This year has not been easy. But in the midst of the challenges and struggles of 2021, the Faith & Sports Institute has experienced evidences of grace and exciting new developments as we seek to build and nurture a space where Christian leaders in sports can be formed and equipped through education, research, and resources.
It is difficult to capture everything happening with FSI, but a recent article in Truett Seminary’s The Cord highlights some of the stories of impact we’ve seen. The stories below can also provide a glimpse of what’s going on with FSI—and perhaps inspire ideas for what could develop in the years ahead.
1. The Faith & Sports Institute’s public launch
In March we went public with our new structure, name, website, and advisory team. You can read the press release announcing the new FSI here: https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=222465.
Gene Habecker, chair of FSI’s Team of Advocates, had this to say: “I believe that FSI is ideally poised to have a remarkable impact in the world of sport. This incredibly talented group of men and women is bringing forward research-based practical application of Christian convictions to some of today’s most challenging issues surrounding sports. It’s both exciting and humbling to see the vision.”
Check out baylor.edu/truett/fsi to read up on our initiatives and programs.
2. Online discussions on critical issues for Christian leaders in sports
This year we hosted three public forums where Christian scholars and practitioners discussed topics including mental health, race, and theology in relation to sports. Click the links below to watch the conversations!
- FSI Forum: Mental Health in Sports
- FSI Forum: What Does Theology Have to Do With Sports?
- ARC Talks: Athletics, Race, and Christianity
3. New developments with the sports ministry grad program
In the spring, FSI’s Sports Ministry Program hosted its annual chapel service at Truett Seminary. This year we featured Marci Jobson, former head coach and assistant with Baylor soccer, and Josh Flores, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Temple, TX. You can watch the video above for more.
There were also two exciting new developments with the grad program this year. First, we began an internship program with Baylor Athletics, with two of our grad students serving under John Maurer, the sports chaplain who leads and organizes ministry to Baylor athletes.
Second, in November we received approval from Baylor’s Board of Regents to launch a new Master of Arts in Theology and Sports Studies degree, a program that will be delivered online. Read more about the new degree program here: https://www.baylor.edu/truett/news.php?action=story&story=225548
4. FSI “Sprint” Retreats
The 2021 FSI Retreat looked differently this year: instead of a week-long retreat, we hosted three one-day sprints at Baylor, Hamilton High School, and Valor Christian High School in Colorado. Although the format was different, we targeted the same values and virtues in competitive sports experiences, and we saw similar transformations happening.
Here’s what Taneka Rubin, one of our Retreat mentors, said about her time with us: “The FSI Retreat was an experience like no other. I’ve never been in an environment where faith and sports collide, and I’ll never view sports the same. As a mentor and athlete I walked away with invaluable tools to help me glorify God through my sport, as well as guide someone else to do the same.”
To learn more about the philosophy behind the retreat, check out this post from FSI Senior Mentor Case Smith: https://blogs.baylor.edu/faithsports/2021/10/25/embodied-faith-what-one-minister-learned-about-ministry-from-the-fsi-retreat/.
5. FSI’s Online Certificate Program continues to grow
Since we launched our online certificate program in 2020, we’ve had 200 students from over thirty countries around the world enroll in a class. In 2021, we added two new classes to our offerings: Sports & Race and Mental Health in Sports. We also had our first group of students (eight in all) complete the required four classes to receive our Certificate in Sports Culture and Leadership.
According to our course evaluation surveys, 98 percent of students indicated they would be likely to recommend the course to others, with 86 percent saying they would be “extremely likely” to recommend it. Here is some of the specific feedback we’ve gotten from our classes:
“With the current racial climate in our country, this course was so timely and beneficial to equip Christian leaders.” (Race & Sports student)
“It was an incredible journey that gave a new perspective about my role as a Christian in the world of sports.” (Sports & Theology student)
“I am so thankful for this course and really wish that ALL of our coaches had this tool.” (Mental Health in Sports student)
6. FSI collaborates with Christianity Today’s Creative Studio team
One of our goals at FSI is to help shape and drive the sports conversation among Christian leaders in the church and beyond. With that goal in mind, this year we worked with Christianity Today to develop two branded content articles written with Abby Perry. Our first article considered the importance of mental health for Christians involved in sports. The second reflected on a theology of play and its implications for how Christians should engage in sports.
Click on the images below to read the articles.
“Can the love of the game include the health of the mind? Why mental health in sports should be a Christian concern.”
“For God so loved the world that He played: Understanding sports as an act of playful worship can free athletes from a performance mentality.”
7. Research and resources from FSI staff
Along with teaching, leading, and developing the initiatives and programs above, the FSI staff has been busy researching and writing, bringing our interdisciplinary expertise and Christian convictions to bear on important matters in sports culture. We are currently working on several book projects set to be completed over the next couple years, and you can read more about those projects at the FSI Research page.
At the same time, we are continuing to share what we have learned with fellow leaders and learners interested in sports. Among the articles and podcasts featuring FSI staff in 2021:
Online essays published by FSI staff
• “‘Whoever Wishes to Become Great’ – Sports, Glory, and the Gospel,” Christian Scholars Review (Brian Gamel)
• “The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality,” Christian Scholars Review (John White)
• “ORU Basketball Fans Know to ‘Expect a Miracle,’” Christianity Today (Paul Putz)
• “Baptists Can Dunk: 5 Facts About Baylor Basketball’s Historic NCAA Championship Win,” Christianity Today (Paul Putz)
• “Bill Glass, Football Star Who Changed Evangelical Approach to Sports and Prisons,” Christianity Today (Paul Putz)
• “Five American Sports History Books Christians Should Read,” The Gospel Coalition (Paul Putz)
Podcast episodes featuring FSI staff
• Power Up Sports Ministry Podcast (John and Cindy White)
• The Christian Coach Podcast (Paul Putz)
• Quick to Listen from Christianity Today (Brian Gamel)
Posts at the Faith & Sports Blog from FSI Staff
• “Dean Smith and the ‘Sacred Calling’ of Coaching” (Paul Putz)
• “Made for Greatness: Magnanimity in Sports” (John White)
• “Who Was Karl Downs? Exploring the Life and Legacy of Jackie Robinson’s Mentor” (Paul Putz)
Along with those resources produced by FSI staff, this blog has featured articles written by FSI students, partners, and collaborators. Our most popular blog post of 2021 was written by sports ministry grad student Shelby Livingstone: “Christ As Our Foundation: Three Lessons from a Former College Athlete.” Please feel free to browse through the blog and read posts from our other contributors as well.
We’ve been encouraged by the signs of growth and transformation in FSI this year, but we believe the best is yet to come. If you’d like to stay connected or get more involved with our work, please visit our homepage and signup for our mailing list.
We’re looking forward to 2022 and beyond!