Friday, March 30, 2018

Ministry in Preseason Baseball

Each spring in Southern Illinois arrives with soaking rain, blooming flowers, greening grass, and baseball. For the last seven springs the blossoms of April have brought me a new season of opportunity to serve the players, coaches, support staff, and management of the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League of professional baseball. This is a rare privilege.

The Miners arrive in Marion, Illinois in late April having been signed during the winter, returning from last season’s team, or having been recruited during the recent combine for independent teams. They arrive with hearts full of promise, bodies full of talent, minds full of questions, and souls full of anxiety. We tend to get players either on their way up or on their way down in baseball. Some have completed their college baseball careers, but were not selected in the draft by a team affiliated with a major league team. They still believe they can play and hope playing in this league will give them the chance to play their way onto an affiliated team’s roster. Some come to us after years of playing with affiliated team of minor league baseball. For any number of reasons, they have been released and have found their way to Southern Illinois. They intend to retool one part of their game and to return to their climb toward the big leagues. Others have been released from minor league clubs and simply don’t want to get a regular job and be grownups. In any case, they are desperate to play baseball or they would not be here.

All these factors leave their hearts in a rather vulnerable place. At a glance one would not perceive this, but understanding their station in baseball makes it readily apparent. Like most gifted athletes, these young men have the poise, swagger, bravado, and air of confidence that some find off putting. They wear these traits like body armor, guarding their hearts from the doubts and insecurities that stalk their preseason workouts and the sleepless nights of late April and early May.

My role of service in this situation is simple, but has many facets. I aim to serve, each and all, as they are with the club. Whether they are here for a week, a season, or for years, I seek their best interests and the Lord’s purposes in their lives. This level of baseball affords me a unique opportunity and an immense responsibility. These young men are not burdened with enormous salaries or plush amenities that harden hearts and inflate egos. Their hearts are much closer to the surface and are quicker to hear the words of an older man who cares for them and wants the best for them, with no strings attached.

Here’s what that looks like on a typical day of the preseason:
·        I download and print out the team roster so that I can memorize names, uniform numbers, and faces of each player and coach.
·        I drive the 16 miles to the ballpark anticipating conversations, remembering relationships from past seasons, and preparing my heart in prayer.
·        I arrive at the ballpark, pass through the player’s entrance, walk by the clubhouse, and exit to the hitting cage.
·        At some point in the preseason, Mike Pinto, the COO and field manager of the club, invites me to introduce myself and my role with the team. For this I am very grateful.
·        I will come to as many workouts as possible, and on game days I’ll arrive in time for batting practice.
·        I will greet players at the hitting cage, group by group as they hit, or I’ll join them on the field as they stretch, throw, and take batting practice.
·        I make it a point to meet each player, to ask about his home town, and about his path to this place in baseball. To hear their stories helps us to connect and for me to understand more of who they are. I also get a sense of how they perceive this point along their journey through professional baseball.
·        Once introduced, some players will seek me out and others will begin to avoid me. I am, however, hard to avoid. I just keep showing up.
·        During the preseason I will identify a player to be the player representative for Baseball Chapel. He will be the one I rely on to inform his teammates of Bible study and game day chapel times and locations during the season. He is also the player who helps gather players for chapels held on the road, led by the home team’s chapel leader.
·        During these days of preseason, we will discuss the process for Sunday home game Baseball Chapels and the best day and time for a Bible study during each home stand.
·        Occasionally I will have the opportunity to meet with a player or coach individually, over breakfast or coffee.
·        Occasionally I will have the privilege to walk with a player or a coach through a crisis. We have walked with players as they lost family members, with support staff through cancer treatments, through relationship difficulties, injuries, surgeries, death, and other matters confidentiality forbids me to discuss.
·        As preseason progresses, the roster is trimmed down until the opening day team is selected. That means many players will be traded or released, thus ending their stay in Marion. This is always painful and always strains relationships. Hearts once full of hope and expectation are suddenly crushed by feelings of rejection, failure, and even despair. For some, this is the end of their lives in baseball. For others, they will seek new opportunities elsewhere. In any case, I feel the grief of relationships lost.

Many people have said that professional baseball is a great game, but a terrible business. I have a sense of that each preseason. We start with a large group of hopeful, excited young men, and day by day a couple are released, a few are traded, some new ones arrive, and by opening day, the business is complete. Suddenly the roster is set, the games begin, and everything seems bright, new, and exciting.

Baseball, like spring in Southern Illinois, is full of new life, thunderstorms, sunshine, fear, joy, fulfillment, disappointment, runs, hits, errors, wins, and losses. This is why I’m here, to walk along with the players, coaches, management, and support staff through all of it. To do so is one of my life’s greatest joys.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Being a Steward

Last Friday, during the Global Sports Chaplaincy Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA we heard an encouraging devotion from Walt Wiley. Walt was a 14 year Baseball Chapel leader for the Atlanta Braves and is now a member of Baseball Chapel’s board. He also leads a ministry called, "Winning With Encouragement." Notes from Walt’s talk, which have great relevance for our service, are below.

Being a steward - Jesus always spoke of it through parable, on 5 or 6 occasions.
• "I am a steward of my life." It's not mine.
• "I am a steward of my things," the things I have. They are not mine.
• "I am a steward of my thing," the thing I do. It's not mine.

Observations from Parables about Stewards:
1. A steward is appointed. Luke 12:46
2. Emphasis is made on how the steward carried out his responsibilities.  Luke 16:2
3. The owner was not looking over the steward's shoulder. Matthew 25:14-15
4. The relationship between the steward and his coworkers is emphasized. Matt 18:33
5. Be careful to not use your position as a steward to your own benefit. Matthew 18:28
6. A day of reckoning will come for the steward. Luke 16:2

Friday, March 16, 2018

Eleven Guidelines for Chaplains

During the recent FCA Collegiate Conference in Atlanta, Georgia we heard a presentation from the Alliance Defending Freedom ( titled, Eleven Guidelines for Chaplains. It was directed toward those among us who serve on public school campuses in the USA. I hope these notes are of value to you and your ministry.

Eleven Guidelines for Chaplains
1.   The US Constitution permits and sometimes requires chaplains be available to serve.
2.   The Law does not require schools to have a chaplain from every religion.
3.   A public university cannot prefer one religion over another.
4.   We should use neutral criteria to select chaplains.
5.   Any religious activities must be voluntary. No punishments, rewards, or stigmas may be used for those who do not attend.
6.   Chaplains do not serve two masters. Avoid dual employee status.
7.   No monopolies. FCA is not the sole supplier of chaplains.
8.   Be careful about proselytizing or witnessing on public school campuses.
a.   Be careful with evangelism.
b.   Tie evangelistic activities to student-athlete led activities.
9.   Serve all students of any faith (connecting them to others as needed).
10.  Have secular and religious duties, but no authority over students.
11.  Accept benefits if offered, but do not insist upon them. Do not make demands.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Sports Chaplaincy Training in Honduras

I just returned from five days of training sports chaplains in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in Central America. I went in support of the FCA Texas Region International Coordinator – Eric Anderson of Houston, Texas. I have been traveling to Honduras since 1992 and the nation has a large piece of my heart. We have been serving the sporting community in Honduras since 1999 and we are now seeing the fruition of a number of trips, the development of relationships, materials, and investment of soul. A few photos are attached.

Below is a simple summary of the week’s activities. We did six hours of formal training with a set of three young chaplains who are already serving very effectively. In addition, we were able to go with them to meet the teams they are serving and to model a couple of models for ministry they can employ. I hope this record of activity is inspirational to you.

Sunday -
I left home at 1:45 am to drive to the airport. I flew into Tegucigalpa from St. Louis, Missouri through Houston, Texas, arriving just after noon. I was picked up at the airport and then we went to lunch with our friends, Pastor Tito and Zulema Penalba.

Monday –
We had a meeting with Congressman Wilmer Velazquez (former high profile futbol player), community leaders, local church leaders, Tito and others at two different gang controlled area sports courts. The aim is to partner with all these groups to hold FCA Power Camps in these two barrios and the International School. The plan will need to be further developed for excellent delivery of the camps, but all the pieces are now in place.

We did 2+ hours of sports chaplaincy training with Tito, Maynor, Rony, and Francisco.

We observed Maynor’s futbol academy, serving 60+ children from a very poor community at no cost to them.

We hosted an FCA presentation at the Holiday Inn Express with around 35 church and sports leaders, plus the lady to oversees all NGOs in Honduras. Eric Anderson presented an FCA overview and I walked them through the 360 Sports Matrix to highlight the need for ministry in sport.

Tuesday –
We did 2+ hours of sports chaplaincy training.

I delivered 3 sports chapel talks with three different futbol clubs, of three different age levels, that are served by Maynor, Rony, or Francisco. It was good to model this form of ministry for our team. One of those talks was with the UPN first division team at their training ground.

While at UPN (a teacher’s college), I did a 360 Sports Matrix presentation with around 30 coaches and educators.

Wednesday –
I did a 360 Sports Matrix at Unitec, a technical college, with around 20 student-athletes and coaches.

We went up to El Picacho to give Eric an overlook of the whole city from the statue of the ascending Christ.

We had a conversation with the headmaster of the International School re: FCA, sports chaplaincy, camps, and partnership. This was very well received.

I did a talk at the school with a number of student leaders re: Romans 12:1-2. Afterwards we had lunch. I lead a minute discussion with all the International School’s student-athletes, our team serving as group leaders, about life in sport as informed by I Corinthians 9:24-27. It was good to model another model for ministry with groups for our team.

I did a talk with a 2nd division team, Gimnastico, served by Francisco, at their training ground. I talked from James 1:12 and then discussed the talk development process with the team.

We returned to the hotel and completed the sports chaplaincy training.

Four of us went to the national stadium and prayed with the UPN 1st division team in their locker room prior to their game vs. the 1st place and undefeated Motagua team. We watched about 15 minutes of the game and then returned to the hotel.

Tito led the first ever FCA Honduras board meeting and Eric did a brief FCA Leadership Board training. After the meeting, Eric gave some encouragement to the team and said his goodbyes.

Finally, Eric, Tito, and I went to dinner, and I got to bed around 11:00 pm.

Thursday –
I spent most of the morning preparing to travel and reflecting on the week’s activities. I did some correspondence via email and sent a brief summary to my friend and colleague, Jim Roquemore – FCA’s Global Region Coordinator for Latin America. I sent the same notes to my mentor and others who were supporting our work in prayer. Late in the morning two of the chaplains arrived and Tito arrived at the hotel and then we left for the airport. We gathered again in the airport departure lounge until it was time for me to leave. We spent these last moments embracing each other and heartily slapping backs. This is an outstanding team of young chaplains, two of the three having been professional futbol players. They are uniquely gifted for service as sports chaplains and the training they received will only make them better.

It was a privilege to serve our Honduran teammates as they lead and serve the men and women of sport in this beautiful, hungry nation.

Friday, March 2, 2018


I received this note earlier this week from a friend and colleague. It is quite insightful. I hope it is of value to you and to those you serve.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jack Easterby has a unique role on the New England Patriots Football team. “His official title: Character Coach/Team Development, is as surprising to see in an NFL front office as his role has become indispensable for the longest-running dynasty in NFL history,” writes Lorenzo Reyes in the USA Today. Yes, you read that right, Jack is a Character Coach for a professional football team. And, not just any team. One that has won more Super Bowls in the last 15 years than any other team. Thus far, New England is the only team to hire this position.

Jack was hired in 2013, as New England was seeking to respond well to the Aaron Hernandez murder of Odin Lloyd. It was a tense time in the Patriot’s locker room. He quickly realized “we can’t just talk about the problems we have. We need to work toward solutions.” So, how does he do that?

What Do the Players Say He Does for the Team?

Photo via WLTX19
1. He has an “unbending open-door policy.” 
Players can talk to him about anything and everything (big or small), and they do. He seeks out players before every game and tells them he appreciates them, which makes things safe for them to seek him out. He cultivates trust, which enables players to open up and to play at their best. “We’ve been through some things recently—things that have gone on in our country and things that have gone on in the league,” Easterby said of the political climate and social activism in the NFL. “I just think that love wins. Communication with others wins. Servanthood wins. That’s why when we went through some of the stuff we went through earlier this year, it was a conversation, not a judgment.”

2. He consistently seeks to add value to everyone. 
If Jack thinks a player can be helped by a book or a video or a scripture, he’ll drop it off at his locker. “Jack has been huge in my life,” left tackle Nate Solder, who was treated for testicular cancer in 2014 and whose son is currently being treated for a rare form of kidney cancer, told USA Today. “He’s one of my close friends. I call him about everything. I really, really appreciate his friendship.” He hosts parties and whiffle ball games at his house, serves at players’ weddings and greets everyone. “Around other teams, you have people like that, but from what I’ve seen, they’re all pretenders,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois told USA Today. “Just because they want to be around football players and get things. This guy here, every day, he walks up to us and feeds us positivity. Every single day. This dude is not pretending.”

3. He builds leaders. 
At times, he does more than encourage. He equips. And it’s not just players he serves. “Sometimes it’s actually working with a guy who wants to be a head coach and talking about leadership and growth,” Easterby said, before he paused, looked, and pointed in the direction of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who was named head coach of the Detroit Lions after the Super Bowl. “It doesn’t really matter who it is.” Jack knows that a leadership culture ultimately makes everyone better. It’s like raising the tide. When the tide goes up all the boats go up.

What We Can Learn as a Coach or Athletic Leader

You are likely not a Character Coach yourself. Perhaps you need to hire one. Perhaps you’re like me and simply need to learn from one. Based on this example, here are six changes I think will make us better at leading today’s athletes.

1. Don’t think CONTROL, think CONNECT.
It is natural for coaches to seek control of the team or practice. It’s the best way we know how to prepare for a game. But control is a myth—especially among competitive players. I suggest you go deeper at building relationships and trust with players. I have found if I will seek connection with them, I’ll earn the right to influence.

2. Don’t think INFORM, think INTERPRET.
Today’s athletes don’t need adults to get information. They have it on their portable device. They do need us, however, for interpretation. We must help them interpret all they heard and saw. Sometimes we’ll need to offer context to all the content they consume. If we can help them process (more than access), we will be relevant.

3. Don’t think WHAT, think WHY.
Too often, we’re prone to communicate with athletes by jumping right into “what” we want to say, forgetting we are competing with thousands of other messages they receive daily. I have found if I will begin with “why”—they can engage with almost any “how.” We must furnish the “whys” behind the drills or disciplines to engage them.

4. Don’t think RULES, think EQUATIONS.
No athlete I know likes “rules.” They endure them. What if we switched out the rules for equations—meaning we simply explain the consequences and benefits to all of their decisions? And then, we let them live with their decisions to learn. Life is full of equations, meaning the ups and downs of choices. This is how they’ll grow.

5. Don’t just speak to their HEAD, speak to their HEART.
Many coaches are “old school.” They’re used to just addressing the head of their athletes, imposing or downloading plays or strategies. And those are important. But if we’ll speak to the heart, maybe even with an arm around their shoulder, we might be amazed at how this accelerates all they need to learn in their head.

Want to prepare athletes for excellence in sports and life? 
Check out Habitudes® for Athletes.