JACKSON, Tenn. -- Rick Horton spent seven years as a big league relief
pitcher in the 1980s, playing in two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals
in the process.
While that might be important to some, the work Horton is doing now is of much greater significance.
Horton is the St. Louis area director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a national ministry based in Kansas City, Mo. In that role, Horton works with 17 counties in the St. Louis area to present Christ to athletes and coaches.
Along with Walt Enoch, he also serves as Baseball Chapel leader for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"We on a daily basis will work with coaches who essentially act as mentors for the student athletes in their school," Horton said of his work with FCA. "Our role is to equip, train and serve the people who are called to the ministry. We try to do it an interdenominational way."
As a former player himself, Horton understands the way athletes are wired -- and that's often different from other people.
"The more elite athlete you become the more performance driven you are," Horton said. "You think of performance all the time. It's almost beyond winning and losing. They're very intense about that and very focused on that."
Athletes also tend to like things on a smaller scale and aren't usually big group people, despite the fact that they play team sports. Events like Promise Keepers have their place and serve a valuable purpose, but Horton said athletes often tend to prefer more one-on-one discipleship and training.
FCA tries to accommodate those needs by helping athletes deal with issues related to identity, failure, success and performance from a biblical point of view.
Horton and Enoch also serve the St. Louis Rams by providing chapel services and Bible studies, but since Horton is a former Cardinal himself, his role with the baseball team is especially meaningful.
This year, the contingent of Christians on the St. Louis Cardinals has a different identity. Woody Williams and Mike Matheny, two of the most faithful men on the team in years past, are playing elsewhere.
"Part of the nature of professional sports is that teams change," Horton said. "It's very unique to have guys play together for more than two or three years."
But others have stepped in to provide the necessary leadership. Cal Eldred is "solid as a rock," Horton said. Superstar slugger Albert Pujols is also very outspoken about his faith.
Ministry to athletes provides its own set of challenges, and at the professional level Horton has to find a way to minister to people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and denominations. In any given chapel service, he may be addressing Catholics, Pentecostals, Baptists and other evangelicals. Discovering a common ground is sometimes difficult, as Horton tries to provide messages and encouragement that will not alienate any of the players.
"When you deal with athletes, like anything else, you're going to have people all over the spectrum -- people who have virtually no identity with Christ, people who are maybe just babies in their faith and people who are mature and growing," Horton said. "Our role is to serve everybody on that spectrum the best way we can."
Tim Ellsworth writes this column, a part of his First Person series, from his home in Jackson, Tenn. Write to him at email@example.com, or visit his blog at www.timellsworth.com for additional commentary on sports, religion, culture and politics.