Team United

By Rick Weber
While some sports ministries compete for the attention of athletes and coaches, those at the University of Georgia have a different philosophy: team up to reach out.

Team United's Scott Shepherd.

Kevin “Chappy” Hynes, Jill Perry, Scott Shepherd and Ray Lawrence share an office in Athens, Georgia. One of the most visibly enticing elements is a large dry erase board, topped with this question: SITUATION ANALYSIS—WHAT ARE WE DOING WELL? Below that are the answers: variety, weekly meetings, discipleship with leaders, buddy relationships, trips, Bible study. And below that, another question: WHERE CAN WE IMPROVE? And the answers: discipleship with others, team interaction, feature teams, worship team, coaches.

Hynes, Perry, Shepherd and Lawrence meet every Tuesday to pray about their mission, schedule events and serve as accountability partners. They don’t just share a common budget. They share everything.

Did we mention that Hynes and Perry are with FCA, Shepherd is with Athletes in Action (AIA) and Lawrence is with Georgia Athletes Outreach (GAO)? There are a handful of colleges at which FCA and AIA have joined forces successfully—most notably the University of Tennessee and the University of Miami—but nobody is aware of any colleges with this kind of tri-ministry arrangement.

How does it work? Very well, actually.

Georgia Football Coach Mark Richt and Team United Staff.

“It’s just good,” Hynes says. “It’s just really, really good. It works. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re just trying to obey God, and work together. We all have the same ministry philosophy. Not to be pious and holy, but we give God all the glory. He brought us together, and He’s keeping us together.”

Their group is called Team United. Their self-described mission is to “ignite a movement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to reach out to the athletes, coaches and athletic community at UGA.” Their purpose is to “build and disciple athletes so that they may influence others though Jesus Christ,” and to do that “through love by listening to them, offering them biblical teaching, valuing them and encouraging them.”

It hasn’t always been like this.

Five years ago, there was no team, nor was there any unity. FCA, AIA and GAO each had a niche, but they were competing against each other for the hearts of some of the same athletes. It was very noticeable to Mark Richt when he took over as head football coach in 2001.

“I don’t think Team United necessarily happened because of something I said early on,” Richt says, “but when I first came to Georgia, different campus ministries came to me, asking if I had any problem with them speaking to players. I said, ‘I don’t have any problem at all.’ But I also said, ‘I wish that whatever you do, it doesn’t become a confusing or competitive situation.’ I wanted some unity. We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. I didn’t want anyone to get overwhelmed.”

The dynamics changed a bit with the arrival of Hynes that same year, who is married to Richt’s sister, Mikki. Hynes, an ordained minister, became chaplain for the football team and thus had a powerful “in” on the football-is-king campus. The following year, Shepherd took over the AIA job after the departure of former Georgia football player Dan Rogers. He didn’t know anybody there. Meanwhile, Lawrence—who had started the AIA ministry at Georgia in 1983—was in his second year with GAO and also served as chaplain for the baseball team.

Shepherd joined Hynes’ church, Watkinsville First Baptist, and they started to grow close. They decided to get together with Lawrence and explore the possibility of breaking down the “territorial” approach.

Shepherd credits Hynes for the meeting. He says that even though Hynes was leading the most powerful ministry—a ministry that was dominating fund-raising because of the cachet of the football team—he graciously extended an olive branch.
“He had such an open-handedness with us,” Shepherd says. “He said, ‘God has blessed us. We’re in. Come join us.’ We knew that if anybody had come to the table with pride and tried to have ownership—‘This is my ministry’—it wouldn’t have worked. I think all of our hearts were saying, ‘This is God’s ministry. This is about the gospel. We’re theologically close. Let’s do this.’”

FCA's Jill Perry ministers to women at University of Georgia.

There are occasional disagreements—just as there would be in any group—but they make sure they talk it out and don’t let anything fester.

“It really is a covenant relationship,” Shepherd says. “Everything is together. We all have our individual ministries. Kevin is really connected with football, Ray with baseball, and me with tennis, swimming and track. We all have our own areas, but it all ties in together. One thing that keeps us from having conflict is that we don’t try to pursue the same teams. And yet there’s an open hand. I discipled some baseball guys, and Ray had no problem with it. I discipled some football guys, and Kevin had no problem with it.”

Hynes says it’s also a strong collaboration because each person brings something different to the table.

“Scott’s the organizer, the administrative head, the brain,” he says. “Ray is the wise old man even though he’s only 46—and the steadying force. I’m the mouthpiece, the evangelistic one, the John-the-Baptist nutbag.”

Then there’s Perry, who joined Team United almost three years ago. Perry, a former volleyball player at Xavier University, serves the women’s sports teams. She says the participation has been outstanding, enabling strong relationships to be built.

“The concept of being unified is important for the athletes to see,” she says. “If you’re unified and basing your ministry on biblical principles, you have a better chance of not losing athletes to other organizations that may not be biblically based.

“Just the power of our presence is very important—the athletes knowing there’s an older person there. I’ve worked with a lot of high school kids, and the biggest difference I see is that you have to build a relationship with college kids for them to feel like they can come to you and ask for advice based on what the Bible says. We’re pretty fortunate at Georgia to have some coaches who are open to us.

“You have to go to the athletes. They’re not going to come to you. There are very few athletes who will seek spiritual guidance through their college years. For the most part, you’re doing the legwork.”

Richt says it has been an effective ministry because “these students on campus know the different Christian ministries can all get along.” It’s exemplified in the passage Team United adopted—Philippians 2:2: “…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

“We’re all for one goal, and that’s to glorify our Father who resides in heaven and His Son who is our Lord,” Hynes says.

“I wish others would do it, just because of the pure benefits of having other resources, having more minds and really believing that God will honor it. I wish it would happen. But your ministry doesn’t have to look like this. We’re not saying we’re the model. But we believe that what we’re doing is glorifying the Father.”