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Can sports chaplains be coaches??? If you had asked me this question a few years ago I would have responded with an unequivocal ‘NO’.  And these are the reasons why one of performance and one of spirituality –

1)      Sports Chaplains operate best when they are independent of performance.  A chaplain needs to provide advice and counsel to an individual that is centered on their holistic well-being and do so when you know it might be that such advice will be to the detriment of the athletes sporting ambitions.  How can you do that and be a coach at the same time? – it’s a pretty tough ask.  And what is an even bigger ask is to expect the athlete to confide in you if they know in doing so is going to jeopardise their selection in the team.

2)      There is a real danger of blurred lines for the athlete also if the chaplain has both roles. For example how many athletes have attended a bible study, in the hope that their spiritual enthusiasm may influence selection!

 

This is why we are of the strong opinion that the Chaplain should not wear ‘two hats’ – it causes much confusion and creates conflicts of interest.  However the issue is no longer an unequivocal no.  In seeing the development of sports chaplaincy globally one has to be more pragmatic.  Though the above is a preferred stance there are many countries where chaplaincy will never be officially recognised, nor accepted.  So for some their only opportunity to provide that spiritual and pastoral care so desperately needed is by wearing two hats.  We pray for them that they will have the grace and the wisdom to take on this challenge and thank God for their passion and compassion to show Jesus’ love to all.

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Last week we completed our second Global Sports Chaplaincy Summit where we gathered together key leaders of sports chaplaincy agencies from across the globe.  Our aim was to discuss how to develop sports chaplaincy worldwide and we had representatives from Africa, Spain, Portugal, Eurasia, Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA.  There were two huge encouragements for me.

Firstly, we began the summit with continent wide feedback on the development of sports chaplaincy.  It has often been said that the concept of chaplaincy would only prosper in English speaking countries, commonwealth countries or countries with a protestant background.  Well our first session put paid to that argument as we heard of developments in Latin America, chaplaincy developing in African nations, and green shoots of growth in areas of Asia and Eastern Europe.

But perhaps the most rewarding time and discussions came at the point where we hit most tension.  We hit a brick wall, a point of no compromise, a point where between us we could see no way forward and I thought the dream of working together to serve the sports world was about to crumble.  At this heated moment we could have argued, stuck in entrenched thought patterns and defended our point of view.  However I saw the complete opposite – brothers caringly listening to each others point of view, submitting to each other, wiling to lay down their point of view for the greater cause.  In many years of ministry I don’t think I have ever experienced such a sacrificial, humble response to conflict, and the result?……..We found a way through.

It causes me great excitement that there is a unity together to lay aside egos so that we can see sports chaplaincy expand globally and the world of sport served through the compassion and love of Christ.  Lets see what happens…

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As I have been fortunate in recent years to talk with chaplains from different continents of the world, I know that this statement will provoke a wide range of responses.
I agree with it, but not in the way you might think.  Some of our practices have to be adapted to the culture in which we operate.  In the UK I’ve heard of a chaplain nearly being sacked by a Team Director for holding a Bible study, and in the US one nearly being sacked by a Team Director for not preaching the gospel!  So understandably when chaplains get together the issue with whether and how they evangelise is often one of contention.
 
But I’m not taking sides in that debate –  the reason I agree with the statement above is not centered around the word evangelism, it is centered around the word tool.  If we see sports chaplaincy as a tool, merely a means to an end I think we are misunderstanding our position and misrepresenting God’s heart towards sport.  If we see sport as merely a vehicle, then we in effect we give it no value.
 
One of the things I have learned in the world of professional and elite sport is this – ‘Trust is an issue.’ Athletes, players, coaches, etc. are inundated with so many people that want a piece of the action, want a bit of reflected glory, or want to use the sports persons gifts to strengthen their own agenda.  Should we operate in the world of sport with hidden motives is that any different? If we are there merely to achieve our own objectives are we not just another one of the crowd?
 
I believe that sports chaplains are there to serve the world of sport, to bless them encourage them, to show them love and compassion.  If our motivation is compassion for each and everyone in the sporting world, we operate selflessly.  Now, we all want to see people come to Christ of course, but our approach, our methodology, will differ depending on the environment of the sport in which we serve, and hopefully tailored to the needs of the individual at that time.  Critically though I believe this – sports chaplaincy is NOT a tool for evangelism, rather it is an expression of God’s heart to the broken world of sport.  Lets us not use sport for evangelistic aim, but rather love those in it so that may find Christ.
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Well Christmas is arriving and for most chaplains its an extremely busy time of the year. It occurred to me the other day that there is nowhere in the Bible that says that we should celebrate Jesus’ birth….or is there?


We see in the word there is a great tradition and ongoing theme to remember the works God has done. Deuteronomy 4:9 encourages us to remember what our eyes have seen, and never let it fade from our hearts, and to teach it to our children and their children.


It is then important to remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth, but also (and I think this is often forgotten) to remember and celebrate all Gods work.   To remember not only the accounts in the Holy Scriptures but also the stories in our lives. I’d like to encourage you over this Christmas break to take some time to remember and recall all the times in your ministry that God has blessed the work of your hands. Retell the stories to your friend’s and family – faith will rise. You will see His continuing hand in your chaplaincy and be inspired and encouraged to see more in 2018.

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Kevin Naiqama, Captain of Fiji’s Rugby League gave an emotional thanks to God following his sides surprise victory against New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final.



What do we make of this?  The issue is covered in some depth by my colleague Bob Schindler in his book ‘Does God care who wins?’ and in his recent blog ‘Should we pray to win?’
but what should the chaplains response be?  And should they discourage or encourage such public thanks to Jesus?

I was once watching an Africa Cup Semi-Final, as the two teams prepared for the penalty shoot out, opposing players were on their knees calling for God’s help….one of them was disappointed. It shows with simplicity that God’s answer to your prayer will sometimes be a yes and sometimes be a no.  In that perhaps an athletes response to His response gives an indication of whether their identity is wrapped up in victory or whether they appreciate as Arthur Ashe stated ‘Success is a journey, not a destination.’


On the one hand I love to see athletes giving thanks to God for their victory, their boast after all is in the Lord 1 Cor 1:31.  But if that is all we hear from athletes then we may start to receive an imbalanced view of God, that he only backs winners, and that the prayers of the losers counted for nothing.  In politically correct cultures we also need to ensure as chaplains that those making such public affirmations have the maturity to handle the scrutiny that comes with it.

In contrast, I was thrilled to see following Brazil suffering their heaviest defeat, 7-1 to Germany in 2014 World Cup, Brazil star players Neymar & Luiz on their knees giving thanks to God.  It is a rare sight in sporting battle, but showed a window to the spiritual maturity of the two players that they could give thanks even on one of the worst days of their careers.

As chaplains I do not believe it is our role to coerce players into public declarations of their faith, but nor should we deter them from doing so. Our primary focus is their pastoral and spiritual care and supporting them to recognise God with them through victory, defeat, injury and retirement. It is our job to ensure that they take care with such statements and ensure its done out of a genuine love and appreciation. It is our responsibility to help these athletes further onto maturity in their walk.

It was great to hear Fiji’s captain giving thanks to Jesus, I loved the heart in which he did it. And I pray he has the strength to do that throughout the ups and downs of his sporting career.


*Please note, the above video does not actually include the portion of Kevin Naiqama giving thanks to God, but if you are in the UK you can access a BBC version of the interview here

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Two years ago one of our team members Ken Cross did a survey of existing sports chaplains, he asked them one simple question?  What is your biggest challenge?  The answers came back consistently time and time again – isolation and finance.  Chaplains reported to be often misunderstood in their churches, the congregation not having a clear comprehension of the demands of the role and assuming it was just a ministry jolly – the opportunity to rub shoulders with the sporting famous and get free tickets. If only they knew.

Chaplains also struggled with their identity within the club and sport where they operated.  That insider / outsider feeling we all know so well, where their role is not communicated effectively to the team.  A surprising finding from the research was many chaplains who were part of sports ministry organizations also experienced the same levels of remoteness.

Jesus’ model for going out into the world is pretty clear in Luke 10:1, they went two by two.  So should it be any different for sports chaplains?  Of course it is difficult if we go against a scriptural precedent!  It is though not as simple as that, sporting environments are fiercely protected – often fortresses particularly at an elite level, getting one chaplain in is a challenge, never mind two.  So what’s the solution?

Four ways for sports chaplains to guard against isolation:

1. Have you considered the option of trying to bring in another chaplain to your setting?  We believe chaplaincy operates best, where possible, in teams.  For example a number of clubs are taking in a chaplain for their academy team, or reserves, or to focus on the admin team, etc.

2.  Could you link up with a Christian at your sports setting that you could join with and pray for your local sport together?

3.   Are there a couple of friends at church who you could meet with openly and discuss the challenges you face and pray together?

4.  Are there other sports chaplains that you could connect with and be mutually accountable?

The 4th reason is why we have set up ‘CEDE Network – the worldwide sports chaplaincy registry’ to allow sports chaplains to connect with each other and encourage one another in their ministry.
To help us all feel connected and together as we seek to serve the world of professional and amateur sport.  If you are a Sports Chaplain please join us for free support and resource at the CEDE Network.


Please follow along as we look at chaplaincy in a politically correct culture in next month’s blog.

Thanks

Rich Gamble

CEDE Network Director

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Its fascinating to see Sports Chaplaincy develop in countries all over the world. What is of particular interest is discovering how different cultures adopt a chaplaincy approach in their context.

Ukraine became independent from Russia less than 30 years ago, so as a stand alone nation it is still very much in its infancy.  The thought of any religion practicing in sport would have been unheard only a few decades ago, so to be training over 30 people in sports chaplaincy was a pleasant surprise.

The demographic of the trainees was significantly different from settings I have encountered in the US & UK it was a much younger audience (mainly late 20s early 30s) and around 40% women.  A number of them were already serving in chaplaincy roles, with a handful at an international level.

Much of the training was around the basic definitions of chaplaincy – models and characteristics.

Here were the three main things that challenged them in their understanding

1) Presence – A number of them had a very project based mentality, task orientated with goals in mind.  So to hear of a ministry which is very much founded on being there, ‘hanging around’ with no set agenda was a shock to their approach.

2) Longevity – Linked to presence is the need for chaplaincy to be very much a long term plan. For many their mindsets were around a few months, so there was much challenge in the concept that it may take over a year until you build strong relationships in the sport setting.

3) Two hats – Much time was taken discussing the issue of whether a chaplain should have multiples roles at a club (more on this in later blogs).

Overall I found a people passionate for their country, passionate for sport and adoring of Jesus – a good combination to see His kingdom extended in Ukraine.


 

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