FCA's Ken Lewis serves through athletics
By Gaye Bunderson
Some people are called by God to be ministers, while others are called to be missionaries. Fellowship of Christian Athletes Idaho Director Ken Lewis felt he was called to coach. For 15 years, he worked as a wrestling coach and biology teacher at Kuna High School; it was, at the time, the sweet spot of service for him.
“I felt called to make a difference for Him in that world,” Lewis said.
Lewis was brought up in a Christian home and had wrestled at Meridian High School and later at Northwest Nazarene University. When his college team visited Panama and Peru, he caught a vision of how sports could be used for the Kingdom.
“I had an incredible time. I saw that you can use sports to influence people for Christ. I was using something I loved to do ― wrestling ― and combining it with my love for Christ. It was a big adventure,” Lewis said.
He got his job at Kuna High in the mid 1990s.
“A couple years in, I wanted to be part of something intentional in terms of discipling athletes and showing them the love of Christ. I started looking into the FCA, and we started a Bible study at Kuna High in the fall of 1997. We would meet before school or during lunch,” Lewis said.
He became the adviser for Kuna High School's FCA huddle, as the organization's Bible studies are called. “We started to grow the Bible study. ... Then I went to FCA Sport Camp in Wyoming in 2001. It's incredibly impactful as a coach to get encouraged and grow with other coaches. God had called us to be coaches, and we were getting equipped to go back and make a difference on campus,” Lewis said. “For me it was refreshing. The Holy Spirit was validating, 'This is what I made you to be.'”
He faced challenges in bringing his faith into a public school setting.
“It was tough being a Christian coach and teacher. You had to find ways to be creative on how you love people. There were divine appointments and opportunities to creatively use biblical truths,” he said.
When a crisis happens ― 9/11, for instance ― everybody wants to pray, he said; but when things are going well, nobody seems interested in praying, or hearing or seeing anyone pray. As a wrestling coach, when an athlete would get hurt, Lewis would use that as an opportunity to pray for and with the athlete.
“I could hear His voice telling me to love on people and love on kids and speak life and vision to them. Even in the intensity of competition you can speak life into them,” he said.
It was frequently just a matter of encouragement rather than criticism.
“God had to teach me how to do this,” he said. “It was a process. Part of that was treating all the athletes the same, whether they were star athletes or were never going to be on varsity or go to state. You need to communicate their value to them, because it's about them. They're not a means to a better season. See them the way God sees them. Their identity ― and your identity as a coach ― is not in the win-loss record.”
He admits it was a fine line to walk because the thrill of sports, and the reason for training hard, is victory. Finding a way to participate in athletics and to work toward winning but not be defined at the end of the day by stats and scores required effort.
“This was something I had to learn as an athlete and then re-learn as a coach,” Lewis said.
For him the answer was integrating his faith with his profession. “Like everything else, sports is about glorifying God,” he said.
“I would tell the athletes to give their absolute best. It freed them up. I would say, 'Don't worry about the score, just give it your absolute best.' When you do that, you're free. It brings back the joy. Jesus gave His absolute best for the Father when He went to the cross.”
Throughout the early 2000s, the FCA experienced a revolving door of directors; and for a while after that, it was completely without a director. In 2005, Lewis was approached to serve on the FCA staff. He credits his wife Judy, a teacher at Greenleaf Friends Academy, with encouraging him to accept the position. “She felt the leading to work with the FCA before I did,” said Lewis.
After serving as Treasure Valley director, he eventually became state director. There are now 55 huddles (or chapters) throughout Idaho. Lewis helps coaches and athletes get their ministries up and running and helps plan all FCA-related events.
The 4Cs of the FCA ministry, according to Lewis, include: coaches, campuses, camps and community. FCA membership is open to all athletes in junior high, high school and college and includes Bible studies for coaches at each level of campus-based sports. “Since most of our involvement is on campuses, the community outreach (the fourth C) includes things not tied to a campus,” Lewis said. That encompasses FCA-hosted events such as a golf scramble, a couples getaway, and a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl FCA Breakfast*.
If there were a D in the 4C ministry, it would stand for donors; Lewis acknowledged that without donor assistance, the FCA would be severely limited in its ability to reach athletes.
Though Lewis has taken on administrative tasks and other necessary responsibilities to keep the FCA functioning, he's never forgotten his first calling. “I spur people on to a personal relationship with Jesus,” he said.
*The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl FCA Breakfast is set for 7:30 to 9 a.m. Wednesday, December 21, at Boise Centre in downtown Boise. Keynote speaker will be Coach Tom Osborne of the University of Nebraska. Players and coaches in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will share their testimonies and an “Up Close” reception with Coach Osborne will follow. For more information about this or any other aspect of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, go to www.fcaidaho.org or call (208) 697-1051.
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