:10 am Opening Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
9:45 am Roundtable Discussion
10:00 am Direction for Sessions & Break
10:15 am Workshop Session #1 with Dave Gittings, Jr. Virginia Tech FCA Chaplain
11:05 am Workshop Session #2 with Dave Hudson, Indiana University Campus Ministry FCA 
12:00 pm Prayer and Lunch
12:50 pm Power Up Time-Out hosted by Tom Rust, Face to Face Ministries
1:00 pm Panel Discussion hosted by Tom Rust, Face to Face Ministries
1:45 pm Closing Comments
2:00 pm Closing Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
2:45 pm Closing Time of Prayer

Details, videos from past conferences, and registration are available at: