Friday, November 27, 2020

Sabbatical Reflections

Sabbatical reflections:

 


For the first time in my twenty-six years of serving with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we as staff have been afforded the luxury of a thirty day paid sabbatical. Its intent is for rest, renewal, and reflection. I had been planning to take my sabbatical, now available once every three years, in the spring of 2021, but as the United States’ response to COVID-19 has led to wide shutdowns or postponements of sporting seasons, I decided to take it from mid-September through mid-October as these are likely the least busy weeks for the coming twelve months. Some reflections on the sabbatical, its shape, and its outcomes are below.

 

  • It took me a whole week to slow down. I normally go at a rapid rate with lots of energy and activity. Dealing with COVID-19 issues had slowed things down a bit already, but it still took a solid week before I had the ability to be introspective and to think deeply about some things.
    • That first introspective thought came as I was on a brisk walk through the campus on an early morning, just before dawn. As I approached the football stadium I could see the lights were on. As I drew closer I could see the north gate was open. As I neared the gate I could see and hear players at practice. I walked past, not being allowed inside the university athletics bubble since early August, and thought, “Normally, I would be in there with them, but I am out here in exile.” Exile. I began to contemplate, “What am I supposed to be learning while in exile? What did Israel learn while in exile?” I determined I would read every Bible text I could find written by, to, or for those in exile. That reading was convicting, comforting, and insightful. It was most encouraging when I read this promise in Isaiah 51:14-16. I wrote it in my journal and dwelt on it for days. This text gave me great confidence for what was to be after I returned from sabbatical with hopes to be allowed inside the athletics bubble. (I was thrilled that to see those hopes come to full fruition the day I returned.)

14 The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. 15 For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar (the Lord of armies is His name). 16 And I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”

  • It was very helpful to have a plan. Mine was to read several books (reading a couple for a second or third time), and to have long talks over lunch with a number of carefully selected, long-term friends.
  • I journaled daily.
  • I had a lot of time at home with my wife of forty-five years. Since late February, the COVID situation has had us occupying the same space, has limited my travel – even locally, and then adding in a thirty day sabbatical gave us both a look at what my retirement would look like. Neither of us are ready for that!
  • It would have been better if I could have traveled, just to get away from things that can pop up when one is at home, but in this era it was neither wise nor helpful. I would have gone to Florida to stay in a friend’s condo on the beach or to a similarly remote place to eliminate distractions.
  • It was also helpful to have desired outcomes. Mine were go gather perspective, that is a sense of where we are, where we’re going, and what is coming in the next years. I had also begun to think about this idea, “If the Lord is preparing new wine for His followers, and I believe He is, we will need new wineskins. What should they look like?”
    • I chose books to read based on these desired outcomes. The books are in this photo.



    • I chose and scheduled my long lunches with friends based on these desired outcomes. These friends all live in a three hour radius of my home. They included my son, my mentor, my best friend from high school, my present best friend, a couple of pastors, and a friend from the music world.
  • Though the sabbatical is intended to be a total cessation from work, I did engage in a couple of unique opportunities with ministry leaders I love and respect.
    • I was asked to do a presentation and to facilitate a discussion for Nations of Coaches and I was thrilled to do so.
    • I was asked to do the same for the annual PowerUp Sports Ministry Conference and I also enjoyed being a part of that.

 

If you should be given the opportunity to take a sabbatical, whether three days, thirty days, three months, or a year, take it. I was well satisfied with mine as I emerged with clearer perspective, a sense of what new wineskins look like for ministry in sport, and renewed energy and vision for daily ministry. I would recommend you get away from potential distractions if possible. I would recommend you have a plan and desired outcomes for your sabbatical.

Friday, November 13, 2020

More Emotions Experienced by Sports Chaplains and Character Coaches

Here’s another set of the emotions experienced by sports chaplains and character coaches. See if they resonate with your heart.

Ambivalence – I find myself feeling rather ambivalent when encountering most of the noise on social media. Rather than being outraged, I think, “Whatever.” When friends, colleagues, family, or even the people we serve offer well-meaning distractions, we’re often left feeling ambivalent because we’re on a different path. When you feel ambivalent about the right things, take heart, you’re doing well.

Disgust – When our own behavior doesn’t line up with our highest expectations, it’s normal to feel disgusted. When the terrible weakness of our flesh pops its head up and demands to be obeyed, disgust is a proper emotion. Don’t let disgust turn into self-loathing or depression. Confess, repent, and be restored. Move on. You’ll notice I didn’t mention disgust with others’ issues.

Anger – When I see how sin terrorizes my friends’ lives, I’m angry. When I encounter forces that conspire to ruin people’s souls, I get angry. When my anger fuels my passion and energizes my zeal for God’s will, it’s healthy. When my anger leads me to lash out at people, I need to take a few steps back.

Excitement – When a new opportunity arises, I’m excited. When a soul we’re nurturing shows signs of growth, I’m jacked up! When someone shows genuine interest in the person of Jesus, I’m over the moon. That’s even better than two minutes to game time excitement.

Disillusion – When ministry leaders follow the world’s way while serving in the Kingdom of God, I get a little disillusioned. When our calling is dismissed as unimportant or not worthy of the time, energy, finances, and heart invested,  my soul aches. Beware the whirlpool of disillusionment. It can draw you down to despair.

Loss – We experience loss when the players or coaches we have grown to love leave our club. Through trade, firing, retirement, or other reasons, we feel the pain of loss when our friends leave us. Sadly, some of our most treasured colleagues leave our ministries and we feel the personal loss very deeply. Though we say we’ll keep in touch, the sad fact is that we rarely do. Don’t let the momentary pain of loss prevent you from taking the risk to form deep, genuine friendships.

Anticipation – When a new season approaches, we are full of vision and imagination about what will be. When we experience a change in coaching staff, there is tremendous anticipation for what this group will accomplish, how they will lead, and how we can serve with them. When a new opportunity appears to serve a person, a club, a school, or a team our hearts swell with anticipation about what the Lord will do. Don’t lose that feeling. It’s a gift.

I hope you experience the complete spectrum of emotions as you serve in sport. That’s one way we know we’re truly alive.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Emotions Sports Chaplains Experience

Those of us serving as sports chaplains or character coaches regularly experience a wide spectrum of emotions. Some simple thoughts about those emotions follow. 

Elation – When our team or individuals achieve highly, when we see evidence of someone’s growth in Christ, when we observe a developmental milestone being reached by someone we serve, we are elated! These are the best of times; don’t miss them. 

Disappointment – When our team experiences a last-second loss, when a friend, colleague, or someone we’re serving has a moral failure, or even when one for whom we care walks away from the faith, we encounter the bitterness of disappointment. In these moments, be sure to learn something. 

Grief – More often than I would like to recall, I have walked through grief with coaches, athletes, their families, and certainly with my own family. This emotion and all that accompanies it can be a soul-cleansing agent, stripping away the clutter of trivial matters, clarifying values, and deepening relationships. When you walk into it, allow it to scour your heart. 

Frustration – When our aspirations are delayed or denied, when our hopes are crushed, when our friends and colleagues are derailed, we will deal with some frustration. Whether due to foolish expectations, another’s failures, or our own personal weaknesses, frustration is a common virus for relationships. Treat the virus with forgiveness, mercy, affirmation of relationship, and vision for a better future. 

Joy – I see joy as emotional buoyancy. No matter how turbulent the seas, the joyful person has the buoyancy to stay afloat in the storm. In placid, glassy seas joy carries along with gentleness and a strong sense of wellbeing. When things are bit stormy, joy helps us ride the ups and downs of emotion, strained relationships, and worry. When all goes sideways, the waves are crashing onto the deck, and we fear being capsized, joy speaks to our hearts with calm assurance, quells the fear, and settles our emotions. Let joy carry your heart securely. 

Fulfillment – Sometimes the best case scenario actually happens. We’re often as surprised as anyone when that happens! When a long held dream is realized, we experience fulfillment. When the vision we carried in our souls for years is accomplished, its fulfillment is so sweet. When we find ourselves perfectly fit for a role in serving God’s purposes, we know the very height of fulfillment. Do yourself a favor, get to that spot as soon as possible. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

New Wineskins

During my recently completed 30-day sabbatical I had lots of time to read, to think, and to ruminate on ideas. Going into the sabbatical I had been thinking about new wine and new wineskins. If the Lord is producing new wine, what would new wineskins look like in our era of ministry in sport? Some thoughts, somewhat scattered to be sure, follow. This is a work in progress.

The reading, and in some cases reading again, of these books inform the thought below. Rare Leadership by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder. The Passion Generation by Grant Skeldon. Perils of Leadership by Kenneth Prior. The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G. Hunter III. I found each of these to be of great value.





New wine is: dynamic, powerful, delicious, and very desirable. Its dynamism and power is what makes old wineskins inappropriate, the skins burst and the wine is wasted. Its flavor and desirability is what gives it value. New wine demands new wineskins. New wine frees the spirit, instead of controlling the flesh.

New wineskins, are they containers for new wine? No, that is what a vat is. Rather, wineskins are delivery systems for wine contained in vats. New wine requires new delivery systems. What might define or characterize those delivery systems?

I believe new wineskins will value: relationship over information, identity over performance, identity over conformity, identity over accountability, love over law, mercy over judgment, grace over earning, who over what, why over how, and spirit over flesh. It is relational, rather than transactional.

Believers full of new wine will serve others by encouraging them to grow in relationship with Jesus and His church, emphasizing: belonging, identity, and joy. This is discipleship for now and coming years.
  • Build groups for relationships that love and form identity.
  • Create events to awaken hunger and thirst for belonging, identity, and joy.
  • Recruit people with strong emotional intelligence (more than academic or technical skills) to lead others into belonging, identity, and joy.
  • New wineskins will not be defined nor limited by geography.
  • New wineskins will build community with the strong and the weak being together.
  • New wineskins will enable people to love and serve all those in their communities.
  • New wineskins are directed toward those who hunger and thirst for the new wine.
  • New wineskins are delivery systems for God’s life to hungry souls.
Discipleship and mentorship of new wine will require a different sort of wineskin than in the past.
  • Instead of meetings over coffee simply to deliver information; it will also require time spent together in the mentor’s daily activity (see the list below).
  • Less like a classroom ;more like a laboratory.
  • Less like an instructor with a student; more like a craftsman with an apprentice.
  • I will invite mentees into my life’s normal activity:
  • Daily life on campus, in area schools, at practices.
  • Visits to hospitals, surgery centers, emergency rooms, funerals.
  • Game day preparations, chapel talks, service in locker rooms.
  • Small group meetings with coaches, athletes, support staff.
  • Training events, staff meetings, conferences.
  • Study retreats, sabbath days.
  • Mentoring appointments, discipleship groups.
  • International travel to serve, train, and develop relationships.
  • Meals in our home.
One action point for me was to work with three young people (19-23 years old) to develop a series of discussions on how Jesus gives people belonging, identity, and joy as described in the Gospel of Mark. I identified stories containing each of those characteristics in eighteen separate passages in Mark’s Gospel. One female golfer, a female basketball player, and a male basketball player will collaborate with me in composing discussion questions and we’ll test it with a group next semester.

Certainly none of these ideas are revolutionary or even new to most of us. I do believe that they are worthy of emphasis, important to develop, and essential to employ. If the Lord is producing new wine in the souls of His followers, and I believe He is, we must find and develop delivery systems sufficient for the precious, delicious, dynamic, valuable, and powerful new wine. To do so will be transformational. To fail will be tragic.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

For the Beloved Left Behind

 For the Beloved Left Behind

When those you love break your heart, let it break.

When the ones you love rip you apart, let it be.

Your brokenness will soothe their bitter souls.


When those you serve crush your soul, let it be crushed. 

When your leaders drain your soul of its passion, let it pour out.

Your soul’s wine will drown their folly.


When people ignore your gospel pleas, let them walk.

When their hearts are hard and their ears are dull, let them go.

Your loving appeal will find a fruitful hearing in softer hearts.


When your mind is confused, take a step back.

When your brain is tired and dull, slow down and listen.

Your Savior is speaking; lean in to hear.


When your life is sinking, let joy keep you afloat.

When your soul begins to drift, let hope be your anchor.

You will be light and life to a watching world.


When your body aches and slows, stay on course.

When eyes dim and strength fades, don't give up. 

Your Lord will fulfill His purpose in you. 


When pain arrives, welcome it as a mentor.

When injury and disease walk in, give them a smile.

Your enduring spirit subdues their momentary evil.


When you love, do it in an extravagant way.

When you serve, do it in a selfless way.

When you compete, do it in a Christ-honoring way.

When you live, do it in a passionate way. 


Beloved, when I am gone and you remain, don't cry for me.

Beloved, when my heart has stopped and my soul flies free, at perfect rest I will be.

Beloved, you will be safe and secure in my Father's arms and forever in my heart.


Roger Lipe 

14 October, 2020

Friday, September 25, 2020

Leadership or Faithfulness?

Trends in ministry tend to shift from one area of emphasis to another, sometimes at a glacial pace and other times more quickly. One trend from the 1990s through the first years of this century was the topic of leadership in Christian ministry. Those in churches took one approach, those in parachurch organizations usually had a different angle, authors wrote their books, presenters did their training workshops, conferees attended conferences and summits, all under the assumption (and often with language like) “everything rises and falls with leadership.” Ironically, it was usually the highest ranking leader in the room who would state that. 

With the advantage of a few years to lend some perspective, and with the history of some of those who most loudly proclaimed the virtues of leadership, I am not so sure we were well served by this emphasis. It largely went unchallenged at the time, but some of us were quietly asking, “Are we really going to excuse this sort of behavior from these people, just because they are identified as leaders?” 

The tragic falls from grace by a few of the leaders many revered or gave demigod status, have jaded many and have shipwrecked the faith of many more. I believed then and more strongly believe now, that the pursuit of leadership as an end in itself is foolish and borders on idolatry. I will not mention names, though I am quite sure you have built a list of less than godly leaders in your mind. 

During that era the visionary, get-it-done, loud, and enthusiastic leader was the prototype and many of us bowed down to the pragmatic effectiveness of such leaders. Our models were more often drawn from US corporate culture than the holy scriptures, biblical models, or Christian history. 

Many of us, if not cut from that cloth, either discounted our abilities as leaders and withdrew, or with others simply put on that ill-fitting façade and tried the “fake it ‘til we make it” approach. Lots of us found that this highly demanding form of leadership, was for us, like David wearing Saul’s armor prior to taking on Goliath. Remember if you will this passage from I Samuel 17, starting at verse 37. And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.” 38 Then Saul clothed David with his garments and put a bronze helmet on his head, and he clothed him with armor. 39 David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. So David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” And David took them off. 40 He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine. 

Those of us who survived the leadership culture (maybe cults) of this previous era have mostly taken off Saul’s untested armor and have gone back to our well-tested slings and stones. We have come to appreciate how our Lord has wired us as leaders, and we have approached the Philistines in faith and confidence. 

In deference to the “it all rises and falls on leadership” crowd, leadership is important. I would offer that “it all rises and falls on faithfulness.” Whatever one’s role: leader, follower, support staff, administrator, bus driver, sports chaplain, character coach or custodian, let’s aim for faithfulness.

As the Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians chapter 4 verse 2, Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. This is the measure of a steward; faithfulness more than success. Fidelity more than position. Trustworthiness more than title.

Rather than be frustrated that Saul’s armor is a poor fit, take some time to discover your unique giftedness, your calling, your leadership style, and more. Tools like this spiritual gifts survey can be helpful in determining some factors that will shape your approach to leadership - https://gifts.churchgrowth.org/spiritual-gifts-survey/gifts-survey/ You may also consider some of the leadership books that describe a wide variety of leadership styles, most importantly one in which you can be faithful. One of those is Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels (ironic, I know). Let’s strive to be faithful to the Lord’s way, to His will, and to His calling.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Blog post for Sport/Faith/Life

Blog post for Sport/Faith/Life 

In July of 1994 I walked into the offices of Saluki Football on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. I went in to welcome the new thirty-four-year-old head coach for Saluki Football, Shawn Watson, back to campus. He had played here, had started his coaching career, and had just arrived on campus with a mountainous challenge and modest resources. 

During our conversation I offered to help him in any way I could, and he said, “When I played here we had team chaplain. Would you do that for me?” I agreed to do it, we prayed together, and I walked out of the office without one solitary idea of what to do. I walked down the hall to see our athletic director, Jim Hart. Jim had played eighteen years in the National Football League and I hoped he would have some ideas for me. He provided two memories of his chaplain while with the St. Louis Cardinals, Walt Enoch. 

Those simple lessons from Walt were very helpful, but I had a lot to learn. The contents of this book are the things I wish I had known when I first started. More than twenty-five years of experiences and insights are contained herein. I hope they serve you well as you serve the men and women of sport in your community. 

That is the introduction to Front Lines – Becoming an Effective Sports Chaplain or Character Coach. The book was published in May of 2020 by Cross Training Publishing. 

A couple years ago I was chatting with a sports chaplaincy colleague from the United Kingdom. He asked if I would consider putting together a book for those who serve as sports chaplains, one that would contain very practical thoughts, virtually a, “how to guide.” As I began to contemplate his request and to incubate some thoughts about content, I realized that’s largely what I have been writing in weekly blog posts since 2007. 

That blog can be found at - http://sportchaplainsportmentor.blogspot.com, and I began writing it simply because of the terrible dearth of quality resources available for those who serve in this form of Christian ministry. As I would observe others’ excellence in ministry, I would share what I saw. If I had stumbled upon some that was effective, I would write about that. As I encountered applicable ideas in conferences, in books or periodicals, I would share them with my list of around 500 sports chaplains around the world via email and would archive them in the blog. 

I gathered a number of posts I thought could work for content in such a book but needed a way for it to have some sense of form for the book to have practical value to the reader. For that form I chose this outline: 

Sports Chaplaincy Essentials – there are certain things that everyone who serves as a sports chaplain should embody, believe, and to which he or she should hold tightly. 
Character Qualities – persistence, intuition, confidence, empathy, loyalty, and more. 
Identity – having a firm grasp of our true identity and its enemies is absolutely essential. 
Values – these chapters call the reader to embrace a set of essential values for wise and effective service. 

How to Start – this is, for many, the most difficult part of the process and this section probes multiple layers of starting service of a team or a new season. 

How to Serve - People – how we serve various sets of people can vary widely. 
Teams – settings, sports cultures, and levels of sport all shape our opportunities. 
Values – holding to proper values will enhance our ministries, but a foolish approach will diminish them. 

How to Serve - Processes – there are many ways to grow, to develop, and to endure in this ministry. 
Values – this may be the most challenging segment of the book. 
Professional Development – there are ways we can purposefully grow and strengthen our ministries. Pick some. Do them. 
Self-Care – this may be the most overlooked element of Christian ministry. A few ideas for how to endure in ministry are listed here. 

How to Serve - Situations – a wide variety of experiences are chronicled here, from my own experiences or those of colleagues. 
Daily Life – ideas for evaluation, design, and execution of ministry strategies are outlined in this chapter. 
Critical Incidents and Crises – some very practical ideas and a few stories of having served in moments of crisis, pressure, and chaos are chronicled in this challenging chapter. 

How to Finish – to have a plan for walking along with those finishing a season, a coaching staff’s tenure with your club, a player’s or coach’s career, and one’s own service as a sports chaplain is immeasurably valuable. 

Appendix: Resources, Bibliography, and Links – a number of on-line resources, books, websites, YouTube channels, and more are listed with QR codes to expedite one’s connecting to them via smart phone. 

Having served in this role for over twenty-six years, having a global network of colleagues and friends in sports chaplaincy, and having lived sixty-four years, have been of marginal value in this present, COVID-19 virus infested season of life. However, the truth of Holy Scripture, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, my family, and the lessons learned across the years, those now chronicled in this book have led to new, innovative, and dynamic forms of ministry. Let’s lean into who we are and what we know to do as we stride boldly into all God has prepared for us.

Sabbatical Reflections