Friday, October 20, 2017

No Scale of Level

One of the most pernicious and destructive notions in sports chaplaincy is the confusion of level, success, and significance. Many assume, but would not likely state aloud, that ministry at the lower levels of sport (junior high, high school, community college, minor league baseball, lower division football) has less significance and is of lesser value than the ministry taking place at the highest levels of sport (Premier League Football, NCAA Division I, NFL, NBA, MLB). Somehow, we buy into the fan mentality and judge “higher” levels of sport to be more significant. We value the players’ “platform” over their experiences and relationships in their sporting communities. I believe this to be a grave error.

I would assert that there is no level of scale in our service of sportspeople. There is no greater value to the ministry taking place among a NCAA Division I SEC Football program that can be found on television every Saturday, than there is with the junior high school, nine man football team in the most remote corner of Minnesota. The ministry that I provide an independent minor league baseball team is no lesser in significance than that shared with the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers. There is no appreciable difference in the Lord Jesus’ economy.

Faithfulness is the standard. Whether we serve in the obscurity of “less important” sporting communities or live as the presence of Christ in the blinding glare of television cameras at the “highest level” of sport, our standard of measure and success must be faithfulness. The Apostle Paul declared this value in I Corinthians 4:1-2. “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Significance is the goal, more than success. A focus on success will spend a lot of time measuring attendance at meetings, distribution of materials, funds received, bank balances, and more. Significance is focused on depth of commitment, progress toward faith, development of spiritual disciplines, growth of disciples’ faithfulness, and long-term development of Christian sportspeople. Paul wrote to Timothy with specific instruction about the goals of his instruction in I Timothy 1:5. “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is the language of significance, not success.

My opinion is certainly biased. The perceived level of the teams, coaches, and competitors I serve varies from mid-major to the very bottom. I see the perceived highest levels of sport from a great distance, usually from the cheap seats or on a television screen. I would like to finish today’s thoughts with a strong challenge.

If you are at the “highest level” of sport – guard your heart from the pride of platform. The higher the platform you, your team, your coaches, and your competitors occupy, the greater the peril they must constantly endure. The same spotlight bringing attention to their faith in Christ will shine glaringly upon the weaknesses of their flesh. Give them your best, every time, and faithfully pursue significance.

If you are at the “lowest level” of sport – guard your heart form the pride of obscurity. Your service has great value and must be treated with care, discipline, and diligence. To undervalue your service, to minimize its importance, to neglect those you serve because no one seems to be watching is foolish and not worthy of Christ. Give them your best, every time, and faithfully pursue significance.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ministry in ERs, Hospitals, Surgery Centers

Across my twenty-three years of serving sports teams I have had many occasions to visit emergency rooms, hospital rooms, and surgery centers with players, coaches, and administrators of the sporting community. While these are never pleasant occasions, they are regularly moments of the most profound and impactful ministry. I’d like to offer some observations from those visits and some tips for how to approach them, as they will certainly come to you as well.

One never feels competent when walking into an emergency room, hospital, or surgery center. Every time I approach the front door of one of these facilities I feel inadequate. I wonder what I have to offer. I wonder about what I am about to encounter. I wonder if I’ll be able to handle the gravity of the moment and the potential emotional flood that awaits me. Every time, I stop, pray, and keep walking. This is not about me, nor my training, nor my ability to empathize, nor my ability to console, it’s about being Christ Jesus’ presence in a time of crisis. The Lord invariably carries me along in each situation, to my utter amazement.

Care for the people, respect the medical personnel, listen to the hearts. Early on in my experience I felt compelled to have the right words to say, but of late I seldom have anything to say. There are no magic words to make everything okay. A much better approach is to ask questions to open their hearts and to help them deal with their fears, questions, and worries. Treat the medical personnel; nurses, technicians, administrators, and doctors, with respect and understand your boundaries. Ask permission to go to more secure places in serving the patient, his or her family, and significant others. I have been allowed into intensive care units, maternity rooms, surgery prep rooms, recovery rooms, and other locations that are highly privileged spots because I treated the personnel with respect and earned their trust over time. Ask good questions, speak in low tones, respect privacy, and look people in the eye. Their hearts will open widely to you.

Bring a resource for their encouragement. The coming hours and days are likely to have a lot of time to read as their normal life of activity is interrupted by bed rest, doctor visits, waiting for appointments, and weeks of recovery. I often bring a devotional book, a book of prayers, or simply a card written with encouraging words and scriptures. I will fold down the corners of pages of the devotions that could have particular relevance to one recovering from injury, or I’ll put Post It notes in pages of a prayer book to catch the attention of those being served. Long after we have left their presence, these resources speak to their hearts and enable them to connect with the Lord in their most desperate hours.

Offer to pray, privately. When I am with a patient and his or her family, I watch for the most appropriate moment to pray with them. As I am chatting with the people, I am listening for their hearts to open. I am seeking a moment with sufficient privacy to lean in, to offer to pray, to take a hand or to touch the injured shoulder, knee, or ankle, and to lift a quiet, intense, and unashamed prayer for the Lord’s healing power to move in my friend’s life. I pray for the immediate concern, for the patient’s anxiety, for the doctor’s skill, for quick and complete recovery, and for restoration to the sport they love. Above all, I pray for the Lord to accomplish His purposes in this person’s life.

Leave with encouragement and an invitation to stay connected. I don’t normally stay throughout the entire surgery, nor a long time in a hospital visit. Staying too long usually becomes awkward and ends poorly. After we have chatted, connected well, and prayed together, I am usually headed for the door. I will leave my card and an invitation to stay connected by phone or SMS message. I say, “I’ll see you at practice. Let me know if I can serve you in any way. I’ll look forward to your return to the team.” This visit is simply one step in the long process of relationship development, but it is an important one. Make the best of this opportunity and then watch for the next one.

As I have been writing, a number of situations have flashed through my mind. Many of them have been instrumental in the development of relationships with coaches, competitors, doctors, nurses, and even administrators. I pray that your service is also graced by the beautifully intimidating experience of ministry in hospital rooms, ERs, surgery waiting rooms, and even hospice situations. The Lord Jesus walks into those moments with us, carries us along in His purposes, and accomplishes His will through us.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tips for Your Study Retreat

In recent years I have written in this space about study retreats and their value to my ministry. There has been a good deal of development to this process over the few years in which I have employed it. I would like to share with you some of the important factors to study retreats that I have discovered and that I would recommend as you consider scheduling such an event.

Choose a good site for solitude – As I am a terminal extrovert, I know I need this sort of solitude, but I find it terribly difficult. Having a place to study, pray, and to create that is free from distractions is of paramount importance. My son’s in-laws own a lake house in rural Missouri. It is relatively simple, but has enough creature comforts to make it very well suited for retreats. It has no Internet connection, which is helpful to eliminate distractions. The homes that surround it on the lake cove are usually vacant when I am there as they are mostly weekend or vacation homes. This leaves me mostly all alone in the area with lots of solitude for walks, sitting by the lake, watching the sun rise or set, and for outdoor contemplation. Choose a site with a strong measure of privacy for your retreat.

Take productivity tools with you – Music, videos, books, and other materials that may fuel your creativity and productivity are invaluable for such a retreat. I play music that stirs my heart, and this time I took a DVD of U2 videos for visual images to supplement the music’s inspiration. I take my computer for writing. I take my favorite Bible for reading. I take my notebook with a good pen for writing outlines. I take other books that inspire and fuel creativity. Take whatever you need to make you most productive.

Eat, drink, and sleep well – There are probably particular foods and drinks that fuel your creativity and productivity. Take them with you. I take foods that are easy and quick to prepare so I don’t lose a lot of time. I take good coffee. I need a good breakfast to work well, so I am most particular about that meal. I take some simple snacks and drinks. I seek the best place for sleeping and prioritize this as an important part of the process. I find that long periods of concentrated thought, writing, planning, and analysis is even more fatiguing than physical exercise. Be sure to rest well as it will restore your energies for the coming hours and days.

Take a break to let your brain rest – In April, I went to the retreat with a good deal of preparation already in hand. I had done some idea incubation for several months, and when I arrived at the retreat I could jump right into writing. In August, I was not nearly as well prepared. I had hoped to jump into writing, but I had not done the work to be at that stage. That required me to spend eight hours of the first day writing more detailed outlines. I took a break or two during the day to walk, to make lunch, to go out for dinner, and then to sleep overnight. My brain needed the rest to finish the task. When I got up on day two, I was fully prepared and spent thirteen hours writing. I took mind breaks a few times during those hours, to walk, to eat, to snack, to read, and even to reply to a phone call and text messages. I was able to complete the project with clarity of thought, primarily because I took the necessary breaks throughout the day to rest, to refocus, and to resume the deep work of writing.

Learn how your mind works best and schedule to be at your best – When I first did these study retreats I used a friend’s lake home. It is about thirty-five minutes from my home. It was convenient, but maybe a little too close. I could plan the retreat, but it was also pretty easy to cut it short or to simply not go. The present location for my retreats is about two hours from home and requires more planning to accomplish. I set aside particular days well in advance and I protect those dates on my calendar. I make plans to leave my home in the morning, arrive prior to noon and eat lunch. This is my time for adjusting from normal, fast paced life, to a slower, more contemplative speed. That process used to take me a whole day, but I can make the shift in about ninety minutes now. I schedule that first day as primarily for preparation. I schedule day two for maximum productivity, and I schedule day three for review, editing, relaxation, and for anticipation of returning home and reentering the normal schedule and work.

Please take a day, three days, a weekend, or a whole week for a study retreat. Engineer your environment, your menu, your schedule, and your heart for maximum productivity, amazing creativity, and inspiring contemplation. Your heart and your ministry will be greatly enhanced.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Road Trip Journal - College Football

One of the methods I have used to capture memories, to gather details, and to learn is to journal. For several seasons, in years past, I would journal all my interactions with a team, and at the end of the season I’d print the journal and give it to the head coach for his review.

People will occasionally ask me, “What is a typical weekend like for you?” For the purposes of this week’s note, I decided to journal this past week’s experience with Saluki Football as we traveled to play the University of Memphis in Tennessee. The journal of those days follows. I hope it is some value to you.

I attended practices on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, speaking with coaches and players while observing the drills.

Friday – The usual Friday walk through was at 8:45 this morning and it was followed by breakfast at 10:00. The three buses of players, coaches, and athletic trainers departed at 11:00. A couple of hours down the road, we stopped at a truck stop in the Missouri boot heel for sandwiches and Gatorade. As we rode the bus, I read a book, wrote some tweets, did some thinking, and did some more reading. As we crossed the Mississippi River bridge we picked up a police escort with seven motorcycles and two cars. They led our buses to weave around and through city traffic on the way to the stadium. We arrived at the Liberty Bowl and did a simple walk around to see the field, the locker room, and other facilities we would need for tomorrow’s game. We bumped into four former Saluki Football players from around 10 years ago and had a great chat with each.

We re-boarded the buses for the trip to our hotel. We arrived at the Hilton Memphis, picked up our key cards and I went to my room. I took some time to relax until it was time for the 5:00 dinner. I reminded some players to remove their caps and asked them to lower the volume of their voices. The head coach asked me to bless dinner and I prayed. We enjoyed the team dinner as I sat with our director of football operations, strength coaches, a graduate assistant, the cornerbacks coach, and the head coach. The dinner was followed by a team meeting at 5:45, and position group meetings followed that. I returned to my room to relax and went to bed early.

Saturday – I was up at 5:30, made coffee in the room, sent text messages and tweets as I do each morning from the Proverbs, from Heart of a Champion, and from Corazon de un Campeo’n. I checked on some Southern Illinois high school football scores, and went to the coffee shop for better coffee. At 8:00 another former player and a former coach texted us that they were in the lobby. I talked with Jason Emert and his wife, and with Coach Larry Warner for a while. I went to the 9:00 staff meeting where they analyzed last night’s agenda and timing. The coaches see opportunities for us to make plays against a very good Memphis team tonight. They discussed ways to protect our players from today’s heat and potential fatigue by going to the field a little later in the day. After the meeting wrapped up, I walked across the hall for breakfast, scheduled for 9:30. Fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey bacon, hash browns, pancakes, and spaghetti with meat sauce were on the buffet. During breakfast I chatted with a couple of coaches and Alicia Hill, the head coach’s wife.

After breakfast, I returned to my room to prepare for the day. I was shaved, showered, and dressed way too early. I did some reading and watched some early college football. I finalized my plans for this afternoon’s chapel and gathered all my gear. At around 1:30 I checked out of my room and went to the banquet room to prepare for chapel. I laid out the chapel handouts on each table at each place setting.

At around 2:30 my three invited guests arrived for chapel and I introduced them to the coaches. John Goode, Mark Gagliano, and Brodie Gruver were each former football players at SIU and are now dear friends. After special team reminders from four different assistant coaches were completed, Coach Hill addressed the team, clarifying our goal for the day – Win the game. After he finished, he gave me the floor and I launched into the chapel.
o   Introductory thoughts on this theme – “Be a Man – A Man Loves Deeply.”
o   I introduced Brodie Gruver for the opening prayer. He is a man who loves deeply.
o   I then introduced Mark Gagliano and John Goode, both former Saluki Football players and both All-Americans. Both are men who love deeply.
o   I then introduced Withney Simon, Saluki Linebacker #42, the young man who was most often mentioned by his coaches and team captains as a man who loves deeply. I asked his teammates to tell me when and how they observed Withney to be a man who loves deeply. We heard several excellent responses from the team.
o   I then asked Withney to return to his seat and I spoke of Jesus being the best possible example of a man who loves deeply and quoted John 15:13. I spoke of how Jesus used this language to challenge His teammates, and then demonstrated His love by dying in their place the following day. I said that sacrifice is the stuff of loving deeply, and that would be key to today’s contest.
o   I finished the chapel with prayer.

Pregame meal followed chapel and it included salad, fruit, spaghetti and meat sauce, baked potatoes, and baked chicken breasts. It was all very well done. After the meal, we had some time to relax. I went to the bus while the team had some final position reminders. At 4:30 we were all aboard the buses and we followed our police escort to the Liberty Bowl. I walked around the field, prayed, chatted with coaches, and then had a great talk with Braxton Brady. He and I met several years ago at a Champaign, IL church’s men’s event. Between sessions in that event, we discovered we were each serving as team chaplains. We have stayed in touch ever since. He has grown his volunteer chaplain role into a full-time staff position as the player relations director for Memphis Football. He is serving well and faithfully.

After more waiting, I helped Coach Flyger identify key players from the opponents. The warm up period continued and I made my way to the locker room, located the countdown clock inside and helped coaches with time to kickoff reminders. We called the players together in the locker room at seven minutes to kickoff, the head coach did a brief talk and then all the coaches and players knelt and held hands to say the Lord’s prayer. We left the tunnel for the field at three minutes to kickoff.

We scored on our first possession, and then prompted Memphis to a three and out on theirs. We led 17 to 14 at the half. They dominated the third quarter, and a kickoff return for a touchdown after we had just drawn within three points really hurt us. We competed strongly, right to the final play of the game, but lost 44-31. Through the game and across the 24 seasons of serving with this program, I have accumulated a number of tasks.
o   I am the “get back coach.” I work to keep the coaches and players in their proper places, so as to not interfere with the officials’ movements on the sidelines.
o   I call up various special teams units, according to down and distance situations.
o   I carry a bottle of water to coaches, officials, and the chain gang on the sidelines during timeouts, quarter breaks, etc.
o   I carry and mark changes on a special teams depth chart, and communicate with the trainers, to help the coaches know who is available for each of those units.
o   I keep the scoreboard game clock on my wrist watch during pregame and half time so as to keep the coaching staff on time for their responsibilities.
o   In encourage, challenge, pray, shout, jump and down, gesture broadly, and otherwise serve the coaching staff and team.

After the game, back in the locker room, the head coach talked of the pain of the loss, but focused on the task ahead, eight straight weeks of Missouri Valley Football Conference games. We have the University of Northern Iowa next week at our place. We all knelt to say the Lord’s Prayer. I spoke to a couple dozen players at their lockers and then went back to the field to speak to a few friends who were still there. I cut the tape from one of our captain’s ankles, picked up a box of Chick Fil-A and a bottle of water for dinner, and ate it on the bus.

We drove away from the Liberty Bowl, again with a police escort, near 11:30 pm. We arrived in Carbondale just before 3:00 am. By 3:15, Sharon and I had chased a stowaway cat from our home. After the feline expulsion, we finally went to bed, hopefully to rest well. Now, four days later, we are still dealing with the foul odor the cat left for us.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book recommendations

Reading is an essential part of learning in any role, and it is certainly so for those of us serving as sports chaplains, character coaches, or sports mentors. One of the hardest tasks for me is to choose books to read. I find the recommendations of friends and colleagues to be the best way to choose. In keeping with that thought, I would like to recommend a few books to you. They are from a variety authors, but most all are non-fiction. I hope they enhance your development: personal, professional, and spiritual.

Soul Keeping by John Ortberg is an excellent book about the author’s relationship with his mentor and friend, Dallas Willard.

Deep Work by Cal Newport is a deeply challenging book about how we think and all the matters that distract us from thinking deeply. After reading this book in April, I was challenged so deeply that I removed Facebook from every device that I own, except for one. I found that it consumed too much time for too little benefit.

The Captain Class by Sam Walker is a review of the most dominant sports teams in history and their leadership. Like most books based on research, the author tells us more about his research methods than we really want to know, but his conclusions are fascinating. If you serve a team oriented sport, the insights within are valuable.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance is a remarkable book with tremendous value to those serving in the USA’s Mid-south and Midwest regions. Vance discusses the paralyzing effects of the culture in which he was reared, and chronicles how he was able to escape it to become a college graduate and a successful attorney.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson is a collection of sermons he delivered as a pastor, earlier in his career. I read everything I can find by Peterson, but this volume is significantly different, as it is pastoral in tone. The reader feels as if this is a personal conversation with the author. Much like Francis Schaeffer’s No Little People, No Little Places, this collection of sermons engages differently than most of the authors’ more scholarly works. This is rich.

Originals by Adam Grant details some of the advantages of having people, just a bit off center, on your team. The author explores the power of non-conformists and their points of view for all sorts of organizations, companies, non-profits, etc.

Occasionally, I will visit Stuart Weir’s book review section of the Verité Sport website for some good ideas. Here is a link to this invaluable resource -

I hope this brief list is of value to you and to those you lead. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Global Sports Chaplains Network

In January of 2016 key leaders from the sports chaplaincy ministries from across the world met together to discuss how to develop chaplaincy globally.  One of the outcomes of the meeting was to create a secure worldwide registry of sports chaplains. This will launch at the end of September. is developing this global registry.
The benefits of the registry is as follows;
1. It will allow chaplains to connect across the world
2. It will allow chaplains to connect across their sport discipline
3. It will provide chaplains with resources from all over the world to support their ministry.

Special attention in the construction of this registry has been given to its security.  It will be accessible only by chaplains, and additional features are also in place to protect individual privacy.  No data will be shared with third parties.

We hope you will benefit from the resources available and connecting with sports chaplains across the world. 

Please reach out to Allie Dyar to register or with your questions at

Friday, September 8, 2017

PowerUp Sports Ministry Conferences for 2017

If you are in the USA, I’d like to make you aware of some upcoming Sports Chaplaincy conferences hosted by Our Daily Bread Ministries of Michigan. I have attended and participated in these many times over many years. I highly recommend them to you.

Power Up Sports Ministry Conferences are one-day events for sports chaplains, coaches, athletic directors, or anyone involved in sports leadership. These exciting events are designed to spiritually encourage, equip, and strengthen you through challenging messages, workshops, videos, and panel discussions. The day is also filled with practical advice, networking opportunities, and free resources. Join us for a great day away to renew your energy and focus.

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM EDT

Indianapolis, IN
Tuesday November 7, 2017
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM EST

PROGRAM – Grand Rapids
8:00 am Our Daily Bread Ministries Tours (optional, pre-registration required)
8:30 am Registration Opens
9:00 am Greeting and Opening Comments
9:10 am Opening Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
9:45 am Roundtable Discussion
10:05 am Workshop Session #1 with Tim Hiller, Former Western Michigan University Quarterback
11:05 am Workshop Session #2 with Issah Meade, Virginia Tech FCA Chaplain 
12:00 pm Prayer and Lunch
12:30 pm Our Daily Bread Ministries Tours (optional)
1:00 pm Panel Discussion hosted by Tom Rust, Face to Face Ministries
1:45 pm Closing Comments
2:00 pm Closing Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
2:45 pm Closing Time of Prayer

PROGRAM - Indianapolis
8:30 am Registration Opens
9:00 am Greeting and Opening Comments
9:10 am Opening Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
9:45 am Roundtable Discussion
10:00 am Direction for Sessions & Break
10:15 am Workshop Session #1 with Dave Gittings, Jr. Virginia Tech FCA Chaplain
11:05 am Workshop Session #2 with Dave Hudson, Indiana University Campus Ministry FCA 
12:00 pm Prayer and Lunch
12:50 pm Power Up Time-Out hosted by Tom Rust, Face to Face Ministries
1:00 pm Panel Discussion hosted by Tom Rust, Face to Face Ministries
1:45 pm Closing Comments
2:00 pm Closing Challenge by Mark Mitchell, San Francisco Giants Chaplain
2:45 pm Closing Time of Prayer

Details, videos from past conferences, and registration are available at:

No Scale of Level

One of the most pernicious and destructive notions in sports chaplaincy is the confusion of level, success, and significance. Many assume, ...