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Are You an Athlete?

December 12, 2015

What a privilege it is to be an athlete in the United States of America in the twenty-first century. Many of today’s athletes are accustomed to special treatment, notoriety, and financial remuneration that is beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations. Whether at a professional or an amateur level, if you are an athlete at the top of your game and considered world-class, by the world’s standards you are probably one of the cool people. I must confess that I have a special place in my heart for athletes. It’s not that I think athletes have any sort of super-spiritual connectivity to our Heavenly Father or that their God-given walk in life is any better or more important than the rest of us. On the contrary, they too, are wretched sinners that can only be saved by the grace of God. They are simply ordinary human beings that have been blessed with extraordinary gifts and talents from above. We see those gifts and talents on display on a regular basis. Many of us (Christian and non-Christian) are mesmerized and infatuated by what they are able to accomplish in their respective fields of athletic expertise. Athletics has become so engrained in our way of life and in today’s popular culture, that I would challenge anyone to try and avoid their influence and impact. Let’s take a look at the power and influence of athletics by asking a few basic questions.       

  • Do you enjoy watching sporting events?

  • How frequently do you and your children watch sporting events?

  • When is the last time you saw an athlete interviewed on television?

  • Can you name five well-known athletes?

  • Do you regularly see articles on the internet or in print relating to the lives of well-known athletes?

  • Are you or someone you know interested in the lives of a particular athlete?

  • Have you ever seen an athlete on a billboard? In a commercial?

  • Do you watch college football? How about the NFL? NBA? MLB? MLS?

  • Do you or your children have a favorite athlete that you enjoy following?

  • Is it considered quite a big deal when you see, talk with, or are around professional athletes?

  • Does the world look up to and hold athletes to an almost god-like status?

Well, you get the idea. Athletics and athletes are everywhere. It is quite impossible to avoid their impact in the age we currently live in. Unfortunately, the world has branded today’s athletes as larger-than-life figures that can do no wrong. They are idolized by children, teenagers, and adults around the globe. We follow their stories, watch their lives unfold in the national media, and incorporate their “goings-on” into our daily lives, interests, and routines. Many well-intentioned people look to athletes as role models and even believe they can provide moral and ethical guidance to help us make sense of the world. Others look to athletes and sports as mere diversions to the complexities, pressures, and challenges of life that we routinely face. We are inspired by what they are able to accomplish on the field, along with deep human interest and curiosity relating to their personal “back-stories.” By putting them on a pedestal, are we participating in the creation of these “super-human” phenoms?

From a Christian perspective, is there anything good that can come from participating in sports and involving ourselves in the lives of athletes? That is the question that we want to consider in this article. What can we learn from the athletic realm that will help us shape a “Christian Leadership Worldview?” First of all, I would like to share my own professional athletics story on this subject. I would like to give you a perspective of how athletics has helped shaped my Christian outlook and worldview. From a very early age, I have always believed in the purity of sport and athletic completion. Even as an unsaved young man, it was never about fame and fortune. It always was about the drive and determination to be the best that I could be. I wanted to be able to hone the skills necessary to excel and to be able to contribute to my teammates’ success. There is no doubt that my teammates and I wanted to be winners. As a result of all that drive and determination, I was able to play sports in high school, college, and then professionally. Yes, I was able to achieve a level of expertise in baseball that allowed me to get paid for playing a game. The Montreal Expos baseball team signed me to a professional baseball contract in June of 1983. I had just graduated from Brown University two weeks earlier. They put me on a plane to our spring training facility; worked-out for a couple of weeks; and then it was off to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for my very first professional baseball season. That was where our “Class A” affiliate was located. I was in absolute shock and disbelief when I received that phone call from the Montreal Expos General Manager that summer day in June. Signing a professional baseball contract was a lifelong dream of mine that had finally come true! There were so many thoughts and questions that began whirling around in my head.

  • What kind of teammates would I have?

  • Would I be a starting player or would I have to sit the bench for a while?

  • Could I contribute?

  • Did I have enough talent to get to the next level?

  • Could I stay injury free?

  • What other players did the Expos sign?

  • What would the bus rides be like on the minor league circuit?

  • What cities would we visit?

  • Could I get to the major league one day?

  • What would the hotels be like?

  • Would I have enough money to pay for my room and meals?

As you can see, my focus as an unsaved twenty-two year old was not a spiritual one. It was primarily a self-centered worldview on the events of the day. Well, quite honestly, I probably didn’t even know what the word “worldview” meant back then. I was a naïve country boy from the beautiful state of Maine who had average intelligence. The only difference between me and the guy next door was that I had a driving and insatiable competitive spirit. As a result, I had the propensity to out-work and out-hustle the competition. I made sure that I was the first person to arrive at the practice field and the last to leave. What I lacked in brains was made up in the gym, weight room, and the practice field. I just couldn’t let it rest! I had to get better! I couldn’t get enough of baseball and all that came with it.

Well, fortunately, there was a much better ending to my story than many professional athletes that you read about today. I got cut from the Montreal Expos roster at the end of that 1983 season. I had a couple of major injuries that put me on the shelf and “out to pasture” for most of the season. A muscle tear in my shoulder and a major hamstring pull basically ended my dreams………or did they? I know what you are thinking. That doesn’t sound like much of a better ending to me!

God had a different plan for my life. He sent a teammate from Georgia to be a wonderful Christian witness and testimony during my one and only professional baseball season with the Expos. This young man was consistent in the way that he lived out his Christian faith, and that was attractive to me. We had long talks about Christ and the things that were missing in my life. Time and again he told me that Christ was the answer and that I needed to change course and accept Him. He was a bold Christian witness. After several months of conversation and the Holy Spirit working in my life, I decided in August of 1983, to accept that free gift from God and become a follower of Jesus Christ. Very late one night after one of our games (11PM), I decided to go out for a long jog. Guess where I ended up? Believe it or not, I ended up back on the Montreal Expos minor league baseball field where we had just played a game a couple of hours before. Once I arrived at the field, I jumped the fence and ran out to centerfield. It was there that I got down on my knees and asked Christ to save me. I asked him to forgive me of my sins and to be my Lord and Savior. It was at that point in my life that I began to have a much deeper appreciation and clarity for the purity of sport. There are so many Christian life-lessons and Bible applications to be learned from being involved in athletics. Because of my self-centered nature back then, I did not realize that one day God was going to use my baseball experiences and allow me to share my Christian testimony with others. While the world primarily focuses on the fame, fortune, and celebrity of athletics, in this article I would like us to consider the leadership dynamics of competition and sport. In other words, I want us celebrate athletics from a personal growth perspective and for us to examine the purity of athletics. Let’s take a look at a few of those building blocks of life.

  • Victory
  • Desire
  • Regiment
  • Integrity

  • Honesty

  • Resilience
  • Precision

  • Support

  • Recognition

Yes, without question, athletics helped me become a better leader. God allowed me to have the athletic experiences necessary to help me grow and prosper in the faith. Those experiences gave me the understanding, drive, and determination to want to share the gospel message of Christ around the world. Our family has much to be thankful for. We hope to have a positive impact on others for Christ.


I would argue that one of the first lessons that great athletes have to learn is that there is no letter “I” in the words team, teamwork, or teammate. Great athletes, and ultimately great teams, understand that there needs to be chemistry and balance. Chemistry, in that everyone is fully utilizing their athletic gifts for the betterment of the team. Everyone has a role to play. Sound remotely familiar? Don’t we as followers of Jesus Christ use our spiritual gifts for the betterment of the Church? A fully functioning church with optimal spiritual conditions is one where everyone is contributing and giving of themselves. God has blessed each of us with spiritual gifts that we should be using to help build the spiritual vibrancy that healthy local churches need. Back to athletics.

What about the balance that we talked about earlier? Great teams who exhibit maximum teamwork have a terrific balance of younger players mixed in with more experienced ones. Most of the championship teams that I have played on or have had the pleasure of experiencing on television have this balance. They have a perfect blend of youth and experience for optimal conditions of performance. We see this same phenomena within the local church framework. We have elders and senior saints with special gifts that complement the exuberance, idealism, and hubris of the young. God is able to move His work forward when there is a perfect blend of youth and experience. In a sense, it becomes a self-sustaining framework for local church growth, spiritual maturity, and worldwide Christian outreach. Back to athletics.

Beyond team chemistry and balance there is one more binding force that drives great teams. You may have even heard the expression, “I have my teammate’s back” before. While this has become an overused and empty shell of a statement among the athletes of today, if the onion is pealed back just a little, you will find much more depth and significance in the phrase than at first glance. What does the expression mean and how does it apply in the athletic realm? Let’s make several key observations about what the phrase “I have my teammates back” actually means.

  1. Contribute – Your role and contribution is vital for the team to function at 100% capacity and beyond. In other words, your team needs you to contribute your athletic gifts to the best of your ability. You’re contribution to the success of the team should not be linked to your role on the team. Whether you are the star scoring all of the points or the bench warmer cheering on his teammates, everyone has a role to play. The bottom-line is that you must do your job and fulfill your role to the best of your abilities.
  2. Protect – On and off the playing field, when your teammate is in trouble, you are going to be there to step-up and pick them up. In a sense, you are going to protect their blind side. It may be a situation where you help minimize the impact of a busted play. As a teammate, it is your responsibility to anticipate and react to any advantage that the competition may have over one of your teammates. It is the same concept off the field. Your teammate needs you to help give guidance when they become misdirected.   
  3. Evaluate – You and your teammates are going to evaluate the playing conditions and course-correct when necessary. Through collaboration and teamwork, you are going to identify all of the necessary adjustments that need to be made in order to get the winning edge. Scour the landscape for potential adjustments on every play.
  4. Support – You are going to emotionally support your teammates through the ups and downs of the game conditions. Encourage them when they are down and give them the “high-fives” and an “atta boy” when they are knocking it out of the park.
  5. Team – All of the praise and adulation is pointed to the team’s success. There will be no self-aggrandizing commentary that points to self.          

Well, I hope that you have a better understanding of what that phrase means to me as a former professional athlete. From a spiritual perspective, when I look into the Word of God, I see where the Lord has given us examples of where He has protected us. To use a sport’s analogy, he has protected both our fronts and our backs. When the people of Israel were fleeing Egypt, God used a cloud by day and fire by night to give them light, direction, and comfort. He would never leave or forsake His people.  

Exodus 13:21-22 – “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.”

In the following few verses we also see where God decided to move and protect their “rereward.” The meaning of the word “rereward” indicates that God will protect and guard them from behind (e.g. God had their backs).

Exodus 14:19-20 – “And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.”

Isaiah 52:12 – “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.”

Isaiah 58:6-12 – “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”

Whether you are in ministry, business, nonprofit, athletics, or some other organizational environment, you have a responsibility to protect your teammate’s back. There are many situations in life when the plays on your team unfold right before your eyes. Small adjustments are made here and there, but overall and in most cases your teammates seem to be handling themselves as the circumstances go along as planned. They are making all the right moves. But what happens when something goes wrong? How will you respond? Will you come to your teammates rescue and fill the gap?  Will you stand tall when times get tough? Will you have their back?

I have come to believe that athletics is a wonderful training and proving ground for the issues of life. It is especially valuable when born again Christians can live out their faith in those competitive environments. How are you doing as a teammate? Are you contributing, protecting, evaluating, supporting, and focused on team performance?  

For the Christian, the value of athletics is not in fame, fortune, and notoriety. Athletics is a tool from above that helps us live out and “exercise” fundamental Christian beliefs. God used athletics in my life for salvation purposes and the opportunity to proclaim the name of Christ. How will He use athletics in your life? Will you let Him?



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