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. 2 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.