STARKE, Fla. (BP)–For sure, it’s his ability to throw a football that got University of Florida’s Tim Tebow a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore — and helped his team win the national championship Thursday night. But more than his ability to play football, it’s Tebow’s leadership that has people asking more, says student pastor Joe Fennell.
“Our society and our culture elevate sports and football players and they are not used to seeing someone play the way that he does. I think it’s not so much the football player in him; I think it’s that he’s filled with that leadership that God’s given him that’s built-off of Scripture,” Fennell, student pastor at First Baptist Church in Starke (Fla.), told the Florida Baptist Witness. “In his love for the Lord he just goes out there on the football field and he wants to honor God. That fills him with so much passion.”
Fennell knows. He’s seen Tebow up close and personal in a football stadium, but Tebow was not throwing or running the ball. He was preaching to an estimated 2,500 youth last May at a rally hosted by Fennell’s church.
“It’s exciting to see him as a popular football player, but I think there’s even more of a draw for him because people know he’s going to speak from his heart,” Fennell said. “There’s so much more passion surrounding everything that he does.”
The church worked for 18 months to invite 32 youth groups ranging from 10-125 members from Northeast and North Central Florida to hear Tebow present a Gospel message. When Tebow gave the invitation, nearly 40 counselors were ready with decision cards and referrals when 107 young people and adults gave their lives to Christ, Fennell said.
But the excitement isn’t over at the church, which is in close proximity to the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Two men made decisions to serve God in ministry, specifically citing Tebow’s “passion and determination” as encouraging them to take this step, Fennell said, and dozens of families have said their children look up to “Timmy” for taking a stand for Christian values, missions and ministry.
Calling Tebow a leader both on and off the field, Fennell said this quality was something obviously nurtured by his “grounded family” and through involvement at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville where when growing up he took part in the children’s program.
“What people in the media talk about and what they see on the football field, I think where that comes from, is the fact that he is so passionate about honoring God in everything he does,” Fennell said.
It’s that very essence of honoring God that causes people to be attracted to Tebow, Fennell said, because it surrounds him with a deep humility.
“Scripture teaches if we humble ourselves, in due time God will exalt and I think because of his humility, that’s why he has been given such an extreme platform,” Fennell said.
Without hesitation, Fennell called Tebow a “servant leader.”
“It really takes a servant to lead others and he, without question, has that,” Fennell said of the 6-3, 240-pound, left-handed Academic All-American. “He’s extremely humble.”
Recalling the pleasant evening in May when Tebow took to the microphone — mincing no words when it came to talking about heaven and hell, sin and repentance — Fennell said the then-20-year-old Tebow prayed and chatted easily with students.
“Even the night that he was here, it was a look of his face that [said], ‘I’m so honored that someone would want to take a picture with me, that someone would want my autograph; that it would mean something to them,'” Fennell said.
“One of the huge reasons God’s used Tim the way that He has, is because he had to be a young man of humility growing up which is a requirement for Christian leadership,” Fennell said.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, which covers Florida news from a Christian perspective and is the newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention. To read the Witness’ online version or to subscribe to its print edition or e-mail notification service, visit www.floridabaptistwitness.com.