Truett Seminary Builds Connection Between Faith and Sports Through Unique Institute

  • Full-Size Image: sports camp1
    Waco area high school athletes were nominated to attend Truett Seminary's Faith & Sports camp from June 16-22. Photos courtesy of Quinn Bezenah.
  • Full-Size Image: sports camp2
    Waco area high school athletes were nominated to attend Truett Seminary's Faith & Sports camp from June 16-22. Photos courtesy of Quinn Bezenah.
  • Full-Size Image: sports camp3
    Waco area high school athletes were nominated to attend Truett Seminary's Faith & Sports camp from June 16-22. Photos courtesy of Quinn Bezenah.
July 9, 2019

Media Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-3321
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

by Brooke Hill, student newswriter, Baylor University Media & Public Relations

WACO, Texas (July 9, 2019) — A realization washed over Baylor University baseball alum and Truett Seminary sports ministry student Case Smith during his junior high church camp.

“They were encouraging us to think about being missionaries,” Smith said. “I grabbed my youth leader after the gathering and told him I felt bad that I couldn’t be a missionary because I played baseball. He encouraged me and gave me some wisdom I never forgot: ‘Case, the baseball field is your mission field.’”

Those words helped Smith to begin to bring his faith onto the field.

“I started to see it as an opportunity to not only share Jesus with my teammates, coaches and opponents, but also play the game in a way that was worshipful,” Smith said.

Truett Seminary’s Faith & Sports Institute is hoping to instill this idea in other young athletes through a blending of the head, heart and hands.

John White, Ph.D., director of the Sports Ministry program at Truett and holder of The Harold and Dottie Riley Professorship in Practical Theology, said his main goal for the institute is to let students know that they are loved independent of their performance.

“I think that allows them to enter their future vocation and their future sports efforts freely,” White said. “They’re liberated. They’re not incarcerated mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I think that brings out the best in them because they’re intrinsically motivated versus extrinsically, like they’re doing this for their mom or dad or because they think their peers will love them more or accept them more, and God loves them unconditionally.”

Mind, body, spirit

The institute is a seven-day retreat in June on Baylor’s campus designed to test the mind, body and spirit. High school student athletes from the Greater Waco area engage in academic sessions and athletic competition focused on five theological pairings: worship and faith, identity and love, training and discipline, suffering and hope, and vocation and courage.

The institute is funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment that the Truett Sports Ministry received in 2015. White said Lilly has been generous in funding high school youth theology institutes, but Baylor is the first to pair faith and sports together. A team of internal and external leaders spent two years designing and developing the institute before its debut in 2018. Thirty-two students attended this year.

Each student who attends the institute is nominated by a pastor, parent or leader and is assigned a young adult mentor who will build a relationship with the student during the following year.

Mentors receive training from University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life Burt Burleson, Ph.D., and other faith leaders so they are prepared to lead their mentees through the week. Mentors meet with students each month, whether visiting a practice to give them advice and feedback or just meeting for coffee to talk about their faith.

Smith has been a mentor for two years and said he enjoys how the retreat brings kids from all over Waco and from different backgrounds.

“I love helping athletes integrate their faith with their sport,” Smith said. “When I was younger, I had a hard time putting the two together, but I have learned that God is not only present in sports, but he uses sports for His glory and to make us more like Him. I love walking alongside high school athletes as they learn and experience this reality.”

This year Smith is serving as the senior mentor, which means he will be encourage and lead the mentors.

“I look forward to watching our mentors grow deep and meaningful relationships over the course of a year,” Smith said. “It is pretty amazing what God can do when we are prayerful, present and loving towards people.”

Trusting God with our whole person

Activities throughout the week included “Courageous Conversations” in which students could discuss topics such as relationships and vulnerability, and discussion groups led by mentors and opportunities for the student athletes could give back to their community. This year, the group visited the Waco Family Abuse Center and the West Waco Community Center to play games with local children.

“It’s social responsibility, that they’d recognize in order to fulfill the calling God has in their life. It’s not only to the church, but to the world,” White said. “So we’re really making that connection. It’s nothing spectacular, but it shapes the young people to realize that they can really give back.”

A unique experience for the students comes in the form of The Great Race, a 15-station course that reflects the journey Jesus undertook when carrying the cross up to the hill where He was crucified.

“We find in the Christian tradition that it’s not just about trusting God with our body, but our whole person,” White said. “The Great Race is meant to put them in a severe testing where you begin to peel away the layers, because athletes can trust in their physicality, but sometimes not in their emotions and their spirit.

“We take them through these extended competitions so that they have an opportunity to create an environment where they can begin to go deeper in their walk with God in sports,” he said. “They learn how to habit sports according to their Christian convictions and character.”

For more information about the Faith & Sports Institute or the sports ministry program at Truett Seminary, visit


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is an orthodox, evangelical school in the historic Baptist tradition that equips God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, Truett Seminary provides theological education leading to the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Master of Theological Studies and Doctor of Ministry. The MACM and MTS degrees also can be completed at the seminary’s Houston campus. In addition, Truett Seminary offers joint degrees: M.Div./M.S.W. and M.T.S./M.S.W. with the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, M.Div./M.B.A. with the Hankamer School of Business, M.Div./J.D. with Baylor Law School, M.Div./M.M. with the School of Music and M.Div./M.S.Ed. or M.Div./M.A. with the School of Education. Visit to learn more.

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