I was always limited as an athlete because of my speed. God did not build me to run fast. I doubt, however, if there have been many who worked harder to use whatever ability that they had. When God called me to preach, I found out that athletics was a great evangelistic tool. In every church where I have served, I have participated in team sports and built relationships that have led to making disciples. At this stage in our ministry, I think I miss that aspect of my work the most. Physically, I can no longer play basketball, football, or tennis. I could probably golf, but issues with my back would make it not really worth it.
Let me summarize this aspect of my work through the years. In Talpa, I opened the high school gymnasium on Sundays and supervised basketball and volleyball games. In the fall, I organized touch football games. In the summer, it was softball. The youth would come from far and wide and I made many fruitful contacts. In Richland Springs, I also gained access to the gymnasium and sponsored Sunday night basketball and volleyball. I played in volleyball tournaments for adults. I gathered large groups of boys for touch football games. I organized a team of boys and competed with surrounding communities in football. We never lost. I organized a high school team for basketball in church competition. They almost never lost. A high school volleyball team took on youth groups from places like San Angelo and Brownwood and won a hard fought tournament that the players still talk about to this day as one of their greatest sports memories. In Mason I judged track meets, played volleyball, won a tennis tournament (truly a miracle), jogged with coaches, and played football with young boys. I would throw passes for hours with just the right touch to allow young boys the opportunity to make a catch. In Baird I played basketball with high school boys seeing many of them come to Christ and participate in numerous youth activities. I perfected my work with young boys playing touch football. Nowhere did I spend more time throwing passes to elementary aged children than in Baird. Later I would see many of those boys go deep into the playoffs in high school football and knew that their skills were partly developed on those cool fall afternoons in Royal Ambassadors when we wound up our meetings by playing pass tag football for hours. I played many tournaments in adult volleyball in Baird. I have numerous trophies from that time which we won in towns all over West Texas. All of these things built strong relationships which opened the door to see people come to Christ or grow in Christ. They listened to me because they knew me and knew that I cared about them. At the end of our time in Baird I suited up for my last game of full contact football at the age of thirty two. We won in a big way and many men who had held me at arms length suddenly listened to me and respected me because I had knocked so many of them down on the football field. Sports is an amazing tool for ministry. In Kingsville I played noonday basketball with men. Many of those men came for baptism at our church. Others joined and participated in our ministry. Still others allowed me to be a pastoral influence in their lives and the lives of their families even though they were not Baptist. A prominent leader in the community who played ball with us once said to me, “You know that you are really pastor to all of us whether we are Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, or an unbeliever.” Because of my connection with this group of leaders in the community and because I was known for a rough and tumble style of basketball, I was asked to play in a benefit game against Dallas Cowboy legends. Some of those we played against were Tony Dorsett, Robert Newhouse, Tony Hill, Too Tall Jones, and Drew Pierson. We were crushed as you might expect. Finally, I will tell only one story in Georgetown. Crestview has always been very competitive and successful in softball. They were playing during one of my first weekends in Georgetown and inserted me in the game. I was on second and thought I could make third. The throw came much faster than I expected so I slid into third. At forty three that is not very wise. Several of the men said they knew I was going to be a strong pastor because of that slide. Who knew? I played some basketball, volleyball, and tennis here, but physically it has become too painful and risky during these years. I truly miss it, but am thankful for the many ways God has used sports in my life to reach people.