By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
Wilkerson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, became a soccer coach. “I never played soccer in my life,” he acknowledged. “It’s been a new experience for me,” he added.
Earlier this year, Grace Baptist launched a church-only soccer league, quite a feat for a small congregation that only had 16 kids who participated on the teams.
But the plan all along was to use the league as an outreach to the community. Church members constructed two soccer fields and enlisted sponsors. They advertised the program in the community and before long the church had 86 players, enough to field eight teams of various ages.
Due to his lack of soccer knowledge, Wilkerson turned the reins over to his youth pastor, P.J. Flowers, a former soccer player and official. Flowers and his family joined the church about a year ago but he had long-term ties to Wilkerson. He attended Rayon City Baptist Church in Old Hickory when Wilkerson was pastor there years ago.
“He had the expertise to do what we needed. He has been instrumental in the success of the program,” Wilkerson noted. “It could not have happened as quickly as it did if the Lord had not put him and his family in our church.”
The pastor said the church had to come up with a plan to reach out into the community. “It’s not always easy to get into the homes,” he said. “This ministry has opened doors that never would have opened otherwise.”
Wilkerson said the soccer program reached 54 families, but only eight of those came from Grace. “We had to get out of the box to get into the homes.”
When he joined the church three years ago, he noted Grace Baptist had only two teenagers and one family with children. “We had gotten old.” Now, the church has about 10-12 families with children. In three years the church has grown in attendance from the 40s to nearly 100 each week.
He admitted the soccer program “has been a step of faith for our folks” which consists of a core group of 35-40 people “who have worked themselves to death” to carry out the soccer ministry.
But, it is already bearing fruit, Wilkerson said. Five children who played soccer attended the church’s Vacation Bible School during the summer and accepted Christ.
Some of them have been baptized. In addition, those families have invited people to come and additional people have made decisions for Christ, the pastor added.
In addition to learning the game of soccer, Wilkerson stepped “outside his box” with a new approach to reach people who need to know about Jesus. “It’s been a different approach for me, but it’s really been good,” he said.
The church is offering a flag football league this fall, along with possibly a soccer league for younger children, though that has not yet been finalized. The regular soccer league will begin again next spring.