Our mission is to reach, teach, and train baseball players for the purpose of sending them out into the world to make disciples of Jesus who love God passionately and love others radically.
While there is no specific formula or strategy to multiply followers of Jesus that transcends all aspects of culture, we have attempted here to give you a basic idea of what the general ministry functions of UPI actually look like in our effort to multiply followers of Jesus through the professional baseball world.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY REACH?
Attempting to reach into the world of professional baseball is no small task. Access to players is obviously limited and players themselves naturally put up walls to shield them from the multitude of people trying to get something from them. Even if access is eventually granted, it is a hard sell to convince someone who seemingly has everything the world has to offer that you have something they desperately need and must not live without. We are striving hard to reach a people group that Jesus himself said would find it difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:23-25).
Fortunately, God has equipped the UPI guys in various ways to provide more access and opportunities to reach more players. Currently, three of the five men on staff are team chaplains for the Braves, D-Backs and White Sox which automatically gives us access that a limited number of people have. On top of that, our experiences as former players help tear down the walls put up by players to guard them from the outside world. We strive daily to use our unique platforms and the relationships we have already developed to expand our reach within the game. Through sharing the love of Jesus and boldly proclaiming his name before others, we trust that his sheep will hear his voice and begin seeking a relationship with him.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY TEACH?
The apostle Paul raises two very important questions in his letter to the Romans. He asks, “How are [people] to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” As we reach out to players in a wide-variety of ways our hope is to have these players move into a teaching environment where they can begin to learn more about who Jesus is, what he has done, how it affects them and why it matters. Therefore, a large part of our ministry is setting up various teaching environments that are convenient and accessible for the players.
Apart from trying to get players to attend our chapel services at the field on Sundays throughout the season, we try and get players to participate in Bible studies throughout the year as well. Many players are hesitant to participate in local “small group” settings and Bible studies for various reasons. We strive to set up player-friendly environments by setting up Bible studies and Retreats that are strictly for players and baseball personnel. These studies take place in player’s homes, rooms at local churches, the baseball field, conference rooms at local restaurants and anywhere else we can get a group of players to gather. We put these together throughout the season, off-season and especially Spring Training where all players are gathered into two central locations (Arizona and Florida) making it easier for us to gather more guys at once. To add to these studies, we hold an annual 3-day retreat every winter in Arizona and Atlanta where many players live and train throughout the offseason.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY TRAIN?
Jesus has specifically commanded us as his disciples to make more disciples and to teach them to observe all that he has commanded us. This is the bread and butter of the ministry, and we strive hard for this purpose of making the players that we reach and teach into disciples of Jesus. This part of the process is more than just teaching and instruction and is much more difficult to precisely define because of its intimate nature. This process consists of us (the disciple-maker) and the player (the disciple) entering into a relationship in which complete trust in one another has been established, and we begin to do life together.
Many times this relationship begins by encouraging the player to go beyond the group Bible studies and enter into a more one-on-one setting where we begin to train them how to observe all that Jesus has commanded. This usually consists of the disciple-maker and the disciple routinely getting together whether face-to-face, by video chat or by phone to discuss various aspects of life and to walk through Scripture together in the process. We will also encourage these players to serve with us in our local communities and internationally through one of the mission trips that we set-up for them during the offseason.
Again, given the intimate nature of these types of relationships, each discipleship relationship that develops is unique. Marriage counseling, performing wedding ceremonies, and performing baptisms among other things are offshoots of this portion of the ministry. The mission at this point is continued investment in the disciple as we continue to teach them and walk with them through life’s joys and trials. At this point, a genuine love relationship has developed among two people, and it’s a relationship and friendship that has no end.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY SEND?
Up to this point of the mission, the focus rests in developing a disciple of Jesus. The dictionary defines a disciple as one who embraces and assists in spreading the doctrines of another; as an active advocate of a movement or an individual. Therefore, a disciple of Jesus can appropriately be defined as an active advocate of Jesus who embraces and assists in spreading his message to others. That means a true disciple of Jesus will go and make more disciples.
Jesus’ ministry was actually pretty basic. He called twelve men to follow him and be his disciples. He then spends the rest of his life teaching them, training them, loving them, serving them and thus showing them what it looks like to be his disciple. After three years of this type of teaching and training, he then tells his disciples to now go make more disciples and that he would help them along the way. Therefore, we strive to continue this type of mission as we seek to develop a professional baseball player into a mature disciple of Jesus who is properly equipped and passionate about using everything God has entrusted to him to make more disciples of Jesus.
It goes without saying that professional athletes are worshipped and have a huge influence in the culture we live in. Therefore, to see a guy choose to use his influence and resources for the advancement of the Kingdom is an accomplishment that Jesus declares only he can make happen (Mark 10:27). It is a joy and a blessing to experience a player reaching this level of maturity in their relationship with Jesus and to see the tremendous impact they have on the world around them because of this relationship. They become spiritual leaders in their clubhouses, communities and homes setting off a ripple effect that impacts more lives than is ever even realized. Loving professional athletes like Jesus loves them is the mission and this is the purpose that we strive for using all of the energy that God powerfully provides within us.