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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

More Than a Game

By James Meredith
Jan. 15, 2012

Kirk Hanson’s stomach was in knots. He wasn’t fighting game nerves, however. Hanson was waiting to be awarded the General Superintendent’s Medal of Honor at the Assemblies of God’s General Council in Phoenix in 2011.

One of college basketball’s winningest coaches didn’t seek the limelight on that night, any more than he sought such recognition on the basketball court. Whether he was coaching a big game or just encouraging a young player, Hanson always had a higher mission in view: helping young men become effective ministers.

This mission is more than just theory or good intentions. On a given Sunday morning at an AG church somewhere in America, a group of polite, well-dressed young men — led by their basketball coach — will arrive to help conduct the service. They’ll act out a drama, share special music, and even perform a number on handbells before one of them preaches the Word.

Kirk Hanson has guided the men’s basketball team at Central Bible College (AG) in Springfield, Mo., for 33 years. During his tenure, the Spartans have won three NCCAA national championships and amassed 30 appearances in the national tournament.

Hanson’s success also includes a number of individual honors. When he became only the second college coach in Missouri to reach the 700-win plateau, his story was featured on ESPN. Perhaps his highest professional honor came with his recent induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Despite the successes, Hanson maintains his focus on finding ways to connect the student athlete with the ministry of the church. It’s a value, Hanson says, instilled in him by former CBC President H. Maurice Lednicky from his earliest days of coaching.

“We don’t train basketball players,” Hanson is fond of saying. “We train men for ministry who like to play basketball.”

That passion for serving the church compels him to schedule at least 10 worship services per year during the basketball season. It’s a big sacrifice for coaches and players juggling classes, practices and road trips.

The results are tangible, as roughly 90 percent of Hanson’s former players have gone on into vocational ministry. Many of them still reflect on the profound impact their former coach had on their lives as well as their ministries.

Scott Berkey, who now serves as director of the Children’s Ministries Agency for the Assemblies of God, notes, “Coach Hanson’s ability to develop a winning program is only surpassed by his ability to take young men and prepare them for life.”

Hanson takes the role of investing in budding ministers very seriously. He prefers the term “modeling” to “mentoring.” Modeling conveys a sense of acting out how to live, he explains. And how we live is always a reflection of what’s rooted in our hearts. When players come to him with a problem, his first question is, “How is your walk with God?”

The success of this approach is echoed in the words of former players such as Will Kitchen, who now serves as program director at Teen Challenge in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Coach showed me the love of Christ, providing me with a powerful example of how a great man should live and lead those God has made him steward of.”

In a society where sports are often an obsession and athletes are placed on a pedestal, it can be tempting to dismiss the allure of competition as a dangerous distraction. But Coach Hanson has taken a different approach, utilizing the opportunities basketball provides to invest in a future generation of ministers.

“I will have failed miserably,” he notes, “if we don’t produce people who work in the church and become leaders of the church.”

 Wins and losses, Hanson insists, pale in comparison to the work of God’s kingdom.

JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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