The Sports and Christianity Bulletin

Essays on issues and topics in Christianity and Sports.

"When We Know Better, We Do Better": Post-Congress Reflections on Globally Credentialing Sports Chaplains

by Steven N. Waller,1 PhD, DMin

A very simple axiom that many choose to live by states, “when you know better, you must do better.” After being in fellowship with a plethora of outstanding academics and practitioners who in some combination teach and practice sports chaplaincy one cannot help but reflect on the change that is forthcoming in our strand of chaplaincy. The thought of change can be unsettling, especially if it is simply for the sake of change itself or if the motives for change are misinterpreted. On the positive side, change can be catalytic in crafting a preferred future for a vocation or profession. For sports chaplains the development and timely implementation of a global credentialing initiative represents positive change that will meaningfully impact that state of sports chaplaincy.

Professor Andrew Parker, the strand leader, spoke prophetically about the current state of affairs with sport chaplaincy. Parker celebrated the growth of sport chaplaincy but also noted that there is a “window of opportunity” to move this facet of chaplaincy forward in new directions. In the closing segment of his presentation Parker offered three important markers that blaze the trail to imminent change is sports chaplaincy praxis: 1) the movement toward ‘holistic care’; 2) the need for more applied research related to the theological and practice-based questions that surround sports chaplaincy; and 3) the need to embrace training and credentialing on a global basis.

Relatedly, I offered a retrospective look at the primacy of chaplaincy as a necessary lens to faithfully examine and converse meaningfully about sport chaplaincy in the 21st century. Who are we first? Chaplains or sports chaplains? At the very core of sports chaplaincy is pastoral care, which is the essence of professional chaplaincy. I use the term ‘professional chaplaincy’ to distinguish between those that are ‘called’ to the vocation and treat it as the ‘gift’ versus those that simply serve as an ‘aside.’ Caring for people in sport must be anchored in the four tenets of pastoral care—reconciling, sustaining, healing and guiding. These four processes must also be embedded into the being relational, exercising compassionate care, and the powerful ‘ministry of presence” that sports chaplains are so aptly skilled at. Finally, akin to the standards of preparation and practice established by the parent discipline, professional chaplaincy, there must be a reasonable, meaningful, accepted threshold for admission into practicing sports chaplaincy.

Warren Evans, CEO of Sports Chaplaincy UK, eloquently and passionately elaborated on the existing training initiatives being implemented by Sport Chaplaincy UK, Australia and New Zealand. Each of these programs offers a baseline of universal training that all chaplains should have. Moreover, coupled with the new training available on-line through global sports chaplaincy, there is a solid foundation of relevant information that can serve as a springboard for a voluntary registration program and advanced training for sports chaplains.

The sage wisdom of longtime, consummate sports chaplain Roger Lipe provided insights into how an endeavor such as a global credentialing program can be developed and implemented. The crafting of a “non-threatening” and clear message that explains the importance of credentialing to the global community of sports chaplains and sport ministry organizations that train and utilize chaplains is essential. Secondly, the development of a multi-tiered credentialing program with at least three points of entry based on prior training and practice. Finally, there must be a “grandfathering” element included in the system that honors long-time practitioners of sports chaplaincy. From the onset, there must be agreement among practitioners of sports chaplaincy that an effort like this one is not divisive or exclusionary, but is intended to be inclusive and unifying. Without question, para-church sport ministry organizations such as Athletes in Action, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other international organizations will need to lend their endorsement and other forms of assistance to help move this endeavor forward.

In our era, training, credentialing, and continuing education are inextricably tied together for sports chaplains. Recently retired Manchester United chaplain Rev. John Boyers with laser like precision passed along three major challenges to sports chaplains during his conversation—be pastoral in the approach to sports chaplaincy; never cease being relational; and embrace education (training) as a chaplain.

The three hour spent together with chaplains from an assortment of contexts within sport chaplaincy was nothing short of informative, compelling and prophetic. The wise counsel of Rev. Boyers and Bishop James Jones inform the work of contemporary sport chaplains, but even more important we now have sufficient reason to collectively move forward with a well-thought out global credentialing initiative. The assurance is that this effort will take time, energy, resources and the development of the capacity to sustain it. In the grand scheme of themes these are important challenges, but the broader issues are whether we believe in the viability of this effort and whether we trust God enough to provide the resources to make it happen. When we know better, we are compelled to do better.

  1. STEVEN N. WALLER is an Associate Professor in the Sport Management program and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Sport, Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He also co-directs the Sport Chaplaincy cohort in the Doctor of Ministry program at United Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH). His published scholarship includes papers in the areas of religion and sport, sports chaplaincy, and institutional evil in sport organizations.