Does the title of this article sound like an oxymoron? If you’re a golfer, when was the last time you turned to your walking or riding partner and said, “How is it with you and your faith?”
I’ve never asked that, even though I’ve been serious about my faith for many years and an avid golfer for nearly as many. Let’s face it — in most cases, that question would be out of place, inappropriate and a nonstarter. Let’s unpack this.
Convention and good protocol dictate that certain conversation topics belong in their proper settings. The “faith/God” topic belongs in a church setting. Sports, business, the economy, politics, family, health and many other topics are de rigueur for conversation on the course or in the clubhouse. So why not the topic of faith? Good question.
When I started seriously considering retirement 15 years ago, I had just taken for granted that my faith-life, business-life and golf-life were separate spheres, with some common friendships in each. No big deal. All three were working just fine, and I was content to moderate my conversations and interactions accordingly. Can you relate?
Then I was hit by a two-by-four in the form of my wife. As I started discussing retirement with her, she told me that I couldn’t retire from business unless I had a ministry to take over my free time. If you knew my wife, guys, you’d understand that this was non-negotiable.
So what to do? Continue working or find a retirement-ministry gig? I’d always been involved with various church and parachurch ministries and done my fair share of leadership in them. But this was different. Those were “night jobs,” so to speak. This had to be my new “day job.” This could be for the rest of my life — not by my plan, and not on my calendar, but on God’s. This had to be taken more seriously than business if I was to do it … whatever it was.
My retirement ministry search started with the usual obvious candidates — my church and respected parachurch ministries and missions. None of these resonated. Being somewhat entrepreneurial, I began thinking in terms of starting something rather than joining something. I honed in on two of those “spheres,” namely — faith-life and golf-life. Maybe my ministry was at their intersection? Maybe I could merge my faith with my golf friendships in the form of a ministry? But could I do that without appearing presumptuous, alienating my golf friends and risking something important to me? There were no guarantees that I could. With the help of exploratory conversations with my pastor and a few close friends, Men’s Golf Fellowship (MGF) was born in 2003.
Nothing of substance starts easily, and I won’t go into the learning and growing pains associated with the early years of MGF. Suffice it to say that I made mistakes — and probably lost some friends while learning to swim in this lane. Engaging in faith with peers/golf friends in my club was unnatural at first. But because God was in this and behind it, He was clearing and cleaning up the path ahead. God brought great men, some with faith and others with a glimmer, who caught the vision, got the idea, came alongside me and helped bring MGF into the parachurch ministry it is today.
Next year we are celebrating our 15th anniversary of Men’s Golf Fellowship. Many men in country clubs throughout Southwest Florida (and now in Northern MGF chapters) have come to faith or substantially grown in their faith. They have come to learn about a personal relationship with the Lord instead of an institutional, arms-length affiliation with Him. They have enhanced their relationships with one another in their clubs because of their willingness to break with convention, take a risk, change the conversation and explore their faith-lives together. What once seemed awkward is now very natural. Men are attending MGF speaker breakfasts together, inviting their golf friends to join them, bringing their wives and friends to MGF banquets and joining MGF Fellowship groups — where groups of 10 to 20 golf friends get together weekly to discuss life-issues, what faith has to do with those and what the Bible has to say about them. All of this in their golf clubs — where the MGF motto has become a reality, “Growing in Faith With Golf Friends.”
What is impossible with men is possible with God. What was difficult for me and others to conceive 15 years ago was already realized ahead of time by God. Where we are now with MGF is just the on-ramp of where He is taking us. The big ah-ha for me in all of this has been that God thinks way bigger than I do. I’m only along for the ride … the greatest ride of my life!
• Steve Silver is a retired business executive, Founder of Men’s Golf Fellowship (mensgolffellowship.com) and author of “New Man Journey: Finding Meaning in Retirement” (2013, David C Cook) (newmanjourney.com). He and his wife Sandy reside in Naples, Florida, and Connecticut. They have three children and six grandchildren.
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