The Sport Chaplains’ Dirty Little Secret

By Roger Life, Sports Chaplain at Southern Illinois

After many years of serving coaches and competitors in various sports and almost as many years of networking with sports chaplains and sport mentors around the USA and the world, I’ve become convinced that our dirty little secret is that many, if not most, of us are just as performance based in our sense of personal worth as those whom we serve in the world of sport.

We can all see how driven by their last performance our charges are in how they perceive their personal identity, even those who claim a relationship with Christ Jesus.  We all hear players say things like, “I’m 7 and 5.”  That is a direct statement of worth based on wins and losses.  They might protest when asked about that, but it’s still an indicator of what’s really important to them.  If we ask, “How are you doing?” many will reply by stating their team’s record or their personal statistics rather than anything deeper than their most recent results.  I usually get the same sorts of replies from coaches, administrators, fans and even sports chaplains.

For sports chaplains, we usually point to more “spiritual” results.  “85 players came to chapel today.”  “15 players committed their lives to Christ last week.”  “Our team has 80% of the players attending Bible study each week.”  “10 of the 12 coaches are in our weekly Coaches Bible studies.”  Honorable results all, but they must not become the basis for our identity or the defining marks of the validity of our ministries.  Would I be less valuable to God if 5 players attended chapel instead of 50?  Would Christ be less pleased with me if this year no one committed his life to Christ through my ministry?  Am I a failure if no one wants to start a Coaches Bible Study?  Is my identity tied directly to my performance of “spiritual tasks?”

Why is this important?  If I find my worth and identity in my performance, I will do whatever it takes to get to the desired results.  I’ll manipulate people to acquire the decisions which validate my ministry.  I’ll be sure to report the numbers which satisfy those who finance my ministry, even if they’re a little exaggerated.  I’ll choose programs over people, methods over relationships and masses over individuals because they provide the results which define my success and my worth.

If we are to have any hope of being agents of Christ’s transforming power in the lives of the people of sport, we must find our worth in our relationship with Him.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as He is being baptized by John in the Jordan River, He comes up from the water and hears a voice saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)  To this point, Jesus had zero followers.  He had performed zero miracles.  He had healed zero people.  He had raised zero people from the dead.  He had accomplished nothing to earn His Father’s love and approval.  He is pleasing to God the Father because Jesus is His Son.  That’s all.  The relationship was the basis for God’s pleasure and approval.  Jesus was identified by His relationship with His Father, period.  That continued throughout His life on the earth and beyond.

This is pretty easy for me to see because it’s very easy for me to fall prey to such a performance based mentality.  It is a constant battle to check my attitudes, my values, my priorities, my methods and my relationships to see if they are reflective of a heart which finds its worth in relationship with Christ or if it seems driven by performance and easily defined results.  It’s very easy to find my emotions and perspective directly reflective of the most recent results of the teams I serve.  It is also very easy to find my sense of identity being tied directly to the success or failure of our ministry’s most recent events.  If you were honest, you’d probably confess the same.

So what shall we do?  Let’s regularly evaluate our ministries to see how clearly we communicate each one’s intrinsic worth to our loving Father.  Let’s be sure to lead others in ways which value relationships over results.  Let’s honor faithfulness over success.  Let’s guard our hearts from the insidious cancer of performance based worth and prefer to live in the freedom and security of knowing we’re well pleasing to God through our relationship with Christ Jesus.  Having such a secure basis for our own worth will leave us free to serve selflessly and to help others find their own freedom from the burdensome yoke of slavery to performance.

Submitted by Ken Cross

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