Friday, May 12, 2017

Chapels for Visiting Teams

This Sunday morning I will have an opportunity that I have been trying to apprehend for a number of months. I will lead a baseball chapel for the visiting team of Sunday’s college baseball game, the finale of the weekend series. I have prepared a handout for each player in attendance. It is identical to the one I’ll use for our team that same morning, except for the team specific information and photo. It contains an excerpt from my devotional book, Heart of a Champion, a prayer from, The Competitor’s Book of Prayer (adapted to baseball), and some contact information for me and for the new F.C.A. Director in the visiting team’s community. The handout is shown below.

This is very common in professional baseball as Baseball Chapel ( has the home team chapel leader to conduct chapels for both the home and the visiting teams. They are usually done consecutively in each team’s dugout or in another convenient area for the players. In years past I have arranged for chapel speakers for visiting college football teams. Either I would speak with them or I would arrange for a trusted friend and colleague to speak with the team. I have also done this with visiting women’s basketball teams when they come to our community to play our university’s team.

Many of our colleagues in other settings have done similarly, but I would urge you to consider the opportunities that may be at your hand. It took a few minutes to research the head coaches’ names and email addresses, and to then send an email offering to lead a chapel for their players. Of the four I emailed, two responded, and only one agreed to arrange a meeting room for his players. It may be that the simple arrangement of a chapel may spark interest in the visiting team’s players or their coaching staff for having a sports chaplain to serve their team. It could lead the players to investigate F.C.A. or another ministry on their campus. It could lead to some investigating the claims of Christ Jesus. It could simply be a moment of encouragement for a team battling toward the end of a disappointing season. I’ll aim to be faithful and will trust the Lord with the results.

Please consider taking a little time, a little risk, and the discomfort of walking into uncharted waters to serve selflessly and to love extravagantly.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Leading Millennial Sportspeople

Back on November 25, 2016 I wrote a reflection about serving Millennial sportspeople ( , and the issue of how to serve, to lead, and to coach this group has only intensified since then. I recently saw a Facebook link to a video about how to manage Millennials and found it to be quite insightful. Here is a link to the video featuring Simon Sinek.

Just a couple of hours after watching the video I had some time to contemplate its implications. I wrote down four coaching points that can be used by coaches and/or sports chaplains in working with Millennial sportspeople. They are below. Please consider using any or all of them with your teams.

1.   Create “phone free” spaces. Much of the reason for this group’s inability to speak with people face to face or to build relationships is that they are fixated by their mobile phones.
a.   Team meetings – require that no one bring his or her phone into team meetings. Leave them in the locker room or in your car.
b.   Team meals – if your team eats meals together, require them to not bring phones to the meals, ever.
c.   Position group meetings – require that your position group not bring their phones into the meeting space. Insist that they be 100% present to learn.
d.   Selected bus travel – I know one college basketball coach who collects all the team’s phones in a drawstring bag for bus travel on game day. It eliminates distractions and enables the players to focus on the task at hand. She returns the phones to them after the game.
2.   Create opportunities for making an “impact.” Many millennials want a sense of having made an impact on their world, and simply going to class, to practice, and to games may not scratch that itch.
a.   Provide opportunities for recurring community service - make it a regular service project in the same place with the same people so that relationships form and develop. This is where they will experience genuine impact.
b.   Mentoring of younger teammates – connect the eldest players with the youngest to learn their way around campus, to understand how the school works, to grasp the culture of the team and the community.
c.   Spotlight drill – select one player to be “spotlighted” and ask the other players to tell how the spotlighted player has made an impact on their lives, on the team, or on their community.
d.   Write thank you cards – distribute cards on which the players can write notes to thank their parents, their high school coach, their high school principal, or a donor to their sports program. Help them focus on people who helped them be where they area.
e.   Serve people who could never repay them – choose some from your community. It might be a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a women’s shelter, an animal rescue facility, or anything where they can see beyond their privilege and sense an impact upon others’ lives.
3.   Celebrate achievement, not simply participation. This generation grew up receiving participation medals. They were rewarded for simply showing up. This not only devalues the awards given, it also diminishes the true value of genuine achievement.
a.   Make a list of minimum expectations for everyone involved. These are not to be celebrated, they are the bare minimum.
b.   Make a list of achievements that will be celebrated. Celebrate these strongly.
c.   Make the two lists widely different.
4.   Help them declare independence from their parents. We’ve all heard the stories of “helicopter parents” and many of us have lived those stories. Help your players declare their independence, cut the apron strings, grow up, and find freedom. Help them compose a letter with ideas such as these:
a.   Dad and Mom, thank you for helping me to grow and to find my way to this team.
b.   Please, now allow me enough room to compete, to succeed, and to fail.
c.   Please affirm these expectations for both academic and athletic performance that come with being a part of this team.
d.   Please celebrate with me as I achieve in the classroom and on the field of competition.
e.   To simply participate is not good enough at this level. I must meet the minimum expectations and strive to really achieve.
f.     Thank you.

These are just some first thoughts from this excellent video. We must find new and creative ways to push through the counterproductive and often annoying traits of Millennials as we coach them. We must find ways to lead, to inspire, and to encourage them to be all that God created them to be.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Week - Global Perspectives

One of the joys of having traveled to various parts of the globe is to observe and learn from different Christian traditions. To see the varying cultural expressions of Christian faith enriches my own understanding of Christ’s transforming work in my life as I see it through the prism of a new culture. There are remarkably different emphases given to various parts of Holy Week. A few simple, but important areas of emphasis follow.

At the time of this writing, it is Thursday of Holy Week, Maundy (Commandment) Thursday. I had never even heard that term until the late 1980s. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and everything was focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was a joy to welcome a new point of emphasis during Holy Week as we celebrated with the remarkably rich scriptures which occurred on Thursday of that week in Jesus’ life. We found new significance for communion as we celebrated with the apostles and saints across the ages. We spent more time in quiet contemplation, in reflection, in confession and in repentance. After this experience, each Maundy Thursday rings with Jesus’ words,  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 My sporting friends who embrace Maundy Thursday find its benefit as they build deeper relationships with their coaching colleagues, with their players, and among their teammates.

In the Western Church, the normal focus of Holy Week is Good Friday. The atonement for sin is the major emphasis. We heartily sing, “The Old Rugged Cross” and other cross themed hymns and focus on Jesus’ sacrificial death in our place. The ministry with which I serve gives us Good Friday as a paid holiday. For that I am thankful. The university where I serve the sporting community is very secularized, but when I stand in a conspicuous place on campus on Good Friday with a twelve foot tall cross, hand out nails with a card attached, or simply read scripture and pray, it is received well because it’s Good Friday. The Christian sporting community that emphasizes Good Friday will focus on the grace of God in Jesus as experienced when their sin is exposed by the passions of sport. We find the mercy of God sufficient as we remember that Jesus has covered our sin and shame, and has restored us to right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

I was in my late thirties and reading Phillip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, before I had any grasp of how other cultures viewed Jesus. Further study revealed the fact that the Eastern Church, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and others, places more emphasis on the resurrection, Easter Sunday, than on Good Friday. For them, the emphasis is on Jesus having risen from the dead, His victory over sin and death. The obvious implication is that we are in Christ and therefore free from the power of sin. Rather than simply living in a cycle of sin, confession, repentance, returning to sin, and repeating the cycle. The Eastern Church emphasizes victory over sin through Jesus’ power over sin because of the resurrection. My sporting friends who embrace Easter Sunday find that they live in sport with joy, freedom, and shameless enjoyment of their lives.

Regardless of your faith tradition, please embrace the beauty, the pain, the passion, the silence, and the glorious victory of Holy Week. Please also welcome the sportspeople you serve into your experience of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy. This weekend is the perfect time.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Job, Career, or Calling?

Once again this week I am sharing an insight from the FCA Coaches Ministry event in Springfield, Illinois (USA) back on March 11. It pays to hang out with insightful people.

A statement made in passing by that day’s featured presenter, Dr. Jeff Duke, was that some people who work in sport do it as a job, a way to make money. Others have sport as their career, demonstrating sustained excellence across time. Still others treat sport as a calling, having a strong sense of purpose for life. I’d like to develop those thoughts, one at a time.

We all know people for whom sport is their job, nothing more. This surely applies to the player who tolerates practice, travel and all that sport requires. We probably know coaches whose primary interest in sport is the paycheck. This even fits the administrator, vendor, equipment manager, or physio who has a job in sport like they would have a job in a bank, a restaurant, or driving a truck. They measure things like hours, money, and maybe productivity, but nothing deeper than that.

It is likely we know people for whom sport is their career. They have excelled in at least one facet of sport and have found it to be more than just a job. They find it to be fulfilling and more rewarding than just their paycheck. These people tend to work longer hours with less complaint that those who just have jobs. They tend to commit more deeply to the people and to the institutions they serve. They tend to stay longer in the service of one university, high school, club, or team than others. These people measure achievement, long-term relationships, terms of service, and value continuity.

Many of us know, and more of us are, people who live in sport as a calling. We are vocational about sport. We have heard God’s calling to the sporting world and to sporting people. We believe we were uniquely chosen, equipped, placed, and are sustained for life in sport. We trust God with situations and relationships that are beyond what career or job oriented people would ever engage. We measure things like conversations, discipleship relationships, hours of investment in players, teams, coaches, and families. We think in terms of decades, and even generations.

If you have a job in sport, good. Be great at it and it could become a career. If you have a sporting career, I hope it brings you rich fulfillment and reward. If you find your heart desiring even more, you may have a calling. If your calling is to live in sport, you are divinely ruined. Nothing else will satisfy your soul or engage your mind. One can quit a job or make a career change at almost any time. But one cannot quit his or her calling. God will protect His divine investment in your heart until it is fulfilled.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sport and Identity

During a recent FCA Coaches Ministry event, the presenter made an excellent statement regarding the power of sport in cultures. He said that it was a matter of identity and tied it to three specific dynamics in which people find identity.
1.   Sport gives people a sense of belonging to something.
2.   Sport gives people a cause greater than one’s self.
3.   Sport gives people a sense of purpose.

That idea immediately resonated with me and I’ve been thinking about it for the two weeks since I heard it. Let’s think about each of these ideas and draw some ministry points from them.

1.   Sport gives people a sense of belonging to something. This is certainly the case for the countless young people who come to sport from terribly fractured backgrounds. It’s common for them to feel terribly alone since the normal structures to which they could belong are broken. Family, church, community, and other support structures, for them, are either shattered or absent altogether. Some of the things in which they may find this sense of belonging are pernicious: gangs are far too common on the margins of society, and they prey on the lost sense of belonging in young people. Sports teams have been a redemptive factor for generations of young people, providing a sense of family, a set of adults who genuinely care about them, loving nurture for their young souls, and safety for their entire vulnerable selves. This is even true for sports fans as it’s rather common to see middle-aged men wearing ridiculously expensive, “authentic” game jerseys of their favorite teams emblazoned with the name of their favorite player on the back. To identify with the sports team gives these people a sense of belonging to something, even more, something successful and socially prominent. Just watch your social media feeds for posts re: “_____________ Nation!!” Many fans find themselves being identified by their favorite sports teams. Many sportspeople wear their team gear in public, away from sporting environments, primarily because their identity is directly tied to their belonging to the team.
2.   Sport gives people a cause greater than one’s self. To be a part of a sports team gives people the sense of being caught up in movement. As a part of the team, there are other people working with the individual, there are coaches giving leadership, there is a specific goal at hand that we all strive together to accomplish. The cause, pursuing a victory, building our team, developing our teamwork, and more is the stuff of inspiration and motivation. Many young people move from a sporting experience in video game form, where the individual controls everything, to a genuine sporting experience where he or she is a part of a larger movement of people, and many find it liberating. Others obsess over the loss of control. In either case, they find that sport gives them a sense of being a part of a cause greater than themselves. Sports fans also connect here as they will often see themselves as a part of the team and its cause. You’ll hear fans say, “We won by 14 points yesterday.” As if they had anything to do with the victory, they use first person pronouns to describe the event. They feel that they’re a part of the cause. A sportsperson’s mood, the ones actually engaged in sport, is often directly tied to the results of his or her most recent competition. The success or failure of the cause is felt deeply as the person is so tightly identified with it.
3.   Sport gives people a sense of purpose. One of the best things about sport is that it engages all of the sportsperson’s life in it. When sport is at its best, body, mind, spirit, and social elements of each person is deeply involved in the pursuit of excellence and a goal. This gives the sportsperson a great sense of purpose. It helps one feel like his or her life matters. We feel like we fit in the world. This is true for the 60 year old team chaplain standing on the sideline of a college football game, chatting with a Women’s basketball coach at practice, leaning over the rail at a swim meet to encourage a swimmer, or leading a Bible study between batting practice and game time. I have a great sense of purpose in these sporting environments and there is no place I’d rather be. I believe this is also part of the reason people engage in “fantasy team” leagues and others wager on sporting events. Surely greed and the love of money is a part of it, but some find these activities to provide a personal sense of purpose for each week’s NFL game. They don’t even follow their favorite teams, they root for the statistical performance of individual players or for the teams on which they bet to achieve relative to the wagered point spread. Sport can provide a great sense of presence, often wisely for the sportsperson directly involved, but often less than wisely for those living through it vicariously via fantasy teams or gambling on it.
The whole discussion of one’s identity being found in sport has to be tempered by the understanding that it is inherently limited and even dangerous. To tie one’s sense of identity to an activity that will be ultimately posted on a scoreboard has real problems. It’s too flighty and insecure to be healthy. To be identified by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, to be found in Him, to be crucified with Him, to be raise up with Him, to be His workmanship, to be His joint heir, is much more secure and much more fulfilling.
May I challenge you as I do myself? First and foremost, rest your identity fully in the personal work of and relationship with Christ. Secondly, find great joy, fulfillment, sorrow, loss, exhilaration, and grief in the daily experiences of sport. The security of the former allows us to take the risks of the latter. It’s reasonable for us to find a sense of belonging, a cause bigger than ourselves, and a strong sense of purpose in sport, if it is subjected to the rock solid sense of belonging, cause, and purpose we have as being a child of the Living God. There is no need to reject one to hold to the other. Hold your life in sport loosely, it is fleeting and temporal. Christ Jesus holds your life in Him tightly, it is secure and eternal.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sports Chaplaincy and the 10,000 Hour Rule

Last weekend I attended an FCA Coaches ministry event in my state and marveled at the authority carried by our presenter, the depth of his understanding of the material he presented, and the way the whole room of 100+ coaches were riveted to his presentation. There are dozens of others who are certified to present this material, and many of them do it quite well, but no one carries the same weight of authenticity that we experience when this man is at the front of the room. Why is that?

It’s not about the material, they each have the same notes, the same presentations, even the same movie clips. It’s not a matter of intellect; each of the presenters have plenty of intelligence, plenty of knowledge, and plenty of capacity. It’s not even a matter of personality; there are lots of dynamic men and women presenting this model of ministry. So what is it?

As I drove home Saturday evening, I think I arrived at the answer. It’s found in Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book, Outliers, that I read several years ago. Chapter two of that book is titled, “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” Page forty contains this paragraph, “The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.” - Daniel Levitin “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why come people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that is needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

I read that book nine years ago and immediately agreed with his premise and the excellent examples in the book. I have also observed it in action in some people I know who are world-class experts in their fields. It was worked out in front of me on Saturday and I began to apply these ideas to the world of sports chaplaincy.

In my monthly conference calls with sports chaplaincy colleagues from around the USA, I regularly ask, “How long did it take for you to get a handle on this role and to feel like you knew what you were doing?” Most are humble and realistic enough to say that they haven’t arrived at that point yet. Wise answer. Let’s consider some math and some scenarios about how long it may take to get to 10,000 hours and to achieve world-class mastery of sports chaplaincy.

For this exercise I’ll paint a picture using American Football chaplaincy among university teams as a premise.
Scenario A – (much like the schedule of a volunteer chaplain)
          Four weeks of preseason practices, 30 minutes at practice x 6 days = 3 hours per week, 12 hours total.
          Four weeks of preseason meetings and meals at 1 hour each x 6 days = 6 hours per week, 24 hours total.
          Two preseason chapels at 15 minutes each = .5 hours total.
          A 12 game season attending three practices per week at 30 minutes each = 90 minutes per week, 18 hours total.
          12 game days at 7 hours per week, 84 hours total.
          6 travel days at 10 hours per week, 60 hours total.
          Total hours per season = 198.5           10,000 hours / 198.5 = 50 seasons to attain world-class mastery.

Scenario B – (Let’s suppose one spends much more time with the team per week.)
          Four weeks of preseason practices, 2 hours at practice x 6 days = 12 hours per week, 48 hours total.
          Four weeks of preseason meetings and meals at 2 hours each x 6 days = 12 hours per week, 48 hours total.
          Two preseason chapels at 15 minutes each = .5 hours total.
          A 12 game season attending five practices per week at 2 hours each = 10 hours per week, 120 hours total.
          12 game days at 7 hours per week, 84 hours total.
          6 travel days at 10 hours per week, 60 hours total.
          Total hours per season = 360.5           10,000 hours / 360.5 = 27+ seasons to attain world-class mastery.

Scenario C – (Let’s suppose you are a staff member and sports chaplaincy is your full-time occupation, working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year.)
          Total hours per year = 2,000                10,000 hours / 2,000 = 5 seasons to attain world-class mastery.

In my experience, there are lots of people in Scenario A, fewer in Scenario B, and very few in Scenario C. In any case, to accumulate 10,000 hours in serving as a sports chaplain will take a very long time. Few of us will invest that much time into a voluntary ministry opportunity. So what’s the point?

There are actually several points:
1.   Watch your attitude. If you think you have this all figured out, you are probably wrong. Unless you have amassed the 10,000 hours to be seen as a world-class expert in this matter, keep yourself in position to learn.
2.   Keep at it. Overnight sensations are never that. Most people who achieve powerfully have toiled in obscurity for thousands of hours, honing their skills, mastering their craft before anyone really noticed. Be that committed to your service and press on.
3.   Appreciate excellence when you see it. When you encounter someone who seems to have what all the others pretend to have, pay attention, ask questions, learn from him or her. That person has likely invested the time, the effort, and the attention to become as proficient as he or she is.
4.   Strive to become a world-class master of your craft. Set your course toward excellence and don’t be detoured. Read and learn widely. Ask good questions of those who excel. Find and spend time with wise mentors. Commit to your task and practice purposeful neglect. Set aside the petty distractions and get your 10,000 hours in.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Reality Check - Reprise

Today’s note is a reprise of a note from May of 2011. It is even more poignant today than then. I hope it serves you well.

Every year I observe parents, coaches, school athletic directors and even sport chaplains as they relentlessly drive young athletes toward the goal of becoming a “Division I student-athlete.” Their rationale is overly simple, “If you work hard enough, you can earn a Division I full-ride scholarship to college.” They’ve bought the foolish end of the American dream, “You can be anything you want to be.”

The reality is much the opposite and one simple statistic bears this out. Only 3% of all high school student-athletes ultimately receive any measure of scholarship to compete in college sports. Three out of one hundred receive anything. If the goal of the endless hours of practices, private lessons, thousands of miles driven to out of state games, tens of thousands of dollars spent to be a part of “travel teams,” and the untold measure of grief, anxiety, pressure and emotional trauma endured by the family is a total loss on 97% of those involved. If the acquisition of a college scholarship is the goal, almost everyone fails.

If, however, the goal is something other, one’s chance of success is much greater. If we can simply focus on the athlete’s experience with the sport, with his or her teammates, with the coaches, officials and opponents, the athlete is suddenly free to experience the sport without the artificial pressure to perform for an elusive and probably unrealistic goal several years in the future.

More simply said, the goal of earning a scholarship must not be the goal. It is simply too remote and results in failure for almost everyone concerned. Let’s focus on this game, this practice, this day and an attitude which helps the players, coaches, parents and everyone else to experience the best parts of sport. Hear Jesus’ words from Mark chapter 6 and verse 34, "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Bottom line – Mom and Dad, back off! Give your child a break! Coach, stop it. Your quixotic drive to get your player a D-I scholarship will not be the validation of your coaching. Chaplain, cut it out. Your attempts to manipulate your relationships in sport will not enhance your ministry even if the student-athlete becomes All-American and ultimately a pro All-Star. Let’s help those we lovingly lead to experience the best of sport in the moment. Let’s help them cultivate a growing sense of the Lord’s presence and pleasure in the activity of sport. That is an enduring joy which does not require a scholarship.