Stories from the Faith and Sports Institute
In March 2021, Baylor’s Truett Seminary officially launched the Faith & Sports Institute (FSI), following 10 years of progress in developing leaders in sports ministry. Under the direction of John B. White, PhD, The Harold and Dottie Riley Associate Professor of Practical Theology, and Cindy White, adjunct professor of sports chaplaincy, the Faith & Sports Institute fosters the thoughtful integration of faith and sports through four primary initiatives—a graduate degree program, an online certificate program, a high school retreat, and the development of research and resources.
Already, many athletes, coaches, ministers, and scholars have engaged with the Faith & Sports Institute and found a unique hub of resources and opportunities at the intersection of faith and sports. Here are just a few of their stories:
Master of Divinity Student
Sports Ministry Program
Baylor University’s Truett Seminary
When repeated injuries forced his retirement from playing football for the University of Kansas, Josh Ehambe began an internship with the school’s student-athlete development department. His internship supervisor sent him to attend the Black Student Athletes Summit in Austin, where he unexpectedly met Dr. John White. After sharing his story with Dr. White—of his struggles with losing his identity in sports and the hope he now found in Jesus alone—the professor invited and encouraged Ehambe to come and study in the sports ministry program at Baylor. Ehambe is now pursuing his Master of Divinity degree at Truett and serving as an assistant chaplain with Baylor Football, Men’s Basketball, and Men’s Track.
“The Sports Ministry Program has been phenomenal. The FSI program teaches us how to honor God with sport, how to incorporate our faith within sport, how to compete against our opponent—not to beat them down, but to bring out the best in them, to bring out the gifts that God has placed in them.
“We talk about four virtues in the sports ministry program—love, discipline, hope, and faith. Yesterday, I spoke with the football team and talked about love. Football and basketball are often your majority minority sports, and a lot of those minorities come from broken situations in the house. I came from a house where I was trying to earn my father’s love, and a lot of guys come from similar situations. They take those wounds into athletics and try to earn their coaches’ love. So, I talked to them about not working for love but working from love. You’re already loved by God. Let’s go from trying to earn something to working from something that was earned for us by Jesus Christ.
“If you think about it, sports gathers people more than anything. It attracts people from different races, different religions. When you go to a football game or a basketball game, it doesn’t matter what your background is. You’re all coming together for a commonality. Sports gives us this opportunity to learn about faith. So, it’s really important to understand how to incorporate your faith and your sport.”
Head Coach for Girls Basketball
Valor Christian High School
Jessika Caldwell is grateful for her time on Baylor’s Lady Bears basketball team, where she played from 2000 to 2004 under Coach Kim Mulkey, particularly as she now serves as the head girls basketball coach and chaplains coordinator at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. A few years ago, when Caldwell searched for resources to help her develop a spiritual development curriculum for Valor’s coaches and chaplains, she discovered the Faith & Sports Institute. A friendship with Cindy White soon developed, and Caldwell found herself not only with new collaborative support as she created her curriculum, but also engaged with the Online Certificate Program and hosting the Faith & Sports Institute team for a one-day “Sprint” version of the High School Retreat at Valor.
“What’s been such a blessing to me is that I never anticipated being back in the classroom setting. Not only am I a coach, but I work in a school, I’m a mom of three, I’m a wife, and so thinking about going back into a classroom felt unimaginable. But this opportunity with the certificate program to be online and have flexibility with the modules while still having that community connection with people all across the world has really ignited a sweet love for learning.
“At the time that our school hosted the ‘Sprint,’ we still had student athletes who were competing in state championships, so we had quite a few incoming freshmen attend. I felt like that was one of the best things that we could have done for them. Valor is ninth through twelfth grade and does not have a feeder school, so we have students coming from a wide range of experiences. Most of them probably had never had an experience like that before, and we were able to give them a foundational experience as an entry into the school.
“There’s really nothing else like FSI. There are amazing parachurch organizations out there that are equipping coaches, but this is something totally different. The Faith & Sports Institute starts at a foundational, theological level to offer a deeper understanding of how we can communicate well the idea of spirituality and sports."
Duane Aagaard, PhD
Associate Professor of Sport Management
A college athlete turned intercollegiate athletics director turned college professor, Dr. Duane Aagaard experienced firsthand the tension that can sometimes exist between faith and sports. Because of these experiences, he resolved to pursue and demonstrate the integration of faith and sports in whatever role God placed him. Today, as associate professor of sport management at Catawba College, he teaches classes on sport philosophy and ethics, sport sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. After connecting with Dr. John White at a conference many years ago, he has followed the growth of the Faith & Sports Institute over the years and was excited to have the opportunity to take classes within the Online Certificate Program and engage with other online programming.
“I really use the courses for my own professional development. For me, this was a perfect fit for my desire to pursue theology as well as very relevant topics that are developing me. I’m sure my students are benefiting as well. There are definitely correlations between what I’m learning and what we’re doing in the classroom. I also really appreciate the quality of the communicators. The program is able to bring in national names from the NFL to Olympians to leading writers and scholars.
“I’m looking forward to integrating what I learned in the ‘Sport & Race’ course into my sport philosophy and ethics class, especially the weeks that we look at socioeconomic and race issues. Also, we do a theology training in the summer here at Catawba for middle school and high school students. This year, we offered a sport and theology track. Paul Putz [Assistant Director of Sports Ministry] was willing to meet with me as we were shaping the outline, and I was able to embed a lot of the information that I learned from the online courses. Those students incredibly benefited from it.
“We have a lot of Christians in sport, but we don’t have a lot of people who know how to live out their faith in sport. I think there are a lot of people who have compartmentalized their faith and their involvement in sport—and maybe even worse, who have justified their actions within sport. I don’t think that Christians in this space have a strong theological perspective of how to not just be winners, but to transform lives and maintain their Christian witness [which is why we need the work being done by the Faith & Sports Institute].”
Texas A&M University
At the invitation of her friend and mentor Elizabeth Bounds, then 17-year-old Danielle Khoury eagerly applied to attend the inaugural Faith & Sports Institute Retreat for high school student-athletes. A multi-sport athlete at Midway High School, Khoury was excited to see how she might learn more about how her two passions—sports and her faith—might fit together. Today, Danielle is a senior at Texas A&M University and offers strength and conditioning training to young athletes in addition to directing a Christian college student retreat. The lessons she learned as a teenager at the FSI Retreat continue to impact her today.
“The Retreat taught me a lot of remarkable things, especially how to bring God off the sidelines and onto the field. This was important to learn because it used to be that I’d pray before the game, but the minute I stepped on the field, the game was all about my pride, my goals, my team’s success, and how many people I needed to knock over to get the ball.
“Throughout the years, I have repositioned my heart into a posture of worship throughout my mundane activities. My Retreat mentor Elizabeth’s example of her own personal focal point was really funny and stuck with me. She would look for and find the shape of ‘W’ everywhere she could—on goal posts, fences, trees, jerseys, etc. And she looked for ‘W’s because it would make her think about Worship—with a capital W—as being more important than getting a win—with a lowercase ‘w’. This became important to me because, if you think about it, between worship and winning, one of these feeds my soul and the other feeds my pride. I learned the purpose of a focal point is to remind you of your greater purpose of worship and simple ways to develop habits to draw our minds back to a posture of worship.
“It is super important for everyone to recognize that the field is not separate from our Provider, our Lord. It is even more important to live out the truths taught in this Retreat, interweaving our faith, desires, passions, and community.”