NASHVILLE -- Scott Lehman wandered out to the first tee to meet his playing partner. Several hours and 18 holes of golf later, Lehman had become a spiritual adviser to his newfound friend.

"By the time we got to the back nine, he was sharing with me about his struggling marriage and finances," Lehman said. "He was telling me my story from 10 years ago. I was able to share with him what it is that Jesus has done in my life since I've met Him."

Lehman hopes that encounter will be repeated thousands of times a year for years to come. Lehman established In His Grip Golf Association to teach churches how to intentionally use golf as a way to share the Gospel.

Opportunities abound to turn fairways into ministry fields, Lehman noted in a recent interview for Inside LifeWay, the official news podcast of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Lehman pointed out, for example, that:

  • There are more than 60 million golfers worldwide.
  • There are more than 30 million golfers in the United States -– 20 million males, making golf one of today's most popular sports.
  • Americans spend more than $600 million per year on golf balls alone.
  • There are more than 15,000 golf courses in North America.
  • Nearly 600 million rounds of golf are played each year.

"We see guys standing on the first tee on Sunday morning as we drive by and we've been cursing the darkness [condemning them for not being in church]," said John Jaye, former associate pastor of administration and recreation at First Baptist Church in Jasper, Ala., and now a fulltime volunteer working with Lehman. "[However] we haven't done anything to shine a light into that darkness. That's what we see In His Grip doing – trying to shine a light into that area. Not all those guys are bad guys; they just need to know the Lord."

Jaye told the podcast audience he held an annual golf tournament while serving as minister of recreation at his church, but after hearing Lehman discuss his vision for In His Grip, the church placed an emphasis on using the annual tournament as an evangelistic opportunity.

"We went from 50 to more than 120 participating," Jaye said. "I remember one guy who started bringing his family to church after that and his 16-year-old son accepted Christ. For too long we've told [people] you need to come and join us in church, which is good, but we need to go to where they are."

Lehman said his life verse is Proverbs 3:5-6. "I leaned on my own understanding for the first 35 years of my life and it wasn't good enough," he said. "I've been blessed to have been exposed to the little devotional book called In His Grip. I brought it home and actually had to ask my wife if there was a Bible in the house. God used the golf analogies to draw me to Himself."

Lehman believed that combining the wisdom of Scripture with insights from golf could yield a useful evangelistic tool for an individual's or church's ministry. Thus, The Golfer's Bible, a collaboration between Lehman and LifeWay’s B&H Publishing Group, made its debut the last week of March. Devotionals centered around golf are sprinkled throughout the Bible.

"A lot of golfers won't connect with church language but they do understand being in the rough or in the woods or in a bunker," Lehman said. "We all want to be on the fairway, so when you start talking about living for the Lord and trusting Him and 'living in the fairway,' that's an immediate connection with anybody who has played golf."

In His Grip Golf Association will host a number of training events across the country, including leading two Pastor's Masters Golf Retreats at LifeWay Ridgecrest (N.C.) and LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) conference centers.

The complete podcast can be heard at www.lifeway.com/insidelifeway. More information about In His Grip Golf Association can be found at www.inhisgripgolf.com.

© Copyright 2007 Baptist Press