The end of another year gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on a busy twelve months. Since our public launch as the Faith & Sports Institute in 2021, we’ve been working to create a space where Christian leaders in sports are formed and equipped through theological education, practical resources, and serious research.
For those who have supported our mission, in whatever capacity—thank you! We would not exist without your faithful collaboration and partnership. And for those who are just now learning about us, we’d love to get to know you better and explore ways we can work together.
Whether you’re already connected to FSI or just getting to know us, this post is for you: A quick glimpse at what we’ve been up to in 2022.
Graduate Degree Programs Grow
The foundation of the Faith & Sports Institute is our graduate degree program. Since 2011 students have come to Truett Seminary to study with us. Combining theology, sports, ministry, and leadership, it’s a unique program in the landscape of higher education.
This year we celebrated the graduation of nine students (Spring/Fall) and welcomed an excellent group of new students into the program. We also continued to strengthen our collaboration with Baylor athletics. Baylor sports chaplain John Maurer is an especially strong advocate for our work. “I really believe that theological education is absolutely necessary to be a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said in an interview for Sports Spectrum.
Along with our residential program, we launched a new online MA in Theology and Sports Studies, and our first cohort of students started classes this fall. Coming from nine different states and representing a range of vocations, including sports ministry staff, athletic administration, and coaching, our students have already built a strong sense of community.
We’re excited about the future and looking for our next cohort of graduate students to join us in the fall of 2023.
Redefining Greatness in the High School Retreat
“We have to get God right to get sports right,” FSI Director John White says. “And if we can figure out how to pursue excellence and cultivate Christian virtues in sports, then we will learn how to be truly great in life.”
Our high school retreat is a space where athletes cultivate Christian greatness in sports and in life. We had 70 student-athletes go through our retreat experience in 2022, and we’re looking forward to training more young leaders in 2023.
New Class in the Online Certificate Program
With more than 100 students enrolled in certificate classes in 2022, our online certificate program continued to grow. We also developed another class, bringing our total number of continuing education offerings to six. Created in collaboration with author and sports ministry leader Brian Smith, the class was based on his new book, The Christian Athlete.
Here’s one student’s review of their experience: “The content is perfect for athletes, coaches, ministers, and anyone who works in athletics. Not too much and not too little.”
Launching the Deep Dive Retreat
One of the biggest needs in our culture is emotional and mental health. Leaders cannot give what they do not have. Working with retired LPGA pro and sports ministry leader Tracy Hanson, we launched a Deep Dive Retreat this fall aimed at helping leaders connect their story with God’s story.
Sports Ministry Chapel Featuring Dr. Brian Gamel
Our postdoctoral fellow, Brian Gamel, is a New Testament scholar who is working on a book about the meaning of athletics in the Bible. He shared some of his research this spring for the annual Sports Ministry Chapel at Truett Seminary.
Titled “The Victory of the Lamb: Redefining Winning,” Gamel focused on the concept of victory found in the Book of Revelation, considering what it might mean for a Christian understanding of winning.
Thoughtful Discussions on Critical Issues in Sports
In the fall we hosted an online forum with Christian thought leaders Katelyn Beaty and Justin Bailey about the culture of sports. Beaty is the author of Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church (Brazos Press, 2022), while Bailey recently published Interpreting Your World: Five Lenses for Engaging Theology and Culture (Baker Academic, 2022).
In the spring we hosted our second ARC Talks event, which facilitates conversation on athletics, race, and Christianity. We were joined by pastor, author, and Baylor graduate John Onwuckekwa and Christina Edmondson, an author, mental health therapist, and leadership consultant.
Sports as Work and Play
Working with Christianity Today’s Creative Studio team, we developed an article that brings sports into the faith and work conversation.
What might it look like for Christians to foster a nuanced, faithful understanding of sports as both work and play? How might we conceive of sport as a true calling from God? And how might the Christian understanding of human dignity, for example, shape discussions about pressing issues in the sports industry?
As John White says, “Work and play for Christians are always connected to our relatedness to God.”
Read the article for more!
Interviews and Articles
Whether through podcast, television, or written word, we’ve been able to share our thoughts and perspective on sports and faith in a variety of public settings this year. Here are a few highlights:
- Brian Gamel discussed his New Testament research on the Sport.Faith.Life podcast. Gamel also wrote for Christian Scholar’s Review about the concept of victory in the Book of Revelation.
- FSI graduate Elizabeth Bounds, now a PhD student in psychology at Baylor, made an appearance on Sport.Faith.Life, where she talked about the place of virtue in sports.
- John White wrote about Dave Aranda’s “competitive greatness” for the Faith & Sports Blog, and along with Cindy White discussed the philosophy behind the FSI Retreat.
- Grad student Josh Ehambe was interviewed by KLTV in Waco, where he discussed what he’s learned through FSI.
- FSI Assistant Director Paul Putz discussed the historical connections between religion and sports in an interview with Deseret News.
- Putz also wrote three articles for Christianity Today this year. Topics included the influence of Black Christians in the development of professional basketball; the history of debates over prayer on the football field; and a review of a new book on religion and sports in American history. And at Religion & Politics, Putz reviewed a new book about Jackie Robinson’s faith.
Grants and Research Publications
Baylor is a Research 1 institution, placing a high value on serious academic scholarship. We support that vision and mission too, making sure that we not only listen and learn from academic experts, but also contribute to and shape those conversations.
- John White and Brian Gamel, along with Andrea Ettekal of Texas A&M, received a subgrant through the Program for the Future Church to develop a scale to measure and assess the virtue of love.
- Paul Putz published a new article, “Tracing the Historical Contours of Black Muscular Christianity and American Sport,” in the International Journal of the History of Sport, He also had a chapter on sports ministry and the civil rights movement in Religion and Sport in North America: Critical Essays for the Twenty-First Century (Routledge).
- Cindy White and Elizabeth Bounds teamed up for an article in the Journal of the Christian Society for Kinesiology, Leisure and Sport Studies, “When Goods Become Gods: Fractured Identities and the Call for Safe Spaces in Sports.”
Two other events deserve recognition this year. In the spring, we held a golf outing to build and strengthen relationships in our community. And in November we hosted a dinner to celebrate our new office space at Truett Seminary and to give thanks to all those who have made our growth possible.
By God’s grace, we’re looking forward to more growth—and more Christian leaders in sports formed and transformed—in 2023 and beyond!