Friday, February 16, 2018

2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity

Below, please find information on the 2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity that will be held at Calvin College, USA, October 23-27, 2019. I participated in the inaugural congress in 2016 and it was outstanding. It contains a track specifically about Sports Chaplaincy. I highly recommend this event. Please put yourself in their information loop for more information as it becomes available.

2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity

Location and Dates:

Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, October 23-27, 2019


Professor Brian Bolt, Calvin College, Grand Rapids Michigan, US, email:
Professor Chad Carlson, Hope University, Grand Rapids Michigan, US, email:

Sponsoring Institutions:  

Calvin College and Hope College

Conference Administrator:  

Emily Dock 

Link to the website:

Congress Twitter Account: @SportTheology

Friday, February 2, 2018

Is the Patriots' secret weapon their character coach?

A football coach sent me a link to this article from today’s USA Today. Please give it a read. It’s a good example of how a character coach serves a professional (NFL) American Football team.

Is the Patriots' secret weapon their character coach?

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — A Patriots media relations staffer finished counting and happily proclaimed, “Every one’s here. Perfect attendance.”
It was Wednesday’s media session, four days before New England confronts the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Perfect attendance was good news.
Receiving it was Jack Easterby, whose official title — character coach/team development – is as surprising to see in an NFL front office as his role has become indispensable for the longest-running dynasty in NFL history.  
A review of the media guides of the 31 other NFL franchises revealed New England is the only one to employ a character coach.
“I always make sure everybody’s here,” Easterby told USA TODAY Sports. “If someone wasn’t on time, or was taking too long in the bathroom, or skipping, I need to know. I like to get ahead on any issues.”
Easterby won’t be considered for any head coaching jobs and goes mostly unnoticed by those on the outside, but he may be the most crucial member not named Bill Belichick on the coaching staff.

“Character and the kind of people you hire is something that our country is in desperate need to get back to evaluating,” Easterby said. “Unfortunately, sometimes it matters most when we count it the least. And when we evaluate it the least, it matters most. It’s tough, but we have seen a lot of businesses and industries fall because of a lack of character.
“One of the things we’ve seen come up in our culture lately — from the (Harvey) Weinstein case and so many others – we’ve seen that choices matter.”
Easterby was hired in 2013 to help the team manage the fallout after tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, a member of the organization told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment on the matter.
One described the locker room then as reeling, something not unfamiliar to Easterby.
He served as the team chaplain of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2011-12. On Dec. 1, 2012, linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, fatally shot his girlfriend at their home before he drove to the Chiefs facility and committed suicide.
Easterby’s first role in the NFL was as the assistant director of football operations with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005, consulting on salary cap issues. The following year, he headed home to Columbia to act as the University of South Carolina athletic department’s character coach from 2006-11.
“I was just figuring it out,” he said, “but I quickly realized we can’t just talk about problems; we need to work toward solutions.”
Easterby has an office with “an unbending open-door policy.” Walk-ins and appointments are welcomed. Discussed are issues big and small. If Easterby thinks a certain book will help a player, he’ll drop it off at his locker. He writes personal letters and provides motivational quotes and posters. He often shares scripture and holds Bible study. Though he tries not to get too involved in personnel decisions, Easterby has been involved when Belichick has sought his opinion.
“Jack has been huge in my life,” left tackle Nate Solder, who was treated for testicular cancer in 2014 and whose son is currently being treated for a rare form of kidney cancer, told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s one of my close friends. I call him about everything. I really, really appreciate his friendship.”
“I had a problem at home,” safety Duron Harmon told USA TODAY Sports. “I didn’t know how to leave work behind so that when I came home, I was just Dad, not the football player no more. Meeting with him, he helped me find peace to let me know how to deal with it.”
As fullback James Develin told USA TODAY Sports: “Before every game – and I mean every game – he comes up to each of us and tells us he appreciates us.”
Easterby joins the squad at practice. He’s not limited, however, to the sidelines. He has led drills – “throwing passes to fat, defensive guys” — and has even played scout-team quarterback in a pinch.
Easterby was a guest at safety Devin McCourty’s wedding. He invites players to breakfast, lunch, and dinner – often at his home with his family. He has hosted Wiffle ball games in his backyard. He opens up about his past, doles out high-fives, fist bumps, and hugs.
“Around other teams, you have people like that, but from what I’ve seen, they’re all pretenders,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, who joined the Patriots in November, told USA TODAY Sports. “Just because they want to be around football players and get things. This guy here, every day, he walks up to us and feeds us positivity. Every single day. This dude is not pretending.”
And it’s not only players whom Easterby counsels.
“Sometimes it’s actually working with a guy who wants to be a head coach and talking about leadership and growth,” Easterby said, before he paused, looked, and pointed in the direction of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is expected to be named head coach of the Detroit Lions after the Super Bowl. “It doesn’t really matter who it is.”
Easterby speaks in short, sequential sentences. He lists examples to prove his points. He’s tall, balding and lanky. He wields a syrupy Southern drawl and brims with seemingly endless positive energy.
But he’s a white character coach in a league with a majority of players who are black.
Yet, based on numerous interviews with white and black players, none said it prevented them from sharing personal matters. Each said his authenticity made it easy to relate to him.
“We’ve been through some things recently — things that have gone on in our country and things that have gone on in the league,” Easterby said of the political climate and social activism in the NFL. “I just think that love wins. Communication with others wins. Servanthood wins. That’s why when we went through some of the stuff we went through earlier this year, it was a conversation, not a judgment."
By Wednesday night, back at New England’s team hotel, Easterby was gathering a group of players for a Bible study. His background is religious, but Easterby is careful not to force it on anyone. He sometimes swaps out “sin” in conversation with “mistakes” in an attempt to appeal to all.
NFL locker rooms are complex. Personal issues and problems abound, and there’s no manual for how to best navigate sensitive topics. Complicating matters further, what works for one may not help another.

“My role is to simply serve,” Easterby said. “To help them create healthier relationships, healthier viewpoints, so that they can become the kind of people they want. Doing that would make them more sustainable in just about everything.”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

What can an FCA Chaplain/Character Coach do for me?

During the recently concluded FCA Collegiate Ministries conference in Atlanta, Georgia we received the document below. It was provided by our greatly esteemed colleague and friend, Marla Butterworth. Marla adapted a document she had previously used in her chaplaincy service with the US Navy. She now serves with the US Air Force as a chaplain. I have adapted the document to include information peculiar to my service of the sporting community in my area of the USA. Marla is a gift to our global network through her insight, passion, and generous spirit.

What can an FCA Chaplain/Character Coach do for me?
Provide, Facilitate, Care, Advise in formal and informal ways.

Provide. (for those of the same faith)
·        Team / small group / staff Bible Study
·        Prayer
·        Chapel service on Sunday
·        Pre-game chapel
·        Pray for, encourage, and exhort players, coaches, and support staff.
·        Facilitate any relationships desired with local churches.
·        Resource players and coaches with a desire for involvement with FCA beyond the campus with service projects, camps, retreats, etc.

Facilitate. (for others)
·        Be available to help connect personnel with any needs.

Care. (for all)
·        Assist with and/or resource for Team Building activities.
·        Provide resources and assist in character development, life management skills, and any needed counseling.
·        Be a Safe place- We don’t control playing time, job, or scholarship and will maintain strict confidentiality with the exception of someone doing harm to themselves or others.
·        Be available and develop relationships that allow for supporting players, coaches, and support staff.
·        Attend practice and/or games as well as periodic office visits to facilitate this availability.
·        Be available and equipped at all times to help in crisis situations.
·        Free Labor- an extra set of hands for menial tasks.
·        Advise (the coaching staff)
·        Be an objective outsider who can hopefully have the pulse of the program.
·        Pray for and serve the coaching and support staff in whatever way they need or desire.
·        Alert the coach to critical issues that could affect his or her program.

Above all.
The goal is to assist in a healthy program that graduates mature young people.  The manner is to serve at the pleasure of the Head Coach. The hope is to help create a family atmosphere within a competitive athletic arena.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Pregame Chapel Talk Writing Process

Next week I’ll be at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Collegiate Ministries conference in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). Among the presentations being made will be one that I will make re: the writing process I use for pregame chapel talks. The outline for the presentation, in graphic form, is below. I hope it helps inform your process for communicating with sportspeople.

That’s it; a pretty simple process, but one I have used for many years to speak to the hearts of men and women in sport.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Broad and Shallow or Narrow and Deep?

One of the tensions I experience often is whether ministry initiatives should be broad and shallow, involving lots of people at a nominal level of depth, or narrow and deep, involving fewer people at a much greater depth. One thing is for sure, to expect things to be broad and deep, will only disappoint you.

The second tension comes with the assumption that one can only do one or the other, broad and shallow or narrow and deep. I would like to have you see these as complementary in nature, not adversarial. I strive to do both, with different goals, with different expectations, sometimes with the same groups.

For instance, with the minor league baseball team I serve I do both approaches to ministry with the same club in the same week.
·        Broad and shallow – Baseball Chapel on Sunday after batting practice. Everyone may attend, no preparation is necessary from anyone except me. It takes about fifteen minutes from start to finish. It’s very shallow in depth as I am speaking with a wide range of spiritual maturity. Players and coaches attend, only on Sunday home games. That’s usually around eight meetings per season (96 games).
·        Narrow and deep – Bible study after batting practice on a weekday afternoon. I give each interested player a devotional book and a New Testament (Spanish / English), with instructions that we’ll read the devotion assigned to the day of the year and the chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the day of the month. We all do the reading and then once during each home stand, we discuss our insights from the daily readings. Occasionally I’ll meet one on one over breakfast with a coach, a team captain, or have a couple of players to our home for dinner. I even played a round of golf with a couple of players on an off day afternoon.
With our collegiate FCA group, we do both, broad and shallow as well as narrow and deep.
·        Broad and shallow – We hold occasional large group meetings in an auditorium in the athletic department. They are designed to draw in people who are less comfortable in a more intimate atmosphere, but may find a large group more inviting. It includes some music, video, prepared talks, and time to meet people, all in sixty minutes. Broad and shallow, purposefully.
·         Narrow and deep – We also hold smaller group meetings in my home. They are often for student-athletes of any sport, sometimes for a specific team, and occasionally even one on one meetings with a student-athlete who desires some personal mentoring. Much narrower and much deeper.

The big idea to keep in mind in this tension is to understand the nature of your event and to program wisely. Don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting a large group with minimal commitment to dive into a deep discussion requiring a lot of preparation. If the group seems broad and deep, speak their language, start where they are, make it convenient, and work to move them forward to greater depth and commitment. In that broad and shallow group may be a few who desire something with greater depth. Help them start another group. If your aim is to provide a study with depth, requiring study away from the meeting, at an inconvenient hour or location, you can’t be upset if the attendance numbers are low. You have programmed for narrow and deep, the group will be narrow and deep.

One size does not fit all. Listen clearly to your group and they’ll likely reveal their depth and breadth by their choices of location, time of day, subject matter, and frequency of meeting. Move ahead with their desires, challenging them to grow in relationship and commitment. Watch for the outliers in the group and serve their interests. You’ll soon perceive how to complement the broad and shallow with the narrow and deep.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Cultural Preferences vs. Scriptural Mandates

The longer one is in the Church, the more one is enveloped in its culture, both Christian culture generally and specifically the culture of the local church one attends. There are cultural shifts within any particular church’s culture, some seen across decades, others across weeks, and still others that move glacially slowly across centuries. This is equally true of parachurch ministries, but an extra layer of corporate business culture is added to the church culture that defines these organizations.

Whatever the nature of your church or parachurch culture, we must see it clearly enough to keep its cultural preferences distinct from genuine scriptural mandates. To rephrase, we must hold tightly to scriptural mandates, and more loosely hold to our cultural preferences. Let’s not confuse the two. Let’s also understand which ones are worth fighting for and which are not even worth an argument.

Cultural preferences relate to matters like:
·        Musical styles
·        Hair styles
·        Clothing
·        Tattoos
·        Jewelry
·        Architecture
·        Language
·        Church polity
·        Educational issues
·        Sport
·        Technology
·        Art
·        Icons

Scriptural mandates are much more important, far less fuzzy, and much more demanding (short list):
·        34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
·        12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is [l]the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
·        30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

You and I, our families, our churches, our parachurch ministries, our friends, our enemies, everybody will have their cultural preferences. Wonderful. Let’s not allow those preferences to separate us from each other. Let’s certainly not let them compromise our commitment to the scriptural mandates to love God, to love our neighbor, to put on hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. May our hearts, full of Christ Jesus’ Spirit, permeate and transform each and every culture we inhabit, one heart at a time.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Baseball Observations with the Manager

Prior to Christmas I met for coffee with the manager and COO of the minor league baseball team I serve to discuss the past season and the season to come. I asked lots of questions, probed for answers to the team’s underachievement, and was very pleased that he trusts me enough to discuss so many matters of great importance to him. He is certainly not a believer in Christ, but he trusts me for such discussions. The 2018 season will be the seventh of my serving the club. Below are some of the observations we made and discussed.

There were a number of changes in the starting lineup from 2016 to 2017. There were even more changes to the bench and the pitching staff. That led to a loss of culture and a loss of team leadership, on the field and in the clubhouse.

There were changes in all the coaching staff roles, and their poor fit for the club also contributed to the loss of culture.

The manager wrongly assumed that the returning veteran players would step into team leadership roles and enculturate their teammates into the team’s way of doing baseball. As we talked, I mentioned that the introverted nature of these two veterans probably short-circuited their leadership potential. Whereas the manager expected these players to be the ones who would hang around the clubhouse after games to encourage, celebrate, console, or challenge, they were the first two out the door. I told the manager they had been at the ballpark for eight or more hours by that time and their relational tanks were probably empty. They wanted to get away to some solitude. He nodded his ascent and I could tell he was processing this leadership factor.

We also talked about the fact that all his players are now Millennials and the challenge that presents to managers and coaches of his (my) generation. I mentioned that I had observed the importance of having Millennials on the coaching staff and how that is working to great effect on college football staffs. We talked about the former player and team captain who is returning as hitting coach, as well as the two other offers he has out for the 2016 season’s bullpen coach, and the 2016 starting catcher to return as pitching coach. All are Millennials and may have a unique way of relating to Millennial players in ways that are more challenging to Baby Boomer leaders.

You may wonder, where is the ministry in this conversation? I would reply, it is everywhere. The manager has told me, very directly, about the hardness in his heart toward the Lord due to the death of both parents when he was quite young, growing up in an Italian Roman Catholic family. I have been building relationship with this man for six years and I am gaining his trust. I have given him good materials to read that both enhance his leadership of the club and inform his heart of the Lord’s truth, grace, and love. I have walked with him through his cancer scare and with his wife through hers. Ministry is woven into the fabric of each interaction I have with him, whether in person, via text message, email, or in the form of a book.

May I challenge you to look beyond the most traditional, pragmatic, and blunt ministry methods, to be more creative, more relational, and more deeply impactful by loving people extravagantly, and serving them selflessly.

2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity

Below, please find information on the 2nd Global Congress on Sport and Christianity that will be held at Calvin College , USA, October 23-...