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Professional Athlete, Not Professional Christian

October 24, 2007Back in my youth pastor days, several of us organized a youth rally where we invited a famous athlete to give a testimony of his faith in Christ. (Famous? Well, he was famous in Iowa, at least.)

The experience was somewhat disappointing. Oh, the kids who attended were drawn into the drama of it all, but our friend the Famous Athlete wasn’t a very good speaker. And we weren’t sure what he meant by “making a concrete decision to work harder at being a better person, sorta.”

I was thinking about that experience on our way home from Cleveland, where Darrell Goemaat and I traveled to interview Phil Dawson, kicker for the Cleveland Browns. We’re covering the story because Phil is a member of Grace Baptist Church in Westlake, Ohio, which was holding an outreach event for the community on Monday night. Phil brought along two friends from the team, Simon Fraser and Jason Wright.

I’m grateful that the church flyer was no “bait and switch” advertisement. Grace Baptist advertised the event as an opportunity to get “more information about how to have a relationship with God.”

phil-kevin1.jpgAnd that’s what folks got—three testimonies infused with rich theology. Phil describes a life that many of us would recognize: “You know all of the church songs and the hand motions that go with them; you go to summer camp; you go to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. This was me up until I was nine years old—when I realized Jesus died for me, and I recognized He died for my sins.”

Phil went on to tell how football became a god rather than the God he professed to believe. But this struggle led to a spiritual decision to live the life he confessed with his mouth.

Before the event, Phil was kind to sit down with us and talk about his desire to serve God at Grace Baptist in Westlake. It’s a riveting story, but readers will have to wait until January to read it in the Baptist Bulletin. (Yeah, it’s time to renew that subscription.)

We came home with a strong impression: Phil Dawson is a professional athlete, but he’s not a professional Christian. He’s the real deal, the kind of guy who is willing to admit his struggles—and willing to suggest spiritual solutions to spiritual problems. So here’s a word of thanks to Phil, Simon, and Jason for a great evening.