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Harlem to Honolulu

FCA President and First Lady Les and Chris Steckel open up about their well-traveled first year of ministry with FCA
By Jill Ewert

Chris and Les Steckel.
It takes the average frequent flyer 12 months to travel enough miles to qualify for Southwest Airlines’ companion pass. Les and Chris Steckel only needed eight.

In their first year of ministry, the FCA President and “First Lady” were on the road as many days as a typical person spends in an office during an entire calendar year. But it wasn’t without purpose. Both Les and Chris knew they were called to spend that time immersing themselves in the FCA field, learning from and building relationships with staff across the country.

“You want to hear my standard speech?” Steckel asks jokingly. “I tell people, ‘We’ve been from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. From Los Angeles to Tampa. From Phoenix to Boston. From Cleveland to Houston. From Denver to Charlotte. And from Honolulu to Harlem.’ I say, ‘We’ve seen it all, and we have a great ministry with great teammates and dedicated people.’”

With a year and a half of ministry behind them, the Steckels sat down with STV editor Jill Ewert to talk about their travels, experiences with the staff and their goals for FCA.

JE: In your first year on staff, you spent most of your time on the road. What was the purpose of all the traveling?

LS: In the first year, I really wanted to get out in the field and understand what the staff was going through. I use the phrase that I wanted to “get in the trenches with the troops.” There’s no way I can help them, serve them, support them and make decisions if I don’t know what they’re dealing with. So, my main goal was to meet people and to listen and learn and to really hear their hearts.

A lot of my NFL peers ask me, “What are you doing going into the ministry after being a coach all your life?” I say, “God has called me to a unique opportunity. How’d you like to go to work everyday with people who love what they do, who are good at what they do, who work hard at what they do, and who every day try to get better at what they do? And I’ll go you one better, they even have to raise their own money to pay themselves to do what they do. Where can you find dedicated people like that?” Most of them say, “Man, that’s an amazing job.” I say, “Yeah, how lucky am I?” I’m so humbled to be able to work with men and women who love the Lord and who are investing their lives to serve Him.

Les and Chris Steckel joined FCA staff and coaches at a retreat in Scottsbluff, Neb., last June. Click here to view a larger photo.

CS: And I think in addition to hearing from the staff in the field what their concerns and struggles are, and hearing what their joys are, it was also an opportunity for them to get to know us. By being with them, they can hear Les’ vision and why God has called us at this time and what we really think God wants us to do in this role with FCA. By sharing who we are, hopefully we can begin to build relationships of openness and accessibility.

JE: What is the benefit of creating those relationships with the field staff?

LS: Well, one goal I have for FCA is team unity. Being a coach and being a Marine officer for most of my life, I’ve learned that if you don’t have a unified team, you’re not going anywhere. And not to say it hasn’t been unified, but in order to build team unity you have to build relationships. And those relationships are built on two things: integrity and trust.

So, I really believe that’s where God has called Chris and me. We have to get out and truly lead with integrity and to earn the trust of the staff. And it goes both ways. They’re also opening up to us and telling us the truth about some of the challenges they face in their jobs, which allows us to be more helpful. And nothing is greater than having open, honest and transparent communication.

“…in order to build team unity you have to build relationships. And those relationships are built on two things: integrity and trust.”
– Les Steckel

CS: I think, too, that unity is an issue because we’re a national ministry. There are people who are so far from other FCA staff and from the Home Office in Kansas City, and they may feel alone out there. It’s important for them to be connected and to really understand how important they are. And obviously we haven’t been able to meet everybody or to see everybody, but we’re working on that.

JE: Through all of these relationships and encounters, what are some of the things you both have learned from the field staff?

LS: One thing that I’ve learned is that we have some very gifted, talented and dedicated people. Like any job, when you throw yourself into it, sometimes you create a monster—it gets overwhelming. So, one of the things we want to do is increase the staff so that many of our staff members aren’t spinning too many plates. A serious concern I have for our people is that everyone’s plate “runneth over.”

I hope we can get to a point in the near future where we’re a little more specialized. Right now our four C’s of ministry can give us tremendous focus. And it would be exciting to see a time when we have specialists working in those four areas who are devoted and who have a passion for that one specific arena instead of spreading ourselves so thin.

I know that everyone loves the ministry, and they are so excited about being a part of it, but at the same time, when you get right down to the nitty gritty, they’ll tell you, “I’m kind of overrun, Coach. I’ve got a lot to do here in a very short amount of time.” They need help, and that’s why one of our goals is to increase the staff of the ministry.

“I think it’s an amazing gift when God gives you the opportunity to minister to the people who have been ministering to you.”
– Chris Steckel

CS: We’ve also learned so many things just by getting to know the staff and their families on these trips and by getting to see their kids and to see them interact as couples. We’ve come to appreciate what great families they have.

It’s interesting to me after years as a coach’s wife how similar the challenges of our ministry spouses are to the ones that I had. Their significant other is out working for the Lord, so how can they say, “Shouldn’t you be home with me?” Or they’re out helping athletes after school in the evenings or on weekends while that spouse is holding down the home front, and they feel a little bit overrun by the responsibilities that have fallen to them. It’s not unlike a lot of families around the country, but just hearing their hearts, hearing their needs, we want to encourage them from where we are and help them find some balance in their lives.

It is important to let our staff know that their first mission field is their spouse and family. We all need to start there and give the necessary and valued time that those relationships deserve. It’s easier said than done, but we want our staff to have cohesive partnerships in their marriages that will model the Christian family God designed. And for our single staff, balancing their personal lives and ministry demands is just as important.

JE: Has God blessed you through this time spent with staff across the country?

LS: Absolutely. We’ve lived in 11 states, made 12 moves and been with 13 teams. And I smile because it’s given us an opportunity to rekindle friendships and to experience the many diverse cultures in America that make the USA great. Returning to many of the areas we have lived and reconnecting with FCA staff and supporters, we’ve realized that each place was significant in God’s preparing us to lead this national ministry.

Another thing I’ve been blessed by is watching our staff at work bringing the gospel and hope to athletes and coaches—seeing others catch the vision and come on our team as donors and volunteers. It energizes me to do my part with the same passion and dedication.

CS: For me, one of the biggest blessings has been being able to be with Les. We’ve had years of football seasons in which we’ve spent many hours apart. And as always, God’s timing is so perfect in this. Our children are at the age where they’re independent and living their lives out of the nest, and it’s the perfect time for us to spend this much time traveling together.

It’s a real blessing for me to be as closely connected as I am to the ministry and to my husband’s passion in life. I see as we board airplanes together that there are an awful lot of singles out there on those airplanes who had to leave their spouses or families behind. And it’s fun to be able to be together and see how God’s blessing the ministry of FCA.

Also, to see the excitement, the commitment of people out there—it’s inspiring to us. Whether we’re inspiring anybody out there—we don’t know about that. But what we do know is that they’re inspiring us every time we go into a setting and we see their love for the Lord. We’ve heard some amazing speakers at some of the FCA events that we never would have heard had we not been traveling to be a part of that. And we’ve also had some great worship time with our staff. It’s all been very uplifting for me.

Reconnecting: Les and Chris Steckle caught up with longtime friend Tony Dungy in Indianapolis at the 2006 Final Four.

JE: Is that what keeps you going? I mean, you guys have to get tired.

LS: It’s a challenge, but there’s so much joy in it. I know one thing I enjoy is that I am with Chris. And I’m just motivated by getting to meet and work with our staff.

CS: There are tough parts, too. And one of them is that you do make wonderful connections and meet some wonderful people, but because we are coming and going so quickly, the follow-up that we want to do and the relationships we want to keep going become a challenge. Before we really even have time to absorb and respond the way we want to respond, we’re off to a new adventure and new people.

LS: Yeah, that’s the number one challenge, follow-up. We know that this year was special. It was an important year to be out there meeting our staff and being available to our donors and board members and letting them hear what God’s put on our hearts for this new time in FCA. At the same time, we realize now that it’s time to step back and start absorbing and really following up with those who have been so generous in offering their time and encouragement, and to really begin to build lasting relationships.

JE: Chris, Les mentioned some of his goals for FCA. What are some of your goals?

CS: Probably my most important responsibility is just to be there for Les. To be in prayer with him and for him and to consistently be available to him. And to be willing to walk beside him as he needs me in the ministry. That’s my first responsibility.

Secondly, it’s just to maximize this role as full-time volunteer, which is what I am, just like thousands of other FCA volunteers out there. But I’m in a unique position in that I know the president well. And I think I can really reach out to our staff and their families. I want to let them know that they’re cared for and that the whole purpose of leadership in this ministry is to serve. And to serve them. They’re our first priority. And then also to reach out and serve those coaches and athletes and their families in any way we can.

Also, I really have a strong heart for women athletes and coaches. And I think the ministry is doing a better job of moving toward the specific concerns and issues that are unique to women. We know that over half of our athletes are female, and we need to be hearing their unique needs.

We have a tremendous ministry field among women coaches and athletes that is still untapped. We need to be remembering and representing those viewpoints, and really learning more about them. And then trying to be available as a conduit, maybe to our leadership here, about some of the things that women in our ministry need. And that includes the women staff, as well.

LS: We love going to women’s events, like our recent trip to the women’s Final Four. We recognize the importance, and we want to emphasize it much more in the future. FCA is a ministry to all athletes and coaches, and it’s our desire to fulfill that mission.

CS: Eventually we need to create more events specifically for women. Women are different than men.

LS: Boy, ain’t that the truth!

CS: Overall, I don’t think it took us long this year to see how God had prepared us to be involved in a consistent way with FCA. I think it’s an amazing gift when God gives you the opportunity to minister to the people who have been ministering to you. We used to be the coach and the coaching family. We know that experience, and we had the wonderful FCA experience to go with it.

LS: Today, we really believe that all those things—the ups and downs of our coaching career, of our moving, the opportunities for ministering, our exposure to FCA on so many different levels and in so many different ways—were all about God preparing us to do what we’re doing right now for Him with every bit of our being. We’re grateful, and we’re ready to hit the road again. We’ll keep our bags packed for whatever He has in store next.

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