Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflections of A Soccer Newbie

Hi. I’m new around here. But you can tell that if you just listen to me for a little.

I am just learning about socc…um…this sport. I know baseball, football (my kind!) and basketball well enough, but I’ve never really spent much time with soccer. I am drawn to soccer because the World Cup has stimulated national pride, and it is a slow sports time of year for me. I guess I want to give something else a go. Another reason why I’m interested is because of friends who know and love soccer. Most of my friends who are interested in soccer are the kinds of people I like to be around, so I’m giving this a shot.

The experience of getting in to soccer reminds me that there is often a big learning curve when trying anything new. The language of soccer is full of terms I don’t understand. For instance, who else calls their lineup a “side” or the uniforms a “kit?” The tactics of soccer are new to me as well. I am still trying to understand what the difference is between a 4-4-2 and the “diamond” that the USMNT is fond of forming. On the surface, soccer is the simplest sport on the planet, but there are textures and layers that make this a deep, cerebral sport as well.

So what is making me stay with it?

1. A welcoming community. My friends who are in to futbol have accepted a neophyte like me. During matches I often text a friend or two who are more than happy to talk to me about tactics and some of the “game within a game” moves that are being made. I really enjoy their insight and it makes it fun for me.

2. Enthralling stories: The more I watch and learn, the more I find out about the stories around the game. Today, I watched a grown man bite another player. This was unusual behavior for sure, but within a few minutes I learned that this was the third time he’s done this! Sorry Suarez. You are going to have to walk alone on this one. Then there are the stories I am learning surrounding my USA team like the Donovan decision, and the sometimes enigmatic Jurgen Klinsmann. Dempsey is a hero with a broken nose. Altidore is a tragic figure. Bradley is playing for redemption and on and on. I am interested in the matchups and the matches more because I am learning the stories surrounding the sport.

3. High stakes: The World Cup has the highest stakes of all the sporting events in the world. With soccer being the world’s most popular sport, the World Cup provides all the drama one could hope for with the highest international honors. Who couldn't want their country to do well in this tournament?

My experience as a soccer newcomer makes me think about those who are new to following Jesus. I have been a Christian my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I did not know about Jesus, but I understand that following Jesus can make one feel like an outsider with a steep learning curve! The language we Christians use can be dense. We do things that don’t make sense. We talk about sacrificing time on Sundays for worship where we do things like sing publicly. Who does that? We intentionally step back from our maximized lifestyle by committing to give of our finances to others. This doesn't make sense. We believe that we can have direct access to God in prayer. And then there are complicated doctrines that make PhD candidates sweat. Following Jesus can be complicated. I get it.

But here’s why I think you should stick with it.

1. A welcoming community: When you follow Jesus with others you will find a community that will accept you, care for you, and show you the love of Christ. My life has been so thoroughly shaped by the community of Jesus followers that I cannot imagine me without the Church.

2. Enthralling Stories: Face it. The claim that Christians make is the biggest story ever told! We believe Jesus, the Son of God, died on a Roman cross but God raised him from the dead. This cycle of resurrection is the core story of Christians and we find ourselves riffing this tune continually. The possibilities that open up when we live resurrection are endless and engaging. Christians should tell the best stories.

3. The Highest Stakes: We believe that God is restoring all things and God is using the Church as agents of this reconciliation. Christians can sense that all time and creation is heading someplace. And we want to be a part of what God is doing!

If you are getting in to Jesus, I encourage you to find a community, hear the stories, and pay attention to the high stakes. I think you will find this the most meaningful pursuit in life!

Jordan Hubbard is the senior minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, TX (in Central Texas). He is married to Debbie and they have 3 children. Jordan enjoys baseball and football (the American kind) and is just learning about futbol. He's a Dallas Cowboys fan, so he's accustomed to having his heart broken. You can check out Jordan's messages at and when he blogs it is at You can also follow him on Twitter @jordanchubbard.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Building a Legacy of Success

The Los Angeles Kings became champions of the National Hockey League this year, winning the Stanley Cup by beating the New York Rangers in the finals 4 games to 1. The Kings demonstrated a strong will to win. In round one of the playoffs, they were down three games to none against a very good San Jose Sharks team. They became just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome these odds by winning four in a row to advance to the second round. In that round, they faced their bitter rivals from Anaheim, the Ducks, and were victorious in a difficult series. 

In the third round, the Western Conference championship, the Kings took on the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. This series went to seven games, and the seventh game went to sudden-death overtime, before the Kings won to advance. In the Stanley Cup final, the Kings showed their resiliency by beating the Rangers in five games. Three of those games required overtime and of those, two actually went to double overtime, including the Kings' final victory!

If we looked only at this season, we could say that the Kings were good. However, if we look at the recent past, we might conclude that the Kings are very good, if not great. It was not just this year that the Kings were successful. In the previous two seasons, the Kings won the Stanley Cup (2012) and made the Western Conference championship round (2013). The "dynasty" word has begun to be used about them. There is a new statistical category, called the fenwick close percentage, which basically describes scoring chances. The Kings have led the NHL in fenwick percentage for the last three seasons, winning it all twice and losing in the semi-finals to the eventual champion.

The Kings are building something great, and all the pieces matter. They have only three unrestricted free agents, so the core of the team will be able to be kept together. The Kings are also a young team, and seem to have skill in developing young prospects within their system. Although they will probably not win the Stanley Cup every year, they are positioning themselves to be successful for many years to come. The Kings are building a legacy of success.

What can your church or ministry learn from the Kings?

1. Get good at what matters. 
There is a reason that teams who lead the league in fenwick close percentage have either won the Cup or come very close to winning the Cup. The stat describes scoring chances, and if you have more scoring chances than your opponent you will most often win the game. The Kings have led this category for three years. They have focused on what matters, on what gives them the best chance to win. 

What is the most important thing your church can do to be successful? If you don't know, how can you find out? How can you center your ministry's efforts around that one thing?

2. Build for the long-term. 
The Kings develop prospects within their system, sign them to long-term contracts, and keep them. This ensures a nucleus of good, skilled young players will grow together as a team. They will learn and understand the team's system while adopting the values and culture of the club.

How are you building for the long-term? Do you have a training system that you put people through? How could you develop such a system? (Read more on this topic HERE.)

3. Stay consistent.
The Kings are not known for making many moves. Their coach is about as low-key as you find. They are consistent and methodical. They have a plan. They focus on what they must do to succeed and they stick to that.

Does your church or ministry chase the latest fad or gimmick? Are you always looking for the "next big thing" or are you following a plan? Does your decision making process encourage change or consistency? How can you emphasize consistency?

Jeremy Hoover is the minister at the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan. His website is at He is an avid sports fan who enjoys biographies about athletes and books by coaches. His favorite sports are hockey, where he roots for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and football, where he pulls for the New England Patriots.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

From Shadows to Spotlights

What an exciting time of year for sports fans. We are witnessing a massive collision of huge sporting events with global followings.

As I write this on Thursday, 12 June 2014 the following events will take place today:
  • Day One of the US Open (golf);
  • Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat;
  • And in a couple of hours the first game of the 2014 World Cup will kickoff in Brazil.
  • Also, tomorrow the NY Rangers and LA Kings will play Game 5 of the NHL Finals.
This all comes on the back of Rafael Nadal winning a record 9th French Open (tennis) this past weekend and in a couple of weeks Wimbledon will be upon us just as the World Cup group stage concludes.

In the meantime, other leagues (Major League Baseball, Rugby & Aussie Rules) continue their regular seasons.

As the passion for these major sporting events ramps up only to suddenly disappear when the final whistle blows, I'm drawn to compare the hype to the manner many of us approach church involvement.

As a minister I understand all to well the appeal of the latest flash marketing of a new approach to a particular ministry. We launch a new small group ministry with fireworks and a smoke machine and six months later we're pumping up our Children's Ministry, then summer hits and we encourage EVERYONE to involve themselves in a service activity over the next 3 months.

Sports organizations market themselves to capture the biggest audience at the biggest moments. The NBA doesn't care that much how many people watch the Timberwolves vs Charlotte in November, but they sure want a huge audience come May and June. Despite the marketing, the truth is that the parts we don't see, the off season, the gym sessions, the mundane games early in the season, all form the foundation for what occurs in the spotlight.

The World Cup (and Olympics) manage their biggest moments incredibly well. Because their event only take place every four years demand and anticipation builds. By limiting the number of teams eligible for the World Cup, the various qualifying tournaments also garner attention and build the momentum of expectations. Because they're national teams you automatically gain huge audiences whenever a nation qualifies for the tournament. If China or India ever qualify... BOOM...there's at least half a Billion eyeballs!!!

How big is the World Cup? Check out this chart!!!

Churches often do a great job of recruiting volunteers for special events, but what we really seek are disciples of Jesus committed to working in a ministry to make sure those highlights occur. I often get to baptise someone in front of the church after I've studied the Bible with that person several times. But I'd never have met that person if the daughter of the person she did housekeeping for didn't invite her and give her a ride to church each Sunday.

We love to watch our children perform at the end of the year and show the songs they've learned and Scriptures they've memorised and people they've helped throughout the year. But so many of those people who watch the "adorable children" and pat them on the back at the end of the year are nowhere to be found when recruiting teachers for the next year begins.

Sports (and church) can easily teach us to value the spotlight above the shadows, but God seeks servants willing to work in the shadows. Then sometimes He may shine the spotlight upon them.

Jesus himself demonstrates this value as he was born in a stable not a palace. Lived for a while as a refugee, not a celebrity. Worked as a carpenter, not a statesman. Ministered in Galilee, not Rome. Died with people cheering, not mourning. But then God revealed his deity as he rolled back the stone from the tomb and gave him victory over death.

From shadows to light.

It's how Jesus lived, and how we should also.

Don't get sidetracked chasing spotlights.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Some Resources

Yesterday I stumbled across the website of Athletes in Action. This organisation is a ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). As such the site in general has a lot of resources specific for their ministry goal: "Striving to see Christ-followers on every team, every sport, every nation, BY using the platform of sports so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus."

Matt Holiday
After browsing through their ministry specific resources I found their News page which I really enjoyed. I don't know how often they update it. It seems to me that they mostly feature interviews and editorials rather than reflecting current events, but I appreciated the articles they had posted.

Since I'm a Cardinals fan, I particularly liked this article on Matt Holiday. Although I appreciate the way he plays, I had no idea he was so involved in sharing his faith.

As I read the article it mentioned several other resources and conferences that connect sports and faith. I thought the readers of this blog might like to check these out also. So here's the list.

  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes - In my experience this is probably the best known sports-faith organisation as they have a presence on my high schools across the United States. Their ministry also extends beyond the U.S and beyond high school sports. Their website has a lot of excellent resources on it. (Coincidentally, their website currently features this excellent profile of St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.)
  • Pro Athletes Outreach - This ministry is run by professional athletes to equip and serve other professional athletes. They do this by hosting off season conferences for both professional baseball and football players. According to their website they also host a lot of workshops for Christian college and high school coaches around the U.S.
  • The Increase - This media site is a ministry of Pro Athletes Outreach and contains a series of [currently] 24 videos featuring a wide variety of athletes discussing their faith. This site provides an excellent resource for anyone looking for discussion starters in a youth sports or men's ministry context. Oh, and it happens to feature this excellent video by Cardinals star Adam Wainwright.
  • Unlimited Potential Inc. - This is another organisation of former professional baseball players. The group ministers to current players and even has 3 MLB team chaplains on its staff. They also have a strong sense of mission as they use baseball to spread the Gospel message around the globe. Their website states that they, "Work alongside global missionaries to organize and lead international missions trips for players and their wives."
  • Baseball Chapel - "Baseball Chapel is an international ministry recognized by Major and Minor League Baseball and is responsible for the appointment and oversight of all team chapel leaders (over 500 throughout professional baseball)." Their website includes daily devotionals as well as other helpful resources.
  • Beyond the Ultimate - When Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith made it to the NFL’s Super Bowl they wanted to take advantage of the platform to share their faith, thus the Beyond The Ultimate Web site was formed. It is now ministry of Athletes in Action and features mostly testimonies from a wide range of athletes.
  • Sports Spectrum -  Sports Spectrum magazine seeks to highlight Christian athletes of all sports and levels to help motivate, encourage and inspire people in their faith through the exciting and challenging world of sports. Of all  the resources listed here Sports Spectrum seems to have the most articles related to current events. You can subscribe to the full website for just $2 per month.
Some of these sites contain more information that others. I hope that this list may be helpful for you and give you a glimpse into the way Christians express and share their faith in the cauldron that is professional sports.

If you know other faith-sports organisations or helpful web resources please leave the link in the comment section.