“In July of 1994 I walked into the offices of Saluki Football on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. I went in to welcome the new thirty-four-year-old head coach for Saluki Football, Shawn Watson, back to campus. He had played here, had started his coaching career, and had just arrived on campus with a mountainous challenge and modest resources.
During our conversation I offered to help him in any way I could, and he said, “When I played here we had team chaplain. Would you do that for me?” I agreed to do it, we prayed together, and I walked out of the office without one solitary idea of what to do. I walked down the hall to see our athletic director, Jim Hart. Jim had played eighteen years in the National Football League and I hoped he would have some ideas for me. He provided two memories of his chaplain while with the St. Louis Cardinals, Walt Enoch.
Those simple lessons from Walt were very helpful, but I had a lot to learn.”
That is the introduction to Front Lines: Becoming an Effective Sports Chaplain or Character Coach (Cross Training Publishing, 2020). The contents of the book are the things I wish I had known when I first started. More than twenty-five years of experiences and insights are contained therein. I hope that they serve you the sports ministry community well.
A couple years ago I was chatting with a sports chaplaincy colleague from the United Kingdom. He asked if I would consider putting together a book for those who serve as sports chaplains, one that would be very practical thoughts, virtually a, “how to guide.” As I began to contemplate his request and to incubate some thoughts about content, I realized that’s largely what I have been writing in weekly blog posts since 2007.
That blog can be found at – http://sportchaplainsportmentor.blogspot.com, and I began writing it simply because of the terrible dearth of quality resources available for those who serve in this form of Christian ministry. As I would observe others’ excellence in ministry, I would share what I saw. If I had stumbled upon something that was effective, I would write about it. As I encountered applicable ideas at conferences, in books or periodicals, I would share them with my list of around 500 sports chaplains around the world. And I’d archive them in the blog.
I gathered a number of posts I thought could work for content in such a book but needed a way for it to have some sense of form. It had to be cohesive, as that would allow broader concepts to emerge. I also wanted it to be practical. So I chose this outline:
Sports Chaplaincy Essentials: there are certain things that everyone who serves as a sports chaplain should embody, believe, and to which he or she should hold tightly.
- Character Qualities – persistence, intuition, confidence, empathy, loyalty, and more.
- Identity – having a firm grasp of our true identity and its enemies is absolutely essential.
- Values – these chapters call the reader to embrace a set of essential values for wise and effective service.
How to Start: this is, for many, the most difficult part of the process and this section probes multiple layers of starting service of a team or a new season.
How to Serve – People: how we serve various sets of people can vary widely.
- Teams – settings, sports cultures, and levels of sport all shape our opportunities.
- Values – holding to proper values will enhance our ministries, but a foolish approach will diminish them.
How to Serve – Processes: there are many ways to grow, to develop, and to endure in this ministry.
- Values – this may be the most challenging segment of the book.
- Professional Development – there are ways we can purposefully grow and strengthen our ministries. Pick some. Do them.
- Self-Care – a few ideas for how to endure in ministry (this may be the most overlooked element of Christian ministry).
How to Serve – Situations: I chronicle a wide variety of experiences here—my own and those of colleagues.
- Daily Life – ideas for evaluation, design, and execution of ministry strategies.
- Critical Incidents and Crises – some very practical ideas and a few stories of having served in moments of crisis, pressure, and chaos.
How to Finish: to have a plan for walking along with those finishing a season, a coaching staff’s tenure with your club, a player’s or coach’s career, and one’s own service as a sports chaplain is immeasurably valuable.
Appendix – Resources, Bibliography, and Links: a number of on-line resources, books, websites, YouTube channels, and more are listed with QR codes to expedite one’s connecting to them via smart phone.
Despite my substantial experiences and global network of sports ministry friends and colleagues, the past year has brought new challenges. The COVID-19 virus infested season of life has turned much of our lives in sport and ministry upside down. For me, however, the truth of Holy Scripture, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the support of my family, and the lessons learned across the years—those now chronicled in this book—have led to innovative and dynamic forms of ministry that apply whether we’re confined to pandemic constraints or not. Let’s continue to lean into who we are and what we know to do as we stride boldly into all God has prepared for us.