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 clich├ęs 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.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Sport Chaplain / Character Coach Conference Calls

Another year of FCA Sports Chaplains / Character Coach conference calls will begin on Sunday August 7 at 8:00 pm CDT. These calls are open to anyone who serves as a sports chaplain or character coach, whether FCA staff or volunteer. Each call includes prayer, info on upcoming events re: sports chaplaincy, and an interview with a person who has been serving faithfully as a sports chaplain or character coach. Callers are also invited to ask direct questions of those being interviewed. The whole point is to provide a venue for networking and mentoring sports chaplains and character coaches with others serving in similar ways. These people are most often serving in high schools, colleges, or club teams, but occasionally are serving professional teams.

We are considering a second call per month for ministry staff people who would prefer a weekday call at a different time. These calls would include a wider network of our FCA colleagues from across the USA. Please reply with your suggestion of day and time if that interests you.

The calls are always less than an hour in duration and are totally free. Please join us and encourage the volunteers in your network to do the same. Below is a listing of the featured guests for the first three months.

Friday, July 22, 2016

As a New Season Approaches

For many of us, especially my friends and colleagues in the USA, a new season of sport is about to begin. The start of a new school year brings with it a new fall sports schedule and the preseason practices that precede it. I would like to recommend some simple matters that may help you be fully prepared as a new season approaches.

·        Memorize the team roster and pray for each one. Ask the coach or an office person for the team roster, take the time and effort to memorize the names and numbers. Match those with their faces and you’re on the way to building relationships.
·        Meet with the head coach to discuss his or her points of emphasis for your work together. Ask about specific ways you can serve the coaches and the players. Ask for some boundaries for when and where it is most appropriate for you to be present, and maybe when and where your presence is not appropriate. It’s better to discover these ahead of time than through the discomfort of embarrassment or confrontation. Ask the coach how you may pray for him/her, the staff, and the players.
·        Attend as many preseason practices as you can. You can observe the coaches and how they coach. You can observe the players and perceive many things about their attitudes, approach to work, the team’s cohesion, etc… This is also the best place to work on roster memorization as you can see numbers, faces, and match them to the players’ names. This is also the perfect environment for prayers of intercession as you think about each player and coach. Pray for them and for God’s purposes to be accomplished in each one.
·        Above all, use the preseason to build relationships. Greet everyone you can and see who responds well. Pursue those warmest responses first, ask good questions, serve, and communicate loving respect.

To occupy yourself with these four activities, especially in the preseason weeks, is of greatest importance. Invest some time, some inconvenience, and some sweat in wise preparation. It will pay off richly in the ensuing weeks and months.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sport Chaplain Training School Video

Below is a link to a YouTube video by FCA Ukraine that will give you a glimpse of the ministry that took place during the FCA Ukraine Sport Chaplain School in Kiev, in early June. Please take a moment to look it over and to lift a prayer of thanksgiving for our Ukrainian teammates, for this outstanding set of volunteer chaplains, and for the donor from Nebraska whose donation covered the expenses. Thank you.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Ukraine / Georgia Trip Journal Excerpt

This is an excerpt from my journal during a recent trip to Kiev, Ukraine and Tblisi, Georgia to train sports chaplains and to make new friends toward that end in Georgia. I hope it encourages you. This form of ministry is growing all around the globe.

On 15 June, two of our FCA Midwest Region staff teammates, six coaches from the Metro-East area of St. Louis, and I returned from a tremendous trip to Ukraine. We served with our FCA Ukraine colleagues, their coaches, and Ukrainian athletes of several sports in multiple communities around Kiev and Rivne, Ukraine. 

Saturday June 4, 2016
After hosting Friday evening and Saturday morning’s Saluki Football Coaching Clinic in Carbondale, I drove to the Williamson County Airport, checked in and boarded the plane to St. Louis. The Cape Air pilots somehow got our plane stuck in the mud before we even made it to the runway. The plane was grounded, and our flight was cancelled.
After learning of Cape Air’s plan to arrange for a bus to drive us to St. Louis and the hours involved, I drove rapidly to STL. Along the way, I encountered 5 mph traffic for miles on I-64 due to a wreck. I was, ironically, relieved to receive a couple of text messages from American Airlines that my flight from STL to Charlotte was delayed. I made it to long-term parking, checked in and through security quickly. The flight was delayed 1 hour. I had an easy flight in first class due to an upgrade, for which I was very thankful.
Upon arrival in Charlotte, I ran through the terminal from concourse to concourse to catch my connection to Barcelona. It was boarding as I arrived at the gate. It was a rather uneventful flight across the pond with around 6 hours of sleep. My late departure from CLT made connecting in BCN rather tight.

Sunday June 5.
I went through passport control, twice + security. I found favor with a border police officer and jumped to the front of the passport control line as my flight was scheduled to be boarding. I ran to the gate and then waited for a delayed departure to Kiev. The flight was easy and we had a smooth flight to KBP, arriving almost on time. I had an easy transition through immigration and baggage claim. No customs. Andriy, Oleg, and Nikita picked me up and we had dinner at a SOCAR gas station (trust me, it’s good). We then went to Andriy and Lindsay's home, greeted everyone and then went to bed around 10:00 pm.

Monday June 6.
I slept well overnight in Andriy’s home office. I hung out with the kids, had breakfast, and prepared in the morning hours. The FCA Chaplains School with about 35 participants started at 11:00 at a wonderful facility owned by a local church. I presented session 1, Oleg did session 2. That night Ruslan Muts hosted a talk show (panel discussion) with 3 area coaches re: the value of sport chaplains. It was very good. I got to bed at 11:00 pm.

Tuesday June 7.
I did not sleep as well last night. We loaded up early and went to Chaplains School for 8:00 devotions and breakfast. I presented sessions 1b and 3, and Oleg did session 4. We enjoyed lots of fellowship and networking after dinner. I got to bed at 11:00 pm again.

Wednesday June 8.
I slept well. I was up to shower at 6:00. I did my daily devotional reading and packing for tonight’s trip to Georgia. We were out the door at 7:30, got a double Americano, and went to the facility for devotions and breakfast. I taught sessions 5 and 6, and then Ruslan and Oleg wrapped up the conference. They sang "Happy birthday" to me, and the whole group prayed for me. We then had lunch as I enjoyed a long talk with Dr. Che.

After lunch I had a good chat with Ira Bedrai as we waited for the St. Louis FCA team to arrive from the airport. I greeted them, we had a meeting to introduce people and to orient them. We divided people and sporting gear into a couple of vans. The Rivne team left, and the Kiev team stayed. Andriy and I picked up Oleg and we drove to the Kiev airport.

As we were checking in we were informed that the flight was oversold and we needed to talk to the people at the rebooking counter. As we stood there, a supervisor, a lady about 45 years old, looked me in the eye, I smiled and said hello in Russian. She asked if we were booked to Tblisi and I said yes. She said, “I have compensation for you.” She walked us through the rebooking, ground transportation, and the cash compensation. Our flight was changed to Kutsaisi, Georgia and we were to arrive at 11:30 pm. 250 euro (7,092 grivne) compensation was paid to us for the inconvenience.

Thursday June 9.
That went as planned and then we rode about 4 hours, partly in a small car and at 2:30 am we transferred to a van to Tblisi. At 3:41 am we arrived at a coffee shop where, were to meet our friend from Tblisi. Valeri picked us up at 3:45. Around 4:00 am we arrived at the place where we would stay the night (morning), and both Oleg and Valeri thought it appropriate that on the early morning of my 60th birthday, I would reside in a retirement home.

We were up at 9:30. I took a G.I. shower, had breakfast at 10:00, and it was wonderful. WE chatted with Valeri about sports ministry, loaded the van for a 90+ minute (30 kilometers) drive up horrible mountain roads for a service with his church family of around 30 people on the Day of Ascension. We prayed, sang, the bishop read scripture and  spoke, then he invited me to speak about the ascension and our ministry. I referenced Luke 24 and the inscription beneath el Picacho in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We received communion with bread torn from a large flatbread, and a common cup of wine. We sang another song, and then we walked down to the area for a barbecue. A fire was built, a table was set, and I was soon introduced and toasted for my birthday.

During lunch I had some red wine and wonderful cheese as well as delicious cheesbread, cake, and shashlik, pork roasted over the fire like a kabob. Wow. (For the record, I never drink anything alcoholic, but to be a gracious guest in Georgia means to eat and drink whatever is offered. I drank more red wine in two days in Georgia than I had drank in the previous 36 years.)

Due to the persistent rain, we went down the mountain to the very modest church building in Tblisi. They came out with a cake bearing two large candles and sang "Happy birthday." We walked to our van and rode to the oldest church in Georgia (4th century). We rode down to the old capital city and had dinner with friends. This was great food, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, mushrooms with cheese, red wine, espresso. After dinner, 2+ hours of explaining the McCown Sport in Ministry map, in English, translated into Russian, then translated into Georgian.

At 9:00 we took a walk around the church built in the 11th century, and then rode back to our room in the old folks home. I was in bed by 10:15 and eventually was able to sleep.

Friday June 10.
We were up at 7:00. I took a hot shower and shaved. We had breakfast at 8:00, and then we were on the road to Kutsaisi at 8:45. We traveled with Valeri to meetings and we chatted with him more about ministry in sport, en route. We made several stops including one to pick up another local pastor who had info on a former Soviet pioneer camp that is for sale and could make a camp facility. Another stop was to see their present camp site, about 16 km from Kutsaisi. Still another stop was to sign documents with the camp owner at a hotel in Kutsaisi.

We went to Prometheus' Cave outside Kutsaisi. Oleg and I took the tour of the caverns. We then stopped to buy bread as we returned to the camp facility of which Valeri was pleased to give me a guided tour. We had dinner around 6:30 with the collected set of five pastors at the camp, talking about ministry in sport and, sadly, USA politics. I was again toasted for my birthday and dinner was excellent in the finest Georgian tradition. After dinner we relaxed at the camp and used their Wi-Fi to catch up on email and social networking.

Saturday June 11.

At midnight we began the trek back to Tblisi. We dropped the pastor at his home and Sasha in his neighborhood before continuing to the airport. By 4:30 am we were checked in and drinking coffee in the departure hall. It was an easy flight back to Kiev. Vera (Oleg’s wife) picked us up, and we went to breakfast in a French style cafe downtown. We drove to the conference facility to drop me off. I jumped into Coaches Camp already underway. I tried to rest, but could not. After a dinner of Domino’s pizza, we went with the coaches to a jazz concert downtown via subway. We walked to a park area for coffee and sightseeing afterwards. We took the subway home again. Tim Casey lead a team meeting with our STL FCA teammates until 11:30. Then it was off to bed.