Where did my passion and appreciation of the intersection of faith and sports begin?
The answer might surprise you.
Almost all of my 23-year career has been spent at the intersection of faith and sports.
I’ve had the privilege of working with more than 75 professional baseball teams putting on “Faith Day” events that feature a full concert by a Christian music artist and testimonies from Christian players. I’ve literally been afforded the opportunity to go coast to coast using the vehicle of sports to spread the good news about Jesus.
I’ve worked with the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, L.A. Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins of Major League Baseball. I’ve been in just about every minor league baseball stadium from Portland, Oregon to Hagerstown, Maryland and everywhere in between.
MercyMe, Casting Crowns, Third Day, Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith, The Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, Crowder, Audio Adrenaline and Jeremy Camp have all performed at our events.
Hall of Famer John Smoltz was the very first MLB player to give his testimony at one of our Faith Day events with the Braves. Over the years I’ve handed the microphone to other well-known athletes including Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Blackmon, Dexter Fowler, Tim Hudson, Dave Dravecky, Mark Melancon, Jeff Francoeur and NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.
One year in Atlanta we had a last minute speaker cancellation. That allowed me the opportunity to give my personal testimony entitled “Making it to the Big Leagues” to more than 12,000 people at the Braves’ Turner Field.
Our Faith Day events were featured by The New York Times, USA Today, ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Fox News, CNN and more than 200 newspapers on four continents.
Due to their popularity there have been thousands of copycat events all over the world in every major and minor sports league. Untold millions have had the opportunity to hear about Jesus at a sports venue as a result.
When I worked at Lipscomb University I had the blessing of helping shepherd more than 300 NCAA Division I student athletes and 40 coaches as associate athletic director for spiritual formation. I led four athletic mission trips to Honduras where we completed various construction projects. In 2014 I led a team of 22 Lipscomb baseball players and coaches to the Dominican Republic where we built a baseball field in the middle of a slum. We saw 53 of our student-athletes accept Christ and put Him on in baptism in an 18 month period.
I was one of the architects behind the Don Meyer Evening of Excellence at Lipscomb. We welcomed Tim Tebow before a standing room only crowd just five days before he was drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos. Three years later we hosted the largest event in Lipscomb history as more than 15,000 people descended on the campus in a 24 hour period for three sold-out sessions with Phil, Kay and Uncle Si Robertson who were at the peak of their popularity thanks to A&E’s Duck Dynasty television series. The Gospel was shared boldly at both of those events with several giving their lives to Christ in baptism in the training room cold tub at the bottom of Allen Arena.
Possibly the most important fruit that came from being introduced to the intersection of faith and sports grew when I was a volunteer youth baseball coach. From the time Houston and Hunter were old enough to pick up a bat and ball I was their coach.
Our Crieve Hall Crusaders teams were best known for always asking the opposing teams to pray with us on the mound after the game. It didn’t matter how happy or devastated we were, we would always stop and give glory to God. The boys led the prayers each and every time. Some of the sweetest, most humbling, genuine prayers I know God has ever heard came in that dirt from those boys.
My favorite coaching moment of them all came in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. We were playing in the 104-team Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament. All of the players and coaches lived together in dorm style buildings with bunk beds. Every night before we went to bed we had a “popcorn prayer” where one of the coaches started and ended the prayer and in between the boys could pray if they wanted. All 12 of them prayed every single night.
Some of the strongest bonds I have on this planet are with those boys that I’ve coached. The seeds we sowed into them over and over and over of Jesus first, others second and that baseball doesn’t define you seem to have taken hold.
Make no mistake. They’re some of the very best players on their respective high school teams now. We played to win too.
So back to the original question…
Where did my passion and appreciation of the intersection of faith and sports begin?
It was the front row in Mrs. Modling’s 8th grade Algebra class at McMurray Middle School in August of 1988.
There, seated to my immediate left, was a new kid who had transferred in from the Antioch area. His name was Todd Johnson.
It didn’t take us long to figure out we were both in love with the game of baseball. Todd was a second baseman. His dad, Elliot, was the head baseball coach at Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville. Todd invited me to join him for his dad’s games and practices. Coach Johnson was quick to offer hitting and pitching instruction that helped my game tremendously.
Just a couple of weeks after first meeting Todd in algebra class, he invited me to join him on Friday morning in the gym for something called FCA. I’d never heard of it before.
F.C.A.- Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Early that Friday morning before school, Todd and I joined a couple dozen McMurray students in the pullout wooden bleachers at McMurray and listened intently as a former University of Tennessee football lineman named Steve Robinson shared a message of hope. I had never heard a message like that before. It was full of sports analogies and I loved it!
I went on to be a faithful member of the FCA huddle at Overton High School, attending early morning Bible studies with Coach Walsh my freshman year. One of the football players, Leland Price, was the president. He encouraged me as much as anyone. There were many memorable FCA meetings in the band room during club time.
One of my favorite FCA meetings at Overton included the short film entitled Without Reservation that painted the picture of what happened to a group of students that were killed in a car wreck. For weeks and months afterward, whenever someone did something they weren’t supposed to be doing the phrase from the film was blurted their way in a direct kind of accountability.
“Step to the left!”
I went to FCA camp in Black Mountain, North Carolina where I saw Green Bay Packers legend Reggie White bring an entire assembly hall of hundreds to repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Savior. One of the N.C. State tight ends, a guy named Neil, was my huddle leader for the week and he was extra cool.
The next summer I attended FCA leadership camp in Marshall, Indiana. It was the first time I’d ever been asked to share my faith with complete strangers as we walked the streets of Marshall, Indiana offering to pray with anyone who would open the door. I served as a huddle officer my senior year at Overton.
In 1998 I started the first FCA huddle in the history of Lipscomb University. It’s still going strong today.
In the early 2000’s I was heavily involved with FCA’s annual fundraising banquet and golf challenge. From 2003-2005 I served as a board member.
My buddy Todd Johnson is now in charge of a thriving FCA ministry in San Antonio, Texas. He previously served as the FCA campus minister at Ole Miss.
FCA has made an eternal difference in my life.
It’s still my great privilege and honor to introduce the ministry of FCA to those that have the same passion for that intersection of faith and sports. I can think of no more powerful, culturally relevant vehicle of delivering the Gospel to today’s youth in our schools than FCA.
Emily and I have joyfully given of our time, talent and treasure to FCA. We’d like to ask you to join us and consider supporting FCA with your treasure.
Please consider making a monthly commitment or a one-time contribution online right now at https://my.fca.org/brenthigh
Unfortunately, I’ve long forgotten the algebra from that class at McMurray Middle School.
Thankfully what I did learn in the front row of that class will last forever.