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Former Chicago Bear turns zeal for football into passion for Lord

JONESBORO, Ark. (BP)–During a singles group meeting at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, former Chicago Bears standout Jerry Muckensturm reflected on his days as a new Christian. During the group’s testimony time, one of the participants, a young man who is a new Christian, began sharing his testimony.
“He was saved three months ago,” recalled Muckensturm, 44, collegiate and singles minister for Central since 1987. “He shared what the Lord was doing in his life and he had that passion.
“He didn’t have all the right answers, yet his heart was such, he wanted all that God wanted from him,” Muckensturm added. “I thought back to my life when all that was true. How important it is for a group to be around new believers — the zeal, not knowing all the answers, but wanting to.”
As minister to students and singles, Muckensturm seeks to transfer the zeal of Christianity to a new generation of believers and is, in a way, giving many students an opportunity he never had. During his five years as a student at Arkansas State University, he was unsaved.
After completing college in 1976, he was drafted as a linebacker for the Bears. He found Christ three years later at a Chicago church, but admitted he “was not really growing” as a Christian until 1981 when teammate Brian Cabral “sensed the struggle I was going through, trying to ride the fence. He invited me to a Pro Athletes’ Outreach Conference, like Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the professional level. The reason I went down there is he paid my way.
“Little did I know that while attending the conference, God had other plans for me,” he noted. “I came away with a different desire. Football really took a lower shelf and the Word of God started to have a priority.
“Reflecting back, I saw it was a call,” he said. “My desire for football was diminishing. I went back in 1982 during the strike season and in 1983 I went back with the thought, ‘God, if this is what you want, fine; if not, fine.’ It was probably the worst experience playing I had, but it gave me time to grow.”
Part of that growth was a realization of his desire for ministry and to attend seminary. After earning his master of divinity degree from Mid-America Seminary in Memphis, he joined the Central staff.
Muckensturm, who also is chaplain of the ASU football team, says the key to ministering to students is relationships.
“My philosophy of ministry is such that if they can develop a love relationship with Christ, where they are looking to him for direction, wisdom and his Word,” he said. “I want them to come away where they’re depending on God and see that this relationship with him is real, it’s developing and it’s growing.
“Now, under that umbrella, there are certain things such as the importance of reading Scripture, prayer and spiritual gifts you must emphasize,” he noted. “But the key element I stress with students is relationships — that you need to continue to look to the Lord for direction. If they come away after four years looking to his Word, looking to him and realizing the importance of Christian fellowship and ministry, then, no matter where they go, that goes with them.”
He said his college and professional football career “tremendously” affected his ministry career.
“The analogy to athletics is tremendous,” he emphasized. “I look at athletics and the training and discipline and rewards involved in athletics and transfer that over to the Christian life. If nothing else, athletics has given me an audience.”
Muckensturm said he faces several challenges as collegiate minister, noting his chief challenge “is me and the struggle I have in myself. The personal struggle is to continually have that burning desire to be who God wants me to be. That’s not always there.
“The challenge with students is it’s not the same as when I was a student,” he explained. “And to keep up with and relate to students is hard. There’s a tension — you want to relate to them, yet I’m a dad. There’s a tension of relating and not so much identifying as one of them. I’m not like them. I’m 44. Yet I want to know what they are going through.”
While Muckensturm has already had a rewarding 11-year ministry at Central, the adversity he faced as an athlete didn’t end when he walked off the field. He points to a poster hanging on a wall at the church that features a picture of Christ and reads, “I didn’t say it would be easy, I said it would be worth it.”
“Adversity for me is this balance with the pull of ministry and your family,” said Muckensturm. He and his wife, Pamela, have three daughters.
But, unlike his athletic career, there is a different measure of success. While his success was once measured in yards and in points, he said he now measures his ministry in “faithfulness.”

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  • Russell N. Dilday