My son did his #23 imitation under the net in his high-school gymnasium recently, and it ended with a trip to the ER and fractured ankle just ahead of this year’s family vacation. Argh! Oh well, the good Lord will see us through as He always does.
I couldn’t be prouder of my son’s affinity for all things sports, his love of competition, and his enthusiasm for the game. It’s something special between a father and son to be sure. Not to mention he has an amazing grasp of sports and athletes stats, which at times is mind boggling.
This all came to mind this month as my editor gave me a very interesting subject line for the April paper. Athletics, from youth, through the formative years of junior and senior high school, as a powerful medium to impact the world for Jesus Christ. What a concept, seeking out the Christian leaders and witnesses of tomorrow in athletics today.
Let’s face it people, if you want to interject Jesus into the equation, go where the kids are, and make His word known. What better atmosphere could one ask for in terms of focus, spirit, and emotion? What better place to seek out leadership skill sets than on the field/court, and bring those stand-out abilities to bear for Jesus?
We actually do see some of this in the world of professional sports every day. The quintessential and/or iconic sports figure who points to the sky, acknowledging, that he/she has done all they could in human form, but that if not for the grace of God, that moment would not exist. But where does this all begin? Where along the way was His presence known to the heart of the athlete? How do we harness the raw energy of athletics for the good of Christ and His word? And what sort of structure must be in place from a very young age, in order to set in the roots for a life of purpose?
Well, it turns out my editor has had some designs on an ongoing sports initiative for “The GNT” highlighting the Christian athlete and his/her influence, and so he sent me to Dan Barnes, the Multi-Area Director for “The Fellowship of Christian Athletes” in Fitchburg Massachusetts or FCA, for some of the answers to my questions.
“The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been touching millions of lives since 1954, challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. FCA is the largest interdenominational, school-based, Christian sports organization in America. FCA focuses on serving local communities by equipping, empowering and encouraging people to make a difference for Christ.”
Professional athletes and coaches have taken part in FCA through ministry events, speaking engagements, FCA camps, volunteer opportunities and ministry leadership roles. Among those who pioneered the organization were former stars Otto Graham, Branch Rickey, Bobby Richards, Carl Erskine and Bill Krisher. They would be followed by other influential sports figures including Tom Landry, Bobby Bowden, John Wooden, Roger Staubach, Jim Ryun, Betsy King, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, Tony Dungy, Shaun Alexander, Tom Osborne and Kay Yow‚ all of whom vocalized their Christian faith through FCA outlets such as banquets, camps and rallies.
Recent stars who have connected with FCA have included Josh Hamilton, Adam Wainwright, Brian Roberts, Tim Tebow, Tamika Catchings, Jennie Finch, Andy Pettitte, Tommy Tuberville, Jim Kelly, John Harbaugh, Leah O’Brien Amico, John Smoltz, Mark Richt, Colt McCoy, Andrew McCutchen and a number of public figures outside the world of sports such as comedian Jeff Foxworthy, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson. Influential Christian leaders such as Billy Graham, Chip Ingram, Anne Graham Lotz and Tommy Nelson also have participated in FCA through resource development, camps or events.
Daniel Barnes and his wife Kristie were both born and raised in Massachusetts, where Dan cut his teeth in corporate America in sales and marketing, eventually starting two IT businesses, and all while volunteering in numerous service roles and as a foundation director. This experience helped Dan cultivate a successful leadership style, emphasizing team building and ultimately coaching. Dan was a lover of sports from an early age, and was a sports standout in high-school playing on many different teams. And he has enjoyed coaching as a high school baseball and basketball coach for decades.
In 2012 the Barnes’ were called to North Carolina to help another couple plant a Calvary Chapel Church, where Dan continued his coaching but also began to feel that familiar pulling I write about so often. God was obviously “coaching” Dan to consider his faith, as it could, and as it would happen, should relate to his love of sports and coaching.
In February of 2016 Dan answered the call to return to Massachusetts as FCA Multi-Area Director. Dan states in his web bio, “The call to leave corporate America after 30 years in IT and enter the mission field with FCA actually started in 2014 when God gave me a burning desire to coach again.” And when his passion led Dan to explore faith-based sports ministries, that’s where he ultimately discovered the FCA. Dan also began an FCA baseball team in the 15-18 year-old league in the Burlington, NC Recreation Department, as he traversed back and forth between his two worlds. Little did he know, this was the beginning of his journey back home to serve the Lord for good.
I recently had an opportunity to speak with Dan, and though he was extremely busy with FCA and we only had a short time, I was stunned at the man’s passion for his ministry, and how his approach and vision answered questions about youth sports I didn’t even know I had.
You see, as an avid sports fan myself, and as the father of a teenage boy playing on several teams over the years, I’d actually struggled quite a bit with the ever-present parent living vicariously through their child, as well as the coach(s) consumed with winning at the expense of those in their charge. All this came back to me as I began to question Dan on the FCA and how it was changing hearts and minds of people for God. He explained that as he became more involved with FCA last summer, he began to see (and feel) God working in him, and that he realized with clarity, why he’d been brought to this place and time.
Dan also explained, (much to my relief), that he was seeing a hunger for the Word and a longing for Christ in the lives of the young athletes he was working with, that you just don’t hear about these days, and that this caused him to push further into his ministry possibilities. So I asked him what he felt was the core of his efforts and where he felt it would lead. He told me my question was far too broad, and that I needed to understand how the program worked in order to fully grasp FCA, and moreover how there was a chain of events that needed to take place so that the message would resonate and carry on. You see, for me, working in the college environment, it’s very easy to become disheartened and pessimistic. Dan Barnes changed that as our conversation continued.
Truth be told, it’s no secret the Lord takes our talents and abilities and uses them for His good, even when we don’t necessarily understand it at first. In fact, I’m living proof of that. In Dan’s case though, it was clearly his love of sports and coaching, as well as his overall life and work experience that God would bring to His glory.
Dan went on to explain, that as a multi-area director, charged with developing the strategies that would bring young people to the FCA ministry, he needed to seek out school coaches in the local church, by way of introductions via their pastors and fellow parishioners, or simply by shaking hands and sharing a cup of coffee and conversation during fellowship. Yes, those active coaches sitting out there on their Sunday excursion, who aren’t exactly sure how their faith and passion for the game come together, much less how they could be brought into the schools where they work, were now in Dan’s mission sights. By fostering this communication, Dan would put the building blocks of his ministry in place. This interaction would provide him with teams which could then seek out those athletes, whose stand-out abilities and leadership qualities, on and off the field, and whose coaches could then develop for empowering teammates and others around them with the Word of God.
In essence, Dan explained that a “coach” is one of the most influential individuals in our society, and FCA seeks to equip and encourage coaches to grow in their faith and become transformational in how they coach their athletes and influence other coaches, to see coaches become true disciples for Christ and have that be manifested in their character and interactions with those around them, especially the athletes in their charge. Dan talked about FCA’s Coaches’ Huddles
“An FCA Coaches Huddle is a small group Bible Study for coaches who coach teams at the middle school and high school level, as this is where Dan’s calling has lead him. This is not to say that he does not engage at the collegiate level, however, making strides with school age youth in the Massachusetts area is where Dan feels the need. A Coaches huddle can consist of a coaching staff or it can be made up of coaches from various schools and different sports within a geographic region. These “huddles” can exist “wherever works best for the coaches involved.” To include rooms/offices on campus, restaurants/coffee shops, homes, etc. And they can meet whenever works best for the coaches involved.”
This all culminates in the FCA Camp, “which takes the best attributes of an athletic-focused camp and a spiritual-focused camp and combines them into an athletic/spiritual experience like none other. The Camps remove athletes and coaches from the rut and routine of their sport, friends/co-workers and community and places them into an exciting, healthy, athletic environment that allows them to pursue their passion for sport and clearly see and hear Christ’s passion for them”.
Dan was adamant about how this is a process, with all the steps being necessary to achieve the desired result, that being character driven competitors with talent and leadership skills which train them up to witness to others, of a life lived as Christ desires for all of us, and the added satisfaction and joy that comes from victory with all glory to Him.
He spoke of the process as benign in its infancy, and introduced into the school/campus setting by way of the aforementioned hunger for the Word I wrote of earlier. Later, and with adult sponsorship, which could be a teacher, coach, or parent/mentor active in the school system, and always with their presence and support, the ministry grows out of its own strength. “Inspiration and perspiration” Dan explained, are byproducts of the process, with “wins and losses” being appropriately prioritized in the much broader picture of training up our young people for the challenges of their faith in the 21st Century.
Dan also reminded me that the FCA is equally focused on the character, faith and personal lives of their coaching staff, understanding, that like pastoring, one can become lost in what you do. Dan emphasizes that being a good spouse and/or a parent is an integral part of the FCA equation, and that the organizations CORE values of “Integrity, Serving, Teamwork, and Excellence” each with corresponding scripture, are as much a part of The FCA coaching and administrative staff as they are instilled into the young athletes.
I could go on and on, however as usual, these heartfelt and necessary mission articles could take up the whole paper. And as my editor is quick to remind me, there is much to print for Christ in “The GNT”. Nevertheless, I asked Dan if there was a need, and if he’d like me to emphasize a point for him. He said simply, I need Christian coaches who are searching to seek me out. I could hear in Dan’s voice, that his mission is growing and he can certainly facilitate joining those coaches faith and talent together for the good of the kids, and for the glory of God. We also talked of funding, which we all know is a necessary and often difficult component of mission work. That said, I think we can also agree, that money spent on our Christian posterity, will always be money well spent.
God bless you Dan, and keep bringing God’s team to the field. we’ll be watching.
The Barnes are active in their church and they each enjoy one-on-one discipleship of the seeking and newly saved. They have two sons Jacob and Thomas who enjoy playing baseball, basketball and street hockey. The Barnes family are avid New England sports fans. Go Pats!!!
Please donate to the Massachusetts FCA on their web page: http://massfca.org/donate/ Or mail: FCA
C/O Horizon Christian Fellowship, 356 Broad St., Fitchburg, MA 01420