It is amazing to observe the wide variety of styles that we employ in our service of the people of sport. Some of us approach our service like a member of the coaching staff. Others seem more like a pastor who roams the dugouts, sidelines, and locker rooms. Still others are evangelists, without apology, seeking opportunities to share Jesus in any moment. There is certainly room for one to develop his or her personal style of service, but just how "spiritual" or "religious" should our service be?
While speaking with our university’s play by play radio announcer earlier this year, he remarked, "I have never heard your work described as religious." I replied that I was glad, rather than being religious I would prefer to be faithful to my calling from God. I think what he meant was that I don’t communicate in religious clichés, nor do I imply that going to church services with me is the height of Christian devotion. My way of serving people in sport is to speak in the language of their cultures, rather than importing church culture into their worlds. It is not heard as religious, but it communicates clearly and respectfully.
Some of our colleagues employ the super-spiritual language that fits their church environment as they are on the practice field. While that makes the chaplain stand out as distinctively different, it also creates some distance that many will not even try to cross to connect with him or her.
We may do better to think about our service of sportspeople by focusing on the core of our message, rather than the language in which it is wrapped. Rather than simply spouting the clichés, buzzwords, and illustrations we hear on the latest preacher’s podcast, let’s find ways to communicate that truly transform the hearts of those we serve. More than religious, such communication is truly spiritual and speaks life into the lives of sportspeople.
How "spiritual" should our service be? Very. How "religious" should it be? That’s up to you.