By MARILYN TINNIN
It takes some flexibility to be a chaplain for the Mississippi Braves. As part of the Baseball Chapel international ministry that impacts approximately 3,000 players, coaches, managers, trainers, office staff, other team personnel, and umpires in the major and minor leagues, flexibility is key for a chaplain. If the goal is to impact others with the message of Jesus Christ, then a chaplain just can’t get bent out of shape waiting to take the platform in between batting practice, warm ups, and everything else that happens before the first pitch crosses the plate. The service begins when it begins—and that would be when the coach says so. Among Jack Lane’s many attributes is a certain laid-back, go-with-the-flow personality that does not get ruffled as he waits to get in three worship services within a 35-minute period, pre-game on Sunday afternoons. He can be very very patient because it is not HIS agenda he is promoting—it is definitely God’s.
By the time Jack gets to the ballpark on Sundays, he has already put in a pretty full day at First Baptist Church in Jackson, where he and wife Tammy, along with two other couples, team teach the “twenties” class of young professionals. It’s an easy transition from the Sunday school room to the Braves’ chapel. Same age group, similar struggles—just a different venue to reach out. If ever there was a pair who shares a common call, it is this couple that has been ministering to this age group their entire married lives.
Although Jack wears the title “chaplain,” Tammy is frequently right there being a friend and encourager to wives or girlfriends who have come to a new city away from all things familiar to support their player. Tammy is always looking to connect people and make them feel at home, and as she puts it, “I do whatever I need to do, and it’s almost never the same thing twice! “Flexibility” is also at the top of her job description.
Jack grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a close-knit family that was in church every time the doors were open. He saw the integrity of his parents’ faith and character, and he wanted to walk uprightly, too. When the pastors and teachers at his Independent Baptist Church challenged him to “do something great for God,” and to never “sit on the sidelines,” he took the charge seriously.
An all-around natural athlete, Jack played high school baseball, basketball, and football. He continued to play baseball at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. But this athlete had another talent—he is musical, and he majored in trumpet and minored in voice!
Tammy, a true Southerner through and through, grew up north of Mobile, in Citronelle, Alabama— population almost 4,000. Her family, like Jack’s, was in church every time the doors opened. Tammy describes herself as “very social,” and church was always her connection for all things social. She liked to help others; she liked to be involved, and she, too, learned by observing her parents’ faith that serving the Lord was what she was created to do. It was no big surprise that she also ended up at Springfield Bible College.
Oddly enough, despite the differences between Southern culture and Northern culture, Jack and Tammy’s values and life goals were very similar. Jack says, “That’s what has made our marriage so good. We’ve always been on the same page with serving the Lord and with raising our children.”
They met in English class, struck up an instant friendship, married in their second year, and lived in a married student dorm for two more years. With a tiny all-in-one-room, efficiency apartment—complete with Murphy bed—they completed their coursework in 1979 and headed back to Grand Rapids to serve the music ministry in Jack’s childhood church.
This was also their first experience working with the “twenties” in a church setting. They were no older than the kids they were leading, but they found they were a good team and they could do this well.
Their natural sensitivity to this particular age group is easy to explain, and as is often the case, the result of a personally difficult experience.
Jack was just 22 years old when his father passed away. In that particular period of life, he was figuring out his career path, choosing a mate, making decisions about where to live and a million other things that required wise counsel. It was a devastating blow to lose his number one mentor and friend. ?? Lane had suffered with poor health for a decade, but when a heart attack took him at only 46 years of age, Jack found himself unprepared for the overwhelming grief. That was one of the few times in Jack’s life that he found himself saying, “Why, God? Why my dad?” Why would God take a man who was living so fully for God’s kingdom and leave others who do not even acknowledge your name?
The answer finally came to his heart this way. “Your dad was ready to go. There are others who were not.” That was a defining moment for Jack, and he committed to walk in the upright way his father had demonstrated and to share the gospel with everyone God put in his path.
An Unfolding Plan
Certain that the ministry was their calling, Jack and Tammy moved South in 1986 with the hope of planting a church. Although that plan did not work out exactly as they had envisioned, it turned out God did indeed have a definitely evangelical role for them.
When the professional hockey team, the Jackson Bandits, came to town, Jack approached one of the owners suggesting that he get a good chapel program going. Brian Fenelon agreed, but wanted it done through Hockey International Ministries. Jack was able to persuade Steve Smith, who worked in the recreational ministry at First Baptist Jackson to accept the Chaplain’s role, but agreed to be his assistant.
With his Michigan background, hockey was as familiar to Jack as football is to any Southern boy. He developed warm friendships with the players, and the coach—who was a very new Christian—lived with Jack and Tammy for an entire summer. When Steve Smith was called away to take a pastorate elsewhere, Jack became the chaplain.
Later on, the Jackson Senators baseball team arrived, and Jack got a call from Philip Thurman who had been invited to be chaplain. He told Jack he wasn’t sure how to be a chaplain, but he would do it if Jack would agree to help him. Not too long into that venture the chaplain was called to a pastorate elsewhere, and once again, Jack Lane became the chaplain!
And finally, in 2005, the Mississippi Braves arrived, and the Atlanta Braves’ chaplain called and asked him to consider coming to this new club as their chaplain. Baseball Chapel (baseballchapel.org) is an amazing ministry recognized in every Major League, Minor League, and Independent League city. Its stated mission is “to bring encouragement to people in the world of professional baseball through the Gospel so that some become disciple followers of Jesus Christ.”
Jack says, “This has been a great chance to impact people’s lives. Some come and are searching; some are already believers, and it helps to mature them in their faith. I get to deal with athletes – and not just any athletes – these are the cream of the crop.” Because of his heart for this particular age group, he does not take it lightly that he has the privilege to be involved with them at this critical point in their lives.
While Jack and Tammy love being mentors and “surrogate” parents to their menagerie of “twenty-somethings” between the baseball chapel and the Sunday School class, they are quick to point out that their own grown children, also in this age group, are their first priority. Adam, Whitney, and Austin do not seem to feel shortchanged in any way.
They do not remember a time when their parents were not “doing” ministry. In fact, it’s not so much an external act as it is a reflection of who they are—lovers of Christ and lovers of others. There is nothing forced or artificial in the way the Lane’s reach out to everyone. Austin, a recent graduate of Mississippi State, says one of the most fun thing about growing up was that there were always interesting people being welcomed into their midst. “The way they have always opened our home to anybody, “ meant there were hockey players, baseball players, missionaries, and their children’s friends included in most holiday celebrations.
Tammy takes such a compliment in stride, explaining that she makes a conscious effort to not get hung up on fussy details. Her relaxed nature sets the tone for everyone to be comfortable. Even today, with all three children out on their own, if Jack and Tammy host their Sunday School “family,” the Lane crew is usually there as well.
Oldest son, Adam Lane, has worked under his father’s wing since 2007 in Strategic Employment Benefit Services. Their products are health insurance and employee benefits. Despite the horror stories of families who try to work together in a business situation, Adam has found it to be rewarding and without conflict. “We really don’t have issues, and I think that is largely because we have clear respect for each other. Dad is not a micromanager.”
The same standards of conduct and integrity that characterize Jack’s ministry are hallmarks of his work ethic and business relationships.
Austin, Adam, and daughter Whitney agree that the spiritual leadership their parents provided them grounded them in their faith so deeply that as college freshmen on the secular campus, they were able to handle the unbridled freedom.
The Lane Perspective on Ministry
Ministry is a funny word and can mean different things to different people. Maybe the word “influence” is an even better word to define the way Tammy and Jack approach each day. Austin pointed out that his parents never had a double standard about anything. They were the same people at home as they were at church and everywhere else. Unassuming and easy going, their authenticity and sincere love for others, attracts people.
Jack’s favorite scripture is Psalm 119:46, “I will speak of thy testimonies before kings and not be ashamed.” Such a statement has shaped the way he approaches each day. He is definitely one who does not compartmentalize his life. “I try to keep that in my mind all the time. I’m not ashamed of who I am or whom I represent. I don’t want the culture to dictate what I do and don’t say.”
Bold is one thing, but even in that, the very laid-back Jack Lane is anything but the in-your-face variety. One of his favorite activities is a daily 6 a.m. game of full court basketball at First Baptist’s Christian Life Center. As a very fit 58 year old, he gives his 25-year-old teammates quite a work out. The friendships that grow around that early morning endeavor have segued into deeper conversations about the Lord.
Looking back over the last three decades, it is easy to trace God’s hand in the unique Lane ministry. Jack says, “Whether its hockey, professional baseball, or just normal everyday life, God always seems to bring Tammy and me back to work with kids in their twenties, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Steven Smith, who heads up the college ministry at First Baptist, recruited Jack and Tammy to the 20’s ministry several years ago. He says, “Jack and Tammy Lane are the kind of ministry volunteers that every church longs for! First Baptist was in a situation where 20’s ministry had to be rebuilt from the ground up, and the Lanes, along with 2 other amazing couples, have worked diligently to build a foundation of powerful community and intentional discipleship among this group of young adults. Jack and Tammy are those rare servants that truly understand what it means to invest your whole life in people in order to see them transform into devoted followers of Christ. ”
It just doesn’t get any better than that. There’s nothing quite like finding that niche where God uses the gifts He gave you for His very own glory.
For more information on the Baseball Chapel program or to read testimonies of players, see www.baseballchapel.org. For more information on First Baptist’s 20’s ministry, contact Steven Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.