Monday, September 19, 2016

Questions for Contemplation

Coach Joe Ehrmann’s influence in the coaching community of the United States cannot be overstated. Season of Life, by Jeffrey Marx is a book about Joe and his pilgrimage from an abusive past to a transformational present and future of coaching at Gilman School in Baltimore, MD. Joe’s book, InSideOut Coaching, is among the best books on coaching that I’ve ever read. I constantly share its principles and practices with coaches in my sphere of influence.

I’d like to adapt and apply some of the questions Joe uses in training coaches with us today. Joe’s questions are: “Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way that you coach? What does it feel like to be coached by you? How do you define success?” Excellent and probing questions, all.
                                                                                                                                             
I would like to have us consider these questions:
1.   Why do you serve as a sports chaplain or character coach?
2.   Why do you serve the way that you do?
3.   What does it feel like to be served by you?
4.   How do you define success?

Take some time to contemplate these questions and to even write down your answers. They can become defining characteristics of your further service.

I would like to make some direct and challenging comments about each question.
1.   Why do you serve as a sports chaplain or character coach? If you are serving as a way of obtaining access to the team, to gain privilege, or to enhance your public profile, you are doing it badly.
2.   Why do you serve the way that you do? If you are serving thoughtlessly, without considering the needs and the preferences of those being served, you can do much better.
3.   What does it feel like to be served by you? If those you serve are feeling manipulated, condemned, or simply annoyed, you should consider changing your approach.
4.   How do you define success? If your measurement for success is attendance at meetings, you may be terribly disappointed. If your measurement is conversions or baptisms, you may become quite manipulative. If your definition of success is more about long term faithfulness than immediate results, you are on the right track.


Please join Coach Ehrmann and me in asking some difficult, probing questions of yourself. Contemplate these ideas to analyze and adjust your service of the men and women of sport toward life transformation and faithful service of Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Pray

Earlier this summer I turned sixty years of age. The summer also marked fifty years of my being a disciple of Christ Jesus. On August 1, I began my twenty-third year of serving sportspeople with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Milestones like these make old guys nostalgic, but they also make us reflect upon the changes we have experienced and the development of our lives, in particular, our lives of faith.

One facet of my discipleship that has undergone lots of change is how I pray. From my earliest days of seeing the Lord like a mail carrier picking up requests, to later days of massive prayer lists, to years of emphasis on form or passion, to the more recent days of listening and asking questions, my prayer life has undergone constant change.

Most recently, my prayer life is full of questions like these: What are you saying today? To whom shall I speak today? Where are You leading me? Who are You calling to Yourself? Where are new opportunities to serve? What would please You most? What scripture is most appropriate for this moment?


Whether on the field, court, track, mat, pitch, or the pool deck, pray. At practice, training, on the sideline, in the cheap seats, in the changing room, in the training (physio) room, on the bus, on the plane, in the car, or watching via television or computer, pray. Strongly or weakly, wisely or foolishly, profoundly or mundanely, pray. Get your heart engaged with the Lord Jesus’ heart for the men and women of sport and your capacity to care for them will grow, your understanding of them will be enhanced, and your ability to speak the very words of God to them will be magnified. Pray. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Report from the Inaugural Global Congress on Sport and Christianity

From 24 through 28 August, I participated in the Inaugural Global Congress on Sport and Christianity at York St. John University of York, England. It was an outstanding four days of presentations, discussions, and fellowship among academic professionals, sports ministry practitioners, and others. http://www2.yorksj.ac.uk/health--life-sciences/faculty-of-hls/faculty-events/igcsc.aspx

Sports Chaplaincy was one of twelve thematic strands in the congress. The sports chaplaincy strand was comprised of four sessions that included: Sports Chaplaincy Trends, Issues, and Debates led by Dr. Andrew Parker. I then made a presentation titled, Global Sports Chaplaincy: A review of the online training program created for basic, yet comprehensive chaplaincy training. Dr. Steven Waller of the University of Tennessee made a presentation titled, Globalization and the credentialing of sports chaplains: Divergent perspectives. Lastly, Anthony Maranise of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee presented, 6 Degrees of Commonality Uniting Sports Chaplains of all Christian Traditions. Each of the presentations were well delivered and received by the large group of men and women in attendance.

There were sports chaplains from the worlds of horse racing, motor racing, rugby, football (soccer), American football, baseball, athletics, basketball, Paralympic sports, and probably a number of others with which I am unfamiliar.

Our sports chaplaincy colleagues were Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, liberal, and conservative, with backgrounds in sport, coaching, psychology, sociology, recreation, theology, and probably other ologies I cannot even spell.

We were among sports ministry colleagues from Athletes in Action, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Christians in Sport, the Vatican, Sports Chaplaincy UK, Sports Ambassadors, and others.

Friday evening’s highlight was a sport themed service in York Minster, a medieval cathedral built across the years of 1220 to 1472. It is a remarkably beautiful structure and the service was very inspirational for all attendees.

My primary interest in this congress was to further the connections between academics who research and write about matters of faith and sport, and practitioners of sports chaplaincy, like us. I believe that we each stand to enhance the others’ work if we simply, regularly, and respectfully work together. I hope to contribute to the work of many of my new colleagues in the world of academia, and I hope to continue to learn from their insightful work, analysis, and contemplative writing. I expect that the implications from this congress will ripple across the years, and its impact with be felt around the globe.


Save the date for the next Global Congress, to be held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan October 23-27, 2019.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Report from Olympic Games in Rio

Later today I will travel to participate in the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity in York, England. http://www2.yorksj.ac.uk/health--life-sciences/faculty-of-hls/faculty-events/igcsc.aspx  I am greatly privileged to be making two presentations during the congress and will serve as the co-strand leader for Sports Chaplaincy.

I will report soon on the congress and its impact upon the world of sports chaplaincy.

Below is a report from the Olympic Games in Rio by our friend and colleague, Stuart Weir of Verite Sport in the United Kingdom. He offers some unique insight into the nature of sports chaplaincy at such events. I hope it is both informative and inspirational.

Olympic Update
As I will not be able to send out a normal monthly update until October, I am sending two one-pagers on the Olympics and Paralympics.

My role
My official role was as Togo Olympic Attaché. I went to rowing, swimming and athletics to watch our athletes and attended the team welcome ceremony but in all honesty, the role was not a demanding one. Being Olympic Attaché provided an accreditation which gave me access to the athletes’ village, athlete dining, athlete transport and several behind the scenes places at sports venues. Ironically the identical accreditation in London gave me far less privileges.

Athletes
There were over 60 track and field athletes that I knew and 35 who had attended at least one Diamond League Bible Study, who were competing in the Games. Working as a team with Jules who was an official Olympic chaplain, I would say that we made contact with more than three quarters of them. Sometimes just a greeting or a hug, sometimes a prayer or a meal. Jules met several for Bible Study 1-2-1 or in groups. We were always conscious that the athletes were facing the biggest challenge of their year – career even – and that we were there to support but not make demands on them.

Daily Email
I was sending a daily devotional email to 50+ athletes competing in the games. Several told me that they found them helpful and encouraging.

British Athletics
Being in the Olympic Village and travelling on athlete buses gave lots of opportunities for informal contacts with athletes, coaches and team management, getting to know some and developing relationships with others.

Chaplains
The chaplaincy at Rio was very difficult with the Rio Organizing Committee only accrediting three international chaplains, compared to 19 in London. It was impossible for a team of three to cover the responsibilities of manning the chapel, conducting 16 services a week and meeting athletes individually.

Conclusion

I saw the Olympics as part of the ongoing support I try to provide for track and field athletes. It was my 10th event of the year. It was an immense privilege to be on the inside of the Olympics and I was pleased with the level of contact I had with athletes. See www.veritesport.org

Friday, August 19, 2016

Watch Your Attitude

Across twenty-two years of serving as a sports chaplain, the three primary, universal factors that I have found to build an effective ministry are: Relationships, Attitudes, and Presence. Today, I would like to make some simple and direct comments regarding Attitudes and how they can either enhance or diminish our service.

·        Be a servant, not a big shot. Serve purposefully. Do the menial tasks that need to be done in service of others. People will notice and they will respect your attitude.
·        Seek permission, not forgiveness. Ask for parameters. Understand your boundaries. To overstep your bounds communicates the wrong attitude.
·        Be thankful, out loud. Express thankfulness to those who give you access to their sporting programs in person, via text message, on paper, however you can.
·        Talk in terms of “responsibility and privilege” rather than “rights.” An entitled attitude is repulsive to sportspeople, especially coaches. Avoid it at all costs.
·        A low public profile it to be preferred over media darling. Be less interested in being a public figure, more in being an essential part of the team’s life.
·        Deflect praise quickly. As you do well and others praise you for what you have done, be sure to direct that praise to God and to those with whom you serve.
·        Beware of reflected glory. If your team is excelling, beware the allure of fame, accolades, and public adoration. It’s fun, but it can be a snare to your soul.
·        Remember that your contributions do not appear on the scoreboard or stat sheets. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your inspirational talk directly contributed to a victory.
·        Love extravagantly – it’s really hard to fail if this is your number one goal.
·        Serve selflessly – to do this faithfully almost always keeps one’s attitude in order.


Please shape your attitude in ways that are reflective of Christ Jesus’ as described in Philippians chapter 2:3-8. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cultivate an Interior Life of Contemplation

Many, if not most, of us who serve as sports chaplains or character coaches go through life at a rapid pace. We thrive on activity and move quickly from venue to venue to love and to serve sportspeople. One drawback to this sort of lifestyle is that we can become rather shallow and soon our service becomes a string of clichés and buzzwords.

I would like to challenge each of us to cultivate an interior life of contemplation. To make regular time to contemplate God’s will, to ponder on scripture we are reading, to think deeply about important decisions and relationships, is wise and most important. Slowing down to read books, to listen to music, or to simply be still can be very helpful in our more active days.

Don’t just go, go, go. Stop, stop, stop. Think deeply. Ponder. Listen. Contemplate. Rest.

Find your best rhythm for such hours, days, or even weeks. Your most effective rhythm could be:
·        Absolute silence
·        Stillness
·        Solitary activity
·        Running, biking, or hiking
·        Listening to music in isolation
·        Study in ambient sound

Sometimes we need to think beyond what to do, but also why?

On a personal note, I brainstorm best when at a sporting event. Hearing the ambient sounds of a ballpark, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn, see the players and coaches, fuels my heart’s passions and heightens my soul’s awareness of the Lord’s voice. To write, however, I need more solitude and concentrated time to hammer out exactly what I want to say. I take the previously brainstormed first thoughts, gathered at the ballpark, and then compose into final form in a more private, quiet, and solitary place, often accompanied by soul enriching music.


Please take my challenge to heart and find ways to develop an interior life of contemplation. You and those you serve will be directly benefited by the investments.

Friday, August 5, 2016

What Do You Measure and Why?

One of the realities of our lives of service is that people want to see measurable results. Ministries, like businesses, in our societies are largely results oriented. Donors, leaders, management, and others want to be able to measure our effectiveness and feel the need to identify the results of our service. Sometimes that is wise, and sometimes that is foolish, crass, and manipulative. I believe the difference is made in what we measure, and why.

The most often measured item in ministry is attendance. I believe that it is reasonable and wise to measure attendance at events. We can recognized trends, adjust strategies, analyze effectiveness, often by observing attendance. If we think greater attendance equals more effective ministry, we may be gravely mistaken. Sometimes ministry is better delivered in small groups or on an individual basis.

Many ministries measure finances very closely. This can also be wise and proper. To accomplish our ministry purposes, it will certainly require funds to pay expenses, to provide staff, to promote events, etc.… If finances become the measuring stick by which we evaluate all ministry, we may fall into terrible error. Further, if we mold all our ministry initiatives so as to impress donors as their highest value, we may become terribly foolish.

Many ministries in the evangelical world regularly measure conversions to Christ. This is a bit problematic for many of us. To say with certainty that a person has made a commitment to Christ Jesus that will endure is difficult if not impossible for us. One could count the number of respondents to an altar call or invitation to receive Jesus, but to count all of those as life-long disciples would be foolish. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimates that only 10% of those answering an altar call at their events turn out to be committed followers of Christ. I sincerely doubt that our similar methods in sports ministry produce a higher rate.

Much of the evangelical world uses the verb, “Reached,” to report results. We will say, “We reached 400 people at this event.” My question is, “How do we know when someone is reached?” Does that mean the person heard a message? Does that mean the person attended an event? Does that mean that person made a profession of faith? What is it to reach someone? I have been asking this question for years, but have never received a satisfactory answer. I would prefer we count and report with greater clarity.

Are we to measure only attendance? Should we value activity as an end in itself? Can we faithfully measure and report conversions to faith in Christ? How does one measure faithfulness? Is there a way to measure long-term ministry results, rather than short-term, immediate results?

I wish I had easy and conclusive answers to all these questions. I have chosen to measure and to report matters which I can state with certainty, such as these:
·        I can count the number of people who attend ministry events. That is easily discerned.
·        I can count the number of ministry encounters I have. X number of conversations. Y number of presentations. Z number of chapel talks, Bible studies, etc.
·        I can count the number of groups we have formed and developed. X number of FCA Huddles. Y number of Team Bible studies. Z number of Coaches Bible study groups, etc.
·        I can count the number of boxes checked on a comment card related to decisions made. I cannot faithfully say all of those who checked boxes made life transforming decisions to follow Christ.
·        I cannot count the number of people “reached,” simply because the term is too vague.


In summary, I would simply challenge you to prayerfully consider what you measure and report, and why you do so. Who is it you are trying to impress with your glowing report of ministry success? Why are we compelled to report ministry results as if they were reports to a stockholders’ meeting? Let’s aim at faithfulness and rejoice if we also encounter numerical success.