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Free & Fit Archives - University of Gloucester Sports Chaplaincy Essay 2 - May 2016 by Tim Cheux

Free & Fit Archives - University of Gloucester Sports Chaplaincy Essay - May 2016 by Tim Cheux

Recent Picture of Tim Cheux having completed the London Marathon for Sports Chaplaincy UK

In terms of the kinds of values and characteristics which they promote, sports chaplaincy and modern day professional sport are incompatible bedfellows. Critically discuss.


Sports chaplaincy and modern day sport may appear to be very different at first glance. This essay seeks to identify distinguishable positive and negative characteristics in both through real life examples, referencing scholarly articles to provide sufficient evidence of whether or not the two are compatible bedfellows.

The sports chaplain's role can be received with less credibility than modern day sport by some. More often the role of a sportpsychologist or a life coach, in a more traditional secular role, is received with more credibility and standing in the sporting world than chaplaincy. The role of sports chaplain is often as a volunteer, serving in addition to other work or ministries thus diluting the core purpose of the role. This paper concludes that despite the negativity surrounding sports chaplaincy and muscular Christianity, there exists a vital relationship between sport and faith in sports chaplaincy that the church must utilise fully. In building relationships, founded on strong muscular Christian values, sports chaplaincy creates opportunities for chaplains to minister and to witness their Christian faith to a world that would otherwise continue to function in a gambling, money grabbing and fame driven environment.

Discuss the underpinning values of sport/sports chaplaincy

The values of sport are heavily based upon the culture and tradition of the education an individual receives whilst at school. The first experience of riding a bike, learning to swim, playingin a sports team or playing an individual racquet sport will often take place in extra curricular sporting session with a school teacher. Therefore, the direction of a head teacher will alwayshave a clear influence on the way in which sport is delivered to year groups by teachers either one to one or in a group class whilst students are studying sport at school. During the Victorian era, whilst in his time as Headteacher at Rugby School Thomas Arnold ensured that school pupils at Rugby were educated with strong masculine values such as self discipline, respect, trust and manners. During his time at Rugby between 1828 and 1841 Arnold identified his faith in a Christian God to be the center of his aims to transform and revolutionise the school by instilling the value of Christianity and creating a culture of ‘good Christian gentlemen’ (Parker and Weir, 2012).

The need for sporting rules and values to be enforced in schools stem from a Victorian era when chaos, disorder and unruly behavior were common practice on the playground. Sports were not regulated in the past and teachers were certainly not expected to deliver sport as a lawful game or as part of the wider school extra-curriculum.

Origin of muscular Christian ideals

Thomas Kingsley and Thomas Hughes are the more common known authors of muscular Christianity as students of Thomas Arnold at Rugby via . However, unusually, Muscular Christianity relates may originate the secular term “muscle men” meaning physical, weighty and aggressive (Hughes, 1999). In fact it is possible that the Muscular part of the term could originate from a different source to the more common written text and scholars suggest of English public schools. Instead it maybe be likened to men and the ritual of eating meat in an almost pre-historic tradition of hunting! This definition is clearly focusing on the muscular elements of the term via the ritual of hunting as a “manly sport” (Gelfer, 2103).

However, it is more likely that the introduction and regulation of sport as a formal recognised compulsory activity in the education system raised the profile and defined the values of Masculine christianity. Furthermore, it built the foundation for sports as a whole in the English public schools system during the nineteenth century. In his book Sport, Power and CultureHargreaves(1986) cites Maguire (1993) as saying that the English notion of “fair play” in public schools lead to the codification of sport and what eventually lead to an ethos and culture of Muscular Christianity that was effectively diffused to continental Europe and the world right up until the end of the nineteenth century. The problem was that at the time society struggled to provide access to sport due to the hard working culture and long working hours of the time.

Christian masculinity has also been reinvented, post Arnold, when it was reborn after World War II, with special reference to Christian sporting activities (Ladd & Mathisen, 1999). In fact, beyond grass roots and amateur Christian activities, the Olympic Games themselves fashioned strong Christian values in religious and moral roots. It is the Dominican priest Henri Didon who first expressed the words “Faster, Higher and Stronger” in the opening ceremony of a school sports event in 1881 (The Olympic Summer Games, 2013). Thus, even the original Olympic ideal of the Greeks and the Olympic movement of Coubertin, credit for this will no doubt be in part to Arnold and his sports specialist at the time Cotton in the British Public Schools system Mirth, D. (2006). The increase in leisure time has also seen an increase in organized amateur and professional sport, but a decrease in church attendance thus creating a block between sport and faith. This is where the introduction of chaplaincy and pastoral care from the church within sports become paramount to stop the divide and create a compatible gap between sport and faith.

Key Developments

Today the working week is well established, but back in the 1850s the allocation of free time was extremely limited. The creation of a late Saturday afternoon kick off' in football at 3pm was started as the work week did not end on a Friday and continued until lunch time on Saturday (Holt, R. (1989).

Where would the free time to take part in sport come from? One argument is that the church suffered as a result of the development of sport and as spectator numbers increased; church congregations decreased because of the time of church services happening as the same time as sports fixtures. This is still true today and as noted by Bowers (2010) the church themselves are in crises with congregations falling, but despite this there is one place where the church is seeing growth in and through sport.

According to Bowers (2010) there were 254 sports chaplains at work in the UK, today this now represents nearer 400 in 2016. Evidently the role of sport chaplaincy is becoming more and more in demand (Dzikus, Waller, & Hardin, 2011; Gamble, Hill, & Parker, 2013). However, sport is always changing and its participants often don't care much for a religious lifestyle and would rather engross themselves in drinking, gambling, business and the media. Sport chaplaincy aim is to make sport and faith more compatible; in order to retain some of sports core muscular Christian values and protect the next generation of sports people (Parker and Weir, 2012).

Values/characteristics of modern-day sport

Sport has not just been historically influenced by education, but also by politics, economics, social and cultural influence including philosophers, sociologists, or psychologists. Interestingly the involvement of sport and religion also continues to raise questions about its impact on and through the church and more specifically theologians, priests, and religious leaders impact on sport and its Christian sports ambassadors or representatives (Parker & Weir, 2012). For example, Christian evangelists Hughes and Kingsley were familiar with the political movement of their time “Chartism”. A new response to social justice, it was fuelled by the working classes to raise awareness of a lack of access to sport in the Victorian era. Kignsley was known as the “Chartism clergy” and heavily involved in lobbying for the freedom and rights for the working classes to play sport and build on the core values of Muscular christianity (Watson, Weir and Friend, 2005).

When Alan Comfort first arrived at Cambridge United Football Club he was not greeted badly by Graham Daniels, the man he was brought into replace. Some Christians may refer to writings of Paul who often used sporting analogies to get his point across. Here Comfort experienced agape (radical love) not a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). On his arrival to the club as a non-Christian, Comfort was informed to 'watch out for Graham Daniels, he's a bit different' (Comfort, A. (2002).

Daniels was different in that he didn't swear and was honest and reliable, which certainly doesn't match the more cruel values of modern day sport. When confronted about the potential loss of his job as a professional footballer, Daniels didn't get downbeat or downcast. In fact, Daniels is now the CEO of the sports ministry organisation Christians in Sport, who work with thousands of sports professionals like Comfort to support and care pastorally for team members. It is this approach that prompted Comfort to find out more about the Christian faith and would eventually lead to his conversion to the Christian faith;and he is now the sports chaplain at Leyton Orient football club. A complete transformation,- how Arnold and Cotton would have loved to have seen this in their lifetime (Comfort, A. (2002).

The mixing of Sport and Religion have not always had positive outcomes. Levels of success have not only been measured for compatibility in the UK, but also historically in the USA. In the year 1990, University of Colorado's coach Bill McCartney launched a new Christian fellowship group for men called Promise Keepers. A Christian evangelist, McCartney built his foundation on Seven Promises .

1.​A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit

2.​A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.

3.​A Promise Keeper is committed to practising spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.

4.​A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and Biblical values.

5.​A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honouring and praying for his pastor and by actively giving his time and resources.

6.​A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of Biblical unity.

7.​A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).


The values McCartney believed in were to transform a nation, build a population of men who were greatly admired and respected through both faith and sport. The only issue was that the two fields were not always compatible bedfellows. In contrast to the values of Promise Keepers, Krattenmaker (2010) cites sporting values to at times be quite different to values within the Word of God. Contrary to Sport, Christianity projects an ethic of sharing and compassion. Sports takes a more ruthless and direct approach with the end goal of defeating the opponent and to give glory to the victor. The definitive difference is that Christianity seeks a goal of defeating the ‘opponent’ (the devil) and giving glory to the victor (God and his Children in him). However, when mixed together these values can create negative outcomes such as unprofessional-ism and corruption in competition when taking part in sports. Similar to many the damaging impact of a celebrity, like Jonathan Edwards, losing faith. Originally noted as a success story, Edwards and other Christian athletes provided a contrast to the sporting values of ‘egotism, cynicism, nihilism, obsessive focus on money and a win at all costs mentality’ (Spencer 2000, 143). However, Brooke (2007) reports Edwards a former presenter of Songs of Praise, was open about losing his faith even saying 'I don’t miss my faith.' In the US it was quite different with McCartney losing his moral standards opposed to his faith. McCartney’s story is slightly different from Edwards. A blame culture came to haunt McCartney, who was accused of not having the integrity to admit being at fault when his team were awarded an unlikely and unlawful victory in a vital championship decider. Instead of confessing and forfeiting victory, much like his sporting counterparts, McCartney stood by the officials incorrect decision and took the win. Victory over integrity. Christian celebrities like Edwards and McCartney raise questionable doubt about the compatibility of faith and sports. When individuals fail to live up to the values they claim to live by, the word Integrity comes into question. The irony is, McCartney explains he built the promise keepers values on the definition of Integrity: utter sincerity, honesty, not artificial, not shallow and no empty promises. These values are very hard standards to live up to in a sporting world built around competition, fame and greed. This essay will review Krattenmaker (2010, chapter 9) and his outlook on sport and faith in more detail later on in the third section of this piece.

Rehearse the Key developments around these ideals

It can be argued that Sport and religion are compatible, but not always positively as noted about Edwards and McCartney. However, as Comfort describes in his role at Leyton Orient sports chaplain, the footballers don't come to him and say, 'I want to learn about God'. They'll say, 'I'm having problems at home' or 'I'm struggling on the pitch', for example. He takes on a more sports psychologist role dealing instead with personal struggles such as marital difficulties, or sickness, or their worries about not getting a contract. Football and sport is a very competitive insecure world (Comfort, A. (2002).

Today John Bowers is the chaplain at Manchester United Football club and has been at the club for over 20 years throughout Alex Ferguson's reign and beyond. Bowers is a Baptist Minister and when offered the paid role as a Chaplain refused the post and remained a minister, as he didn't believe it was God's calling on his life. However, years later he took the plunge and now believes his role is vital in order to see the change happen that Arnold originally sought after at Rugby. Bowers describes the role of Chaplain as being different to that of a sports psychologist who focus more secular and competitive ideals such as mental skills, mental toughness, focus, confidence, self-belief, choking/anxiety. (Reeves, Nicholls & Mckenna, 2011). Bowers argues that the chaplain looks to provide a less superficial pastoral role, first seeking permission from the individuals or organisations involved and looking not at the result of a football match, but the overall well-being of everyone involved at the club or sport they work in and how he can help them on a real, deep and meaningful level (Boyers, 2010)”.

Tensions and Contradictions

Muscular christianity also hit America. The need for social justice placed similar values to the UK in fighting for opportunities for the working classes to play sport. Evangelical groups such as Graham's Christians in Sport were influenced by US Protestant organizations such as “The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA)”, “Athletes in Action (AIA)” and “Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO)”. These three christian evangelical organizations were hugely active in proclaiming the gospel across intercollegiate athletic programs across the States. A stadium full of sports fans were exposed to the words of a famous sportsman and motivational evangelical speaker. This was namely Billy Graham throughout the 1940's until the 1990's during a period when he introduced a famous celebrity christian sport person to share their faith whilst on his crusades around the country (Ladd and Mathisen, 1999).

In fact, this was later used in an opposing fashion at a alter date when a famous sports person was essentially later used to disengage the public with the association of church and sport. It was a bold move, but Billy Holiday was a famous sports player who had retired from sport as he felt it conflicted with his christian faith. Due to his own morale change in supporting sport as a a part of his own christian faith Billy Sunday 'very early in his ministry renounced the sporting culture and retired from the game of baseball(Ladd and Mathisen, 1999)'.

This creates an environment for an argument that the Christianity and sport relationship are clearly not compatible. This brings us to the writings of Hoffman, who may be seen as saying the similar kinds of things to Holiday previously, that he is critical about the role of sport and Christianity. In a more specific argument Hoffman believes that chaplains have a difficult role in trying to convert elite, not amateur, US sport professionals and that by working in and through an organisation it silences their ability to share the gospel.

Hoffman’s Reservations about Chaplaincy in Professional Sport

Hoffman really identified the core issue that sports chaplains face in his writings about professional sports clubs when he stated that when chaplains are given free match day tickets, an office and club staff privileges they are signing up not to the seventh promise keepers value of the great commission, but instead throwing in the towel and conforming to the clubs core principles of helping the coach to build a team of winners. At this point the chaplain resigns his or her ability to proclaim the gospel creating a real concern about the validity of sports chaplaincy and fulfilling the principles and delivery of Muscular christianity values.

Hoffman has not only identified problems within professional sport, but also whether or not it has a place in a sporting context. Carl Zylstra, the late Dordt college president, recognized the need for chaplaincy within hospital and family counseling, but was troubled by why a spiritual adviser would be of any use to a professional athlete. Zylstra stated that he wondered why anybody would want to put sport in the same field as 'death, divorce and cancer' referencing hospital and family counseling. In fact this raises questions not just about and faiths compatibility, but even when in post Hoffman also raised further questions about the influence and level of access to sports professionals at an elite organisation when sports chaplains are in place. As cited by Krattenmaker the relevance of sports and christianity working together seems unclear and raises questionable doubt about what is purpose of sports chaplaincy and Masculine christianity

Krattenmaker’s key criticisms of the Christianity/Sport Relationship

Krattenmaker (2010) argues that due to the sporting environment, a win, loss or draw, the ability for a sports chaplain to be impartial and sincere is limited to the result of the fixture of his or her teams fixture. By supporting a team with pastoral help it is very difficult to witness the christian message. Krattenamker argues that he by insisting on fighting for the good of the christian faith over the corrupted world of sport that chaplains face will create a match made in hell, not heaven.

This is due to a number of contributing factors, but fundamentally the values of using fair play, honesty, hard work and respect it is quite difficult to witness in a non confessing, self absorbed and competitive sporting world driven by a culture driven by the media, business, violence and gambling. This is a question which must be handled by the evangelical christian para church chief executives of sports ministry organisations, the leaders and missionaries in the sports field, the heads of the church in all denominations and the grassroots christian participants where the real issues and opportunities are created for witness.


Muscular christianity, sports chaplaincy and sport remain constantly in conflict with each other, deeper than that the values of Christianity and sport do not match. However, they do continue to coexist across a number of different platforms where they provide both positive and negative outcomes. This essay has highlighted some of the core issues faced by sports chaplains and Muscular Christianity across the globe in sport, but there are many more.

The writer of this research piece, despite the clear conflict, believes in the success, mission and purpose of sports chaplains in sports. The clear and well argued issues fail to identify the growth and expansion of sports chaplains, para church sports ministry organizations and mission work happening at a grass root level. Much of the studies and sports discussed have been at an elite level, but in order to instill strong Muscular Christian values these must be delivered from the beginning of any sports persons life when they are young. This is echoed by the work of Arnold, Cotton, Hughes and Kingsley in the 19th century.

Today in the 21st century the work and growth of sports chaplains continues thanks much to the hard work of Christians in Sports, Sports Chaplaincy UK, Kick London, Sports Ambassadors and a number of other sports para church organisation in the UK. These sports organisations, sports people, sports chaplains, sports ministers and vicars are already present in a variety of different workplaces, countries, clubs and individual competitions leading sporting mission on the front line as inspirational figure heads in the church in the United Kingdom, in the United States and across the globe fighting the good fight of Jesus Christ. In closing, the writer firmly believes that it will take more than the lure of a mere short lived victory in sport to dispel the fears of both famous and unknown christian sports ministry and chaplaincy to completely dispensary from the secular sporting world.


Comfort, A. (2002), ‘Football’s a beautiful game, not a religion’, Guardian, 27th October. Available at:

Gamble, R., Hill, D.M. and Parker, A. (2013), “Revs and Psychos’: Impact and interaction of sport chaplains and sport psychologists within English Premiership Soccer, The Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 25 (2): 249-264

Hargreaves, J. (1986), Sport, Power and Culture, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Hoffman, S.J. (2010), ‘Whatever Happened to Play?’ Christianity Today, February, pp.21-25.

Hoffman, S.J. (2010), Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports, Baylor, TX, Baylor University Press. (Chapter 9).

Hoffman, S.J. (2011), ‘Prayers Out of Bounds’, in J. Parry, M. Nesti, and N.J. Watson, (Eds.), Theology, Ethics and Transcendence in Sports, London, Routledge, pp. 35-63. Day 3: 10th February 2016 15

Holt, R. (1989), Sport and the British: A Modern History, Oxford, Oxford University Press. (Chapter 3).

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