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Atlanta Falcons kicker puts spotlight on Christ

ATLANTA (BP)–“I don’t have a game plan when I share my faith,” Todd Peterson, a kicker for the Atlanta Falcons, said. “If I act like Jesus, if I’m controlled by the Holy Spirit, and if God is the One who is empowering me, I don’t really have to have a game plan or a strategy for sharing. God will give me that opportunity.”

Team evangelism is quite familiar to this 12-year NFL veteran after previously playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. Step aside from his field goal career stats that include an impressive number of long kicks and you’ll catch a glimpse of his much larger career focus — sharing Christ with his teammates.

“It’s more than leading, it’s a serving capacity. My job on the team is to make sure that the guys are equipped, feel connected and are aware of what’s going on from a ministry standpoint,” said Peterson, who played college at the University of Georgia. “My wife and I have always felt that this is something we should spearhead because there are not many athletes in the NFL doing it. This is a role I have played for the bulk of my career.”

Peterson, his wife, Susan, their daughter, Hannah, and son, Zach, live in the Atlanta metro area, where they attend an evangelical church.

He sits on the board of directors for Eagle Ranch, a Christ-centered home for boys and girls in crisis and in need of hope and healing, and he actively promotes thegoal.com, a website created by more than 1,000 pro athletes who desire to share their faith with people around the world.

Peterson says the environment of the National Football League is daunting, but he and his wife try to make players and their families feel welcome to the team. As he builds relationships and shares his life with them, he knows that opportunities will arise to present the Gospel.

In the absence of the chaplain, Peterson often steps forward to lead the team Bible study during training camp and on road games during the season. He also encourages his fellow teammates to lead. When he allows Christ to inspire him, he said there’s never a struggle to find a message that relates to hardcore athletes.

“God makes it pretty clear what He wants me to talk about. The circumstances are evident,” Peterson said, citing the physical and mental intensity of training camp. “If I know guys are struggling, I go to James 1 and talk about trials — how we walk through trials and endure trials in a God-honoring way. I teach practical stuff that guys can walk away with and change their lives.”

Referring to recent headlines regarding prominent NFL players who have disappointed fans with career-altering actions, Peterson said the fame and the economic power of pro athletes today tend to lead to tragic situations. Some athletes, he said, suffer from an identity crisis because their identity is based on self rather than on Christ.

But the 35-year-old Peterson strives to ensure his walk remains rock solid.

“It just comes down to flat-out being grateful for what Jesus did for me,” he said. “How in the world can I not live my life for Him when He did what He did for me? If I want to be the best that I can be and have peace and an identity that is secure, I am a fool for not asking God to take control of my life.”

Accountability is very important to Peterson. At any time, a handful of his closest friends have the right to question his activities. For athletes, given the long periods away from their families, the extreme pressure of the game and presence of others consistently “wanting a piece of them,” Peterson bears witness that his unshakable relationship with Christ is a testimony of God’s goodness and grace.

But Peterson’s life wasn’t always focused on Christ. He was driven to reach the top in athletics and academics at a young age.

“My identity was built on school, sports and relationships. I realized over time that anything and everything in the world would fail me if my identity was built on just those things. God showed me in high school that an unstable foundation gets washed away in the storm.”

During the regular season, Peterson is involved in a player’s Bible study and a couples’ study for players and their spouses. In the off-season, he meets with other professional colleagues and close friends in a men’s Bible study group. These athletes and entertainers — at similar places in life with similar demands — meet to encourage each other, hold each other accountable and challenge each other through the Word.

So how does Peterson re-group after a tough game?

“I have the professional goal to see my team win the Super Bowl. The spiritual component of that [is that] if I honor God in all that I do and give Him everything I’ve got every time I go out there, my hope is that people will see the excellence that attracts them to the One who is excellent. That’s the natural by-product of a tough game. If we keep our eyes on the Author and the Perfector of our faith, we’ll be OK. It’s not about me, it’s all about Him.”

Whether he’s kicking field goals, being a dad or a husband or simply sharing his faith, it’s all for God’s glory and purpose, he said. With a defined amount of influence, time and resources, Peterson is determined to use his position as a professional athlete for something good beyond himself.

“That’s what life is all about if you’re a Christian — to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said. “The longer I am around, the more I really see that this is my life purpose.”
Luanne Byrd is an Atlanta-area freelance writer.

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