The Faith & Sports Institute (FSI) at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary was publicly launched in 2021. It’s a place where Christian leaders in sports are formed and equipped through theological education, compelling research, and practical training.
One of FSI’s supporters and collaborators is John Maurer, who has served as Director of Sports Ministry for Baylor Athletics since 2018. FSI recently sat down with Maurer to discuss his journey into sports ministry and theological education, and why he thinks Baylor is a special place for those two passions.
How did sports ministry become a vocation for you?
The seeds probably started in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, when friends on my football team dragged me to a youth group meeting. That’s where I really learned what it means to know Jesus on a personal level. When I went to the University of Dayton to play football in the 1980s, I met a Campus Crusade (now Cru) leader who discipled me and my teammates and helped us grow.
That leader gave me the idea that I could do sports ministry. He basically told me that the things I was already doing — leading a Bible study, ministering to my teammates — were things I could do as a staff member with Campus Crusade’s athletic ministry, Athletes in Action.
So that’s what I did. I graduated from Dayton in 1987 and joined the AIA staff. I married my wife, Missy, soon after that, and she’s partnered with me ever since. We’ve had a lot of stops along the way, ministering to athletic programs at Miami of Ohio and Rutgers, serving as chaplain for the Chicago Bears, and spending a few years overseas in Kazakhstan.
But 35 years later I’m still at it, doing sports ministry, just in a different context now at Baylor.
Along the way you got interested in theological education, earning a Master of Divinity degree from a seminary in Chicago and now making your way through a Doctor of Ministry program at Truett Seminary. What sparked your interest?
When I first started ministry, I thought seminary was only for pastors. But over the next couple of years I began to sense a need to grow intellectually, to learn the Bible, to learn how to think theologically about everything in life and ministry.
That’s why I ended up doing an M.Div. in the early 1990s. My thinking has never been to have something I can hang on a wall and tell people, “Call me Dr. Maurer.” For me, it’s about increasing in depth and knowledge, loving God with my heart, soul, mind and strength. It’s about being a continual learner, always stretching and growing.
That’s why I started the D.Min. program at Truett a couple years ago. I’m finishing up my classes right now, and on the horizon is this dissertation project that is really the focal point of the degree. For that I’m basically going to take a look at my life’s work — discipleship of college student-athletes — and do a deep dive into the sport culture that they’ve been formed in. What is it about this sport culture that actually helps disciples of Jesus walk in His way and reproduce it in others? What is it about that culture that is detrimental to the process?
We’ll develop a curriculum and then design a research intervention and do data collection to see if the things that we put together actually move the needle in terms of helping form student-athletes spiritually.
I know I don’t have a writing career ahead of me, but I do feel like I’ve got 30-plus years of sport ministry experience to give away, Lord willing, to the next generation. How cool would it be if this project could become something that would be fruitful and usable, not just here at Baylor, but for other people doing sports ministry work?
How does Baylor connect with your vision for sports ministry?
Our president, Dr. Linda Livingstone, talks about how much the world needs a Baylor. I really think that’s true. It’s a unique place, with the elite level of sports, the academic focus, and the Christian mission.
To me, sports ministry is a key part of that vision. We have this incredible opportunity within Baylor sports ministry to impact the lives of our student-athletes and coaches and staff and see them transformed, and then ultimately sent all over the globe to impact people in and through sport, and probably in thousands of other ways, too.
And we also have these great resources. We have the Baylor Built program within athletics. We’ve also got you guys at the Faith & Sports Institute, developing resources and training graduate students who can get practical ministry experience with us, serving our student-athletes.
The goal is not just to meet spiritual needs. It’s also to help those that already know Christ embrace this bigger vision for life and ministry in and through sport. Not just while they’re here, but then as they leave and go in a bunch of different directions — we want them to have Kingdom impact wherever they are.
If someone involved in sports were to ask you for advice about attending seminary, what would you tell them?
I really believe that theological education is absolutely necessary to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Learning the Bible, learning how to think theologically, learning to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength — that is necessary for every follower of Christ
Now, that education might come in a variety of forms. It won’t always be seminary. But the cool thing is, in today’s world, there are lots of accessible and flexible options for people who have an interest in formal theological training. So if someone asked me, I would encourage them to discern like they do with anything else: Seek the Lord, seek Godly counsel, gather information. God will make it clear if this is something that He would have you do based on your calling and the direction of your life.
— Paul Putz
Faith & Sports Institute, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University