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Avid golfer carries faith to the fairways

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Scott Lehman has always been passionate about golf, beginning at age 8 with a shortened 7-iron golf club on a backyard course marked by six buried clay flowerpots.

Later, as a golf teaching professional and sports apparel salesman, Lehman was caught up in the pursuit of wealth, travel and hiding financial difficulties from his wife of two years, Leslie.

Leslie saw their lives drifting apart and told Lehman she couldn’t continue in the marriage. Lehman looked for answers in a shopping mall.

“There was a Christian bookstore. I had never been in a Christian bookstore before,” he said. “I turned in and found a little book called ‘In His Grip’ [by Jim Sheard and Wally Armstrong]. It was a golf devotional book. I never knew they existed. I bought it, looked inside and didn’t know that there were Scriptures in there. I asked Leslie if we had a Bible and she said ‘On the bookshelf. You will have to dust it off.’

“In golf, the most important key fundamental is the grip and how your hands are placed on the club,” Lehman said. “The book started to talk about the key fundamental in life is living a lifestyle in His grip. God began to open my heart to His message.”

Lehman said as he began to read God’s Word, he was drawn to Proverbs 3:5-6, which is now his life verse: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

“I just knew God was calling me out,” Lehman said. A few months later, he gave his life to Christ.

Nearly 10 years later, Lehman’s passions now include describing how Jesus Christ drastically changed his life and brought new focus into his marriage. His passion for ministry and golf merged via In His Grip Golf Association to teach churches how to use golf as an evangelistic tool for sharing the Gospel on the fairways.

Lehman started the ministry nine years ago in his local church, Heritage Wesleyan in Rock Island, Ill., for para-church fundraising and evangelism. It evolved to the current model of leadership training workshops in which four members of a church learn how to run an In His Grip Invitational (a one-day church member/guest golf tournament) and how to implement a year-round golf ministry.

In focusing on golfers, Lehman said, “We believe we have to teach them to grow in the image of Christ through Scripture passages at every hole, small group Bible studies, golf retreats. But then, we send them to fulfill the Great Commission. Our reach, teach and send has really resonated in the churches of not leaving people stranded once they are reached.”

Bill Linduff, recreation director at First Baptist Church of Lilburn, Ga., was looking for ways to use golf as a ministry tool and heard about Lehman’s ministry last fall during an inaugural Pastor’s Masters Golf Retreat at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center.

After going to a training session in January, Linduff and the church staff went to work on a yearly church golf event. Using the In His Grip model, Linduff said, gave the church more of an outreach focus.

“Every church can do it,” Linduff said. “We really heard Scott’s heart. If you have a golf course, this is a useful way to reach men. We want guys to come and see that they can have a great time with a bunch of ‘church’ guys.”

Lehman said that last year, in what was his first year fully focused on In His Grip, six churches signed up. This year 18 more from all different denominations will host IHG Invitationals. Lehman said his vision for the next 10 years is to have 1,000 churches with In His Grip established as a golf ministry.

“Right now, the tournaments are averaging 100 guys. That would be 100,000 golfers impacted with the message of Jesus Christ,” Lehman said.

Last year, Lehman was introduced to representatives from B&H Publishing Group, the publishing arm of LifeWay Christian Resources, who were interested in producing The Golfer’s Bible (to go along with other Holman Christian Standard specialty devotional Bibles).

“My first question was, ‘Who is B&H?'” Lehman quipped. “And to see a golfer’s Bible now a year after that introduction … it is just God pulling it together.” Devotionals in The Golfers Bible are drawn from a 2006 book Lehman coauthored with Sheard titled “The Master’s Grip.”

Lehman said it is humbling to be a part of such golf devotional projects “since it has such a deep meaning for the start of my personal walk with Jesus.”

In the immediate future, the ministry is geared toward men because the majority of golfers are male, but Lehman is quick to say his vision goes much deeper. “Most importantly, if you reach the men, over 90 percent of the time the family will follow.

“Men are saying, ‘I don’t see myself working in the nursery. I want to serve the church but I don’t see myself singing in the choir,'” Lehman said. “They love to golf. They can build a ministry around their passion for golf. My question to them is, ‘Who gave you the passion for golf?’ God gave me my passion. How do we use that passion to glorify God?”
More information about In His Grip Golf Association can be found at www.inhisgripgolf.com. Lehman speaks about golf ministries on an Inside LifeWay podcast, available at www.lifeway.com/insidelifeway.

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  • Jerry Higgins