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.