A philosophy of ministry through sports at FLBC
A few weeks ago, a whimsical story became a small chorus of “Hey, have you seen this?” texts and Tweets on my phone. A high school of sorts had somehow convinced both IMG Academy and ESPN that they were a legitimate high school with a legitimate football team with legitimate NCAA Division 1 recruits. It didn’t end well.
In defense of Bishop Sycamore, educational integrity isn’t a strength of ESPN, the NCAA, or IMG (a sports marketing talent agency). But Bishop Sycamore’s coach more or less took the “there is no such thing as bad press” approach. The embarrassment prompted a brief national conversation about what schools are legitimate and what schools are not.
The NCAA even releases a list of “do not count” opponents every year. As our former name was “Association Free Lutheran Bible School,” we appear near the beginning of every alphabetized list, even those on which we do not want to appear. Check it out. You know you want to. Unfortunately, that list includes some colleges that aren’t really colleges, and others that “do not count” for some good, but not nefarious, reasons. Since we are a two-year college, we “do not count” for competitive balance reasons, which is understandable for, say, the University of Minnesota’s purposes.
Why We Have Sports at FLBC
Sports at FLBC started in the early years with participation in a YMCA league. In 1983, the National Bible College Athletic Association (NBCAA, which is now the ACCA– The Association of Christian College Athletics) was formed as league for two-year Bible Schools/Institutes/Colleges, serving as a counterpart to the National Christian College Athletic Association, which continues today as the NCCAA. We play a lot of NCCAA teams, several tribal or technical colleges, and a handful of junior varsity programs from larger institutions. Those games don’t count on their varsity schedule.
We don’t have sports at FLBC for prestige or profit. We don’t win a lot (though we have a national title in our past). We don’t even have sports for “atmosphere,” though I will admit that a good home basketball game in the middle of a long Minnesota winter is a LOT of fun. We have sports at FLBC for the purpose of leadership training and discipleship. If it’s not for leadership training and discipleship, we shouldn’t have it. Ministry through sports is a tool for establishing students in the eternal and inerrant word of God for a life of faith in Jesus Christ and faithful service in His kingdom.
I have coached a lot of basketball at most conceivable levels over the past 30+ years. I love coaching. There was a time when I loved basketball, but I have since realized that what I really loved was investing in children. When I coached at FLBC (1998-2000) and served as Athletic Director, my focus was on leadership training and discipleship. I knew the dangers of sports, and how easily sports become an idol in our society. I had seen first-hand how youth sports cause whole families to neglect Christ and their congregation. At that time, we made the decision to pursue the benefit of sports, leaving behind the idolatry. Pastor Jim Johnson was the Dean at the time, and he was very supportive.
When I pastored in Sioux Falls, SD, a man named Darin Dykstra approached me about coaching a team through the Fellowship of Christian athletes for his son and some of his friends. Their goal was high-level instruction and competition for Christian kids, hoping to cultivate Christian faith instead of stumbling into sports idolatry. Darin, his family, and many of the young men on the team became friends and ministry partners. It was also a great inroad to our community. The stated core values of Team FCA were discipleship, consistent integrity, servanthood, excellence, teamwork responsibility, and humility. It was a lot of fun, and great ministry.
A similar ministry vision is alive on our campus today. Under the direction of Brad Bierle, our Director of Student Life, Athletic Director, and Men’s Basketball coach, we use sports as a ministry tool for discipleship and leadership training. Wendy Greven, who has coached here before, is our women’s coach. She’s great, too. Brad and Wendy are assisted by dorm staffers DJ Alverson and Logan Strand.
Your Invitation to Come Along FLBC basketball has a great new home (our first ever true home court), a full schedule (which will be available here) in both the NIAC and ACCA (this is the Wikipedia link; the website is getting up and running for the new sports seasons). You can follow along with the video and audio live stream for every home game. It’s a lot of fun, and come springtime we hope to have a fan bus together to go to the national tournament in Joplin, MO.
When it comes to NCAA competition, we don’t count– and for good reason. But where it matters most– and to our many opponents who enjoy our competition and fellowship– it counts, both for competitive and ministry purposes. Even institutions that are not Christian demonstrate increasing respect for our character and mission. Thank you for your ongoing support.