PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MINISTRIES
About Pastor Smith's Sports Ministries
2020’s Super Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers reminded Earl Smith of the family-like unity the Golden State Warriors had when they won the NBA Finals in 2015, 2017, and 2018. And Smith would know. He serves as the chaplain for both teams.
“By virtue of who these guys are, they are the best of the best,” Smith said. “They’re famous, yet if you allow yourself to be locked in on the fame, you might negate the opportunity to present Christ in a proper way.”
Most weeks during the season, Smith’s work resembles the work of any pastor. He prepares and leads the team Bible study, goes through a book study with the 49ers coaching staff, conducts a Saturday night chapel service, and makes himself available for counseling. Meanwhile, he’s spending his own daily time reading Scripture and meeting with his pastor.
Smith said people will often ask him about which players are Christians, and in response he likes to ask them which people in church are Christians. His point is clear: “Only Christ knows the true commitment of the heart.”
Chaplaincy is a ministry of presence, of faithfully being there through the highs and lows. While there have been a lot of highs in a winning season, it’s not always a bad game or a bad record that hits the team spiritually.
During his years on the sidelines, Smith has seen losses far more devastating than failure to advance in the playoffs. As team chaplain, he makes a point to get to know a player’s spouse, parents, and children. He inquires about babies who have been born and family members who are unwell. And Smith said he always makes sure players’ parents have his phone number if they ever need him.
“I believe that in any ministry, it’s important not to just focus on the individual with the spotlight, but also those in the shadow,” he said.