Theology and sports. The Faith & Sports Institute (FSI) at Baylor’s Truett Seminary believes these two go together, and it has the graduate degree programs to prove it.
Beginning in 2011 with a residential program in sports ministry and chaplaincy, and expanding in 2022 with the launch of an online Master of Arts in Theology and Sports Studies degree, the FSI programs seek to represent what is distinctive about Baylor: the convictions of a Christian university, the serious academic engagement of a Research 1 institution, and the commitment to excellence of a school with major athletics.
We asked four current students in the FSI programs to share their experiences, providing a glimpse into the ways theology and sports combine at Truett Seminary.
“I was struck by the remarkable combination of theology and its practical application to the world of sports,” Puckett recalled.
Seeking to expand his horizons as he directs a Christian college sports program, Puckett jumped in.
“What truly resonated with me,” he explained, “was the realization that my work as a collegiate athletic director is not isolated but rather an integral part of a grand narrative unfolding for hundreds of years.”
Leading while he learns, Puckett has found the program immediately applicable. He listed several benefits: the networks of new friends and colleagues; the spiritual formation classes that “have been more than just academic exercises, they’ve been a source of personal transformation;” and the wide-ranging coursework that equips him to “think critically and creatively about how we approach faith formation within the context of collegiate athletics.”
Puckett’s experience inspired one of the student-athletes at George Fox, baseball player Austin Hallman, to check out Truett Seminary as well. For Hallman, FSI’s residential program was the right fit. He felt God calling him to a “season of preparation where I could gain the tools to be able to train leaders in sports.”
Currently in his first semester, Hallman is just beginning his coursework. But he has already made meaningful learning connections.
“The idea that stands out most to me,” he said, “is that we cannot view sports through the lenses of this world, but rather we must learn how God sees problems and beauty.”
Along with his time in the classroom, Hallman has been able to get experience assisting with a chapel for Baylor athletes. He hopes to coach a ninth-grade baseball team for a local school in the spring as well.
“I want to learn and apply what it means to teach athletes to play with freedom from a secure identity in Christ,” Hallman explained.
Identity in Christ is a subject Brian Smith has written about frequently. A sports ministry leader with Athletes in Action and the author of “The Christian Athlete,” Smith had long considered enrolling in seminary, but never found the right fit. When he heard about the online sports and theology degree from Truett, however, he decided to take the plunge.
“I love God and I’m passionate about sports,” he said. “This was an incredible opportunity to learn more about how they intersect.”
Like Puckett, one of the most important things Smith learned was to see his own work in sports as part of a much larger story.
“Most of my questions and beliefs surrounding God and sport are questions that Christians have wrestled with for hundreds of years,” he said. “This program has opened my eyes up to a vault of new ministry resources that I never knew existed.”
Three great opportunities to learn and grow this fall as a Christian leader in sports. And you can do it all online!
— Faith & Sports Institute (@FaithSportsInst) September 22, 2023
Josepha Mbouma, a student in the residential program, found her way to Truett in search of resources, too. A former college basketball player, she was coaching a high school basketball team and found that her conversations with players were about way more than just the sport.
“I realized that my role involved a level of discipleship,” she said. “I desired to be better equipped to holistically engage my athletes.”
After trying out one of FSI’s online continuing education courses, Mbouma knew she wanted more. She decided to make the move and enroll at Truett.
Mbouma has especially appreciated the opportunity to think critically about the culture of sports and other areas of the moral life.
“I have been challenged to consider what it looks like to not confine God to pre- or post-game prayer but to be awakened to sport as worship,” she said.
At the same time, she continues to stay involved with the on-the-ground work of leading athletes. As a coach for a local junior high, she encourages her players to love their opponents — to pursue excellence and winning, but always in a way that honors the image-bearers on the other team.
“I have been able to explore what it looks like to view competition as collaboration,” she explained.
While Adam Puckett, Austin Hallman, Brian Smith and Josepha Mbouma came to Truett Seminary for different reasons, they have all discovered a meaningful community passionate about learning and growing together. As students and leaders, they show that theology, when it is applied and put into practice, can help Christians love and serve the people and culture of sports.
To learn more about the Faith & Sports Institute’s graduate degree options at Truett Seminary, visit: https://truettseminary.baylor.edu/programs-centers/faith-sports-institute/graduate-degree-programs.
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