The end of another year provides an opportunity to pause, reflect, and give thanks.

2023 has been a year of transition for FSI. We have new leadership, with John White stepping down from his role as Director and Jon Sisk now serving as Interim Director. Additionally, the grant that funded the High School Retreat and the grant funding our Postdoctoral Fellowship will conclude at the end of this year.

2023 has also been a year of strategic growth and opportunity. While the residential sports ministry program continues under John White’s leadership and the MA in Theology and Sports Studies program, launched in 2022, continues to expand under Paul Putz’s direction, Isaac Lee was hired as Continuing Education Program Manager to strengthen and grow the Online Certificate Program.

As you read through the program updates and highlights from the past year, please know how much we appreciate your support. None of this is possible without you!

We look forward to another year of forming and equipping Christian leaders in sports in 2024—and beyond.

Residential Sports Ministry Program

Truett’s sports ministry/chaplaincy program, led by John White, began in 2011. Twelve years later, with five graduates in May (pictured above) and three more in December, the total number of graduates with a sports ministry concentration stands at sixty-three.

This fall eight new students indicated their plans to pursue the sports ministry concentration, bringing the total number of current students in the program to twenty.

Students benefit from the thoughtful classes developed and taught by Dr. White and select adjunct faculty. As one student this year put it: “Courses are engaging and create space that encourages learning at the highest level!”

Students enrolled in this program have opportunities to put what they are learning in the classroom into practice, whether through volunteer opportunities with Baylor Athletics, internships across campus, or with other community and campus partners and organizations.

MA in Theology and Sports Studies Program

The Master of Arts in Theology and Sports Studies was launched in the fall of 2022 as Truett’s first fully online degree program. A little over one year later, there are sixteen students enrolled, with the first group of students set to graduate in 2024.

Students in the program stretch from coast to coast, representing nine different states. Most continue to work full-time as coaches, athletic administrators, and in sports ministry while they pursue their degree. 

“The program is a home run, and I am so glad I am part of it,” an athletic director enrolled in the program said. “It has been very helpful to my everyday work and has helped me to think through programs at my school.”

To read more about what students are learning in both the online and residential graduate programs at Truett, check out this piece at Sports Spectrum“Baylor’s Truett Seminary shows how theology and sports go together.”

High School Retreat

The purpose of the FSI Retreat is to provide a space for young people to be seen, to be heard, and to belong while reflecting on God’s love and grace in and through competition, which translates to all of life.

In January, an FSI team led by Cindy White and Abby Lee traveled to Chattanooga, TN, to offer the retreat to forty-eight male athletes from McCallie School. Then in June, under Abby Lee’s leadership, FSI hosted forty-eight high school student-athletes, twelve mentors, and six sports ministry graduate students on Baylor’s campus for four days of intense teaching, processing, and competing.

While the grant that funded the FSI Retreat concludes at the end of 2023, the impact and influence of the retreat will continue in several ways. One example is through Valor Christian High School in Colorado, which hosted an FSI Retreat in 2021. Keith Wahl and Jessika Caldwell adapted and expanded on ideas they have learned, in part through FSI programs, to develop a new initiative at Valor called “Sport as Worship.”

You can sign up for their Sport as Worship Connect to learn more, or check out their description below. We love seeing how seeds planted with FSI’s help can grow and bloom in their own soil.

Sport as Worship is designed to help athletes, coaches, and parents see sport, not as a separate activity, but an opportunity to worship the Lord. People experiencing Sport as Worship learn that sport is a God-created gift that draws out other elements of His wonderful creation like creativity and teamwork. But like the rest of creation, sport is broken and sin can turn sport into selfishness, win at all costs, all about the money/honor/personal glory (and many more). However, we know that Christ came to redeem ALL things. Sport resides in that long list and we hope that people experiencing Sport as Worship will learn that through their relationship with Christ, they can be co-redeemers on the journey to bring restoration to sport.

Online Certificate Program

FSI’s Online Certificate Program began in 2020, and since then we have had over three-hundred enrollments, including sixty in 2023. But the big news for the future of the program came in the fall, when Isaac Lee was hired as FSI’s Continuing Education Program Manager.

Isaac and his wife Sarah were born and raised in Western Canada and they have three children. Before coming to Truett, Isaac received a bachelors degree in physical education from the University of Alberta and a Master of Divinity degree from Taylor Seminary. He has thirteen years of sports ministry experience with Athletes in Action, where he has helped to disciple, lead, and mentor athletes, coaches, and fellow sports ministry staff members.

Isaac will be working to expand and develop our Online Certificate Program with new courses, new certificates, and new pathways. Among the courses under development: Sports Chaplaincy; Spiritual Formation and Sports; and Youth Sports.

Expect more information about these and other exciting developments in 2024!

Resources and Public Outreach

In the spring, Paul Putz delivered a chapel talk at Truett titled “Jesus and James Naismith,” which focused on basketball’s founder and the Christian roots and meaning of the sport. The talk caught the attention of the Naismith family, including Jim (the last surviving grandson, pictured below) and his wife Beverly. They visited Baylor to learn more about the work of the Faith & Sports Institute, and came away impressed.

Read more about the spiritual roots of basketball and the Naismiths’ visit:

In 2023 Paul also conducted interviews for FSI with key leaders and thinkers in sports:

Cindy White spent time in 2023 seeking to build connections with Baylor Athletics. In the summer she was invited to lead a session on culture and care with the Baylor football team (pictured above), and she received great feedback and support for her session.

Before the season, Cindy and Truett sports ministry student Case Smith also facilitated a “naming ceremony” with the football team that was built on one of the activities that happens during the FSI Retreat.

Research and Publications

Along with teaching, training, and providing resources, FSI continues to lean into Baylor University’s identity as a Christian research institution. We take research seriously, and we seek to contribute to the thoughtfulness and depth of conversations around sports and Christianity.

In a special issue of Religions devoted to sports, FSI was represented by an article co-authored by John White and another solo-authored piece by FSI Postdoctoral Fellow Brian Gamel:

In another special issue of Religions, also devoted to sports, John co-authored an article on similar themes:

In Christian Ethics Today, John published a two-part series titled “Do Not Be Conformed to the World of Sports: Relearning How We Think about, Feel, and Do Sports as Christians.”

For Christianity Today, Paul Putz published three articles:

In The Oxford Handbook of Christian Fundamentalism, Paul was a contributing author with an essay on sports. Additionally, Paul’s first book, The Spirit of the Game: Christian Athletes, Big-Time Sports, and the Transformation of American Protestantism (Oxford University Press) was completed in the fall and is set to be published in 2024. You can read more about the book project in this interview. Or check out a sampling of some of the book endorsements that have come in from scholars:

  • “Will prompt you to rethink everything about sports and Christianity.”
  • “Demonstrates with fresh examples and penetrating prose the power of the ties between sports and religion…the finest, most nuanced study of the subject.”
  • “Weaves together an incredible range of characters and athletic endeavors to show that it is impossible to adequately tell the story of 20th-century American sports without paying serious attention to religion…A tour de force” 

Towards 2024

Looking ahead to 2024, we have several exciting developments and announcements on the way. We also have a few dates that you can mark on your calendar:

  • January 25: Virtual information session for FSI graduate programs.
  • February 5: Spring session begins for Online Certificate courses.
  • March 11: Faith & Sports Forum with Sabrina Little, author of The Examined Run.
  • April 10: Spring chapel service at Truett Seminary, featuring Baylor women’s basketball assistant coach Sophia Young-Malcolm.
  • April 18: “The Meaning of Michael Jordan” with sports historian Johnny Smith. Co-hosted with the Baylor History Department.

Thank you again for your support in 2023!