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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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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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