Modeling the Master: Sports Ministry Staff Supervision with a Pastoral Touch

If you’re a golf fan, I’m sure your eyes were glued to the TV recently for The Masters. It’s always great golf on a fantastic course with breathtaking scenery.

As I watch it unfold, I try to learn some new techniques or get some tips from “the master” golfers that can help my game. In essence, I seek to model them. This year I came away with a few insights that will hopefully make a difference for me: to slow the tempo on my swing; to concentrate more on my course management; to refocus after a mistake or setback or a bad break; and to keep grinding.

More importantly than my golf game, I’ve learned in my 36+ years in sports ministry and in church ministry that I can always gain and apply some new truths for life and ministry by modeling “The Master”—Jesus Christ. I recently looked at the Lord’s life through the lens of Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly. I was struck by an insight in the book: there is only one verse in the gospels that describes the heart of Christ—Matthew 11:29. There we read Jesus’ own words: “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” If I am to model “The Master” in life and ministry, I need to reflect a gentle and lowly—or as the Greek work tapeinos is translated—humble heart.

As a sports ministry staff supervisor, I desire to demonstrate both the “gentle and humble” heart of a pastor and the skill of a sports minister. To the 11 direct reports I have and in connection with the 90 staff in our division, I try to model four action steps from the life of “The Master” when meeting bi-weekly with them, when hosting monthly all-staff meetings, when viewing and participating in some of their ministry activities, and in being accessible when they need coaching.

These four action steps include:

  1. Focus on calling. I intentionally take time to talk about the importance of a staff person’s calling from the Lord for their life and in their ministry, in order to make sure they’re reflecting on that calling and are finding inspiration in it. Jesus said to those He was calling to a life of ministry for Him: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16).
  2. Offer care and compassion. It is essential that I am aware of what is happening in each person’s life, marriage, and family that may be affecting their walk with the Lord and their ministry. While maintaining proper respect for their privacy, I believe it is important to ask staff how they are doing spiritually, mentally, physically, and, in the case of our supported team members, financially, and to provide empathy and support to them as the situation may require. I am reminded of Christ’s healing of His new disciple Peter’s mother-in-law early in His ministry. He then “…healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:30-31, 34).
  3. Strive for quality. It is an important part of my role as supervisor to make sure staff are meeting the standards and expectations of their job description and following the rules and protocols established by the ministry. While interacting with them regularly on their strategic plans and supervisory assignments and budgeting, I am conscious of helping them see how to incorporate our ministry values of faith, growth, oneness and fruitfulness into that work. The Lord taught His disciples – and teaches us – “Abide in me, and I in you…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4,5).
  4. Guide and speak the truth in love. I am committed to helping make sure that staff are maintaining good relationships and open lines of communication with their teammates and that they’re seeking reconciliation in a biblical manner, especially if there’s been any broken relationship or problem caused because of their mistakes or behavior, or that of others. In Mark 10, Jesus rebuked James and John for their selfish request, and the other ten disciples for being indignant toward them. But then he corrected them and helped them reconcile, saying: “…But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

To be the best servants we can be to the staff we supervise and to whom we seek to pastor and equip for ministry, let us continually model “The Master” and incorporate His gentle, lowly, and humble heart into ours on a daily basis.

I’ve learned that I can always gain and apply some new truths for life and ministry by modeling “The Master.”


Dean is on the left in this photo, doing golf ministry work in Kenya in a picture with fellow SPORT. FAITH. LIFE. author Tracy Hanson.

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Ministry work + Africa + golf = lots of smiles for Dean.