Darrin Gray, Athletes in Action

This week Noah and Bjorn spoke with Darrin Gray. Darrin has over 25 years of experience in executive leadership in communications, media, branding, sports philanthropy and nonprofit sectors.  

Darrin is currently on the executive leadership team of Athletes in Action, which is an organization that helps athletes grow physically, mentally, and spiritually.  

In addition, Darren is also on the executive leadership teams of Lions Lead, a company that provides leadership development and coaching, and the Center for Serving Leadership at the Sagamore Institute.  

Darrin worked with Tony Dungy’s nonprofit organization All Pro Dad from 2005 until 2017, spending his time there working side by side with the Hall of Fame NFL coach.  

Why Does Darrin View Serving Others as Important? 

“If you’re not willing to lean down and lean into someone, then should you be a leader at all?”- Darrin Gray 

Christian ethics say that we have to put people less fortunate than us above ourselves, and this is something that Darrin believes strongly in. He says that serving is an important part of being a leader, and on his website is the quote “If serving is beneath you, leading is beyond you,”. 

Darrin elaborates further about what this quote means to him in the podcast episode, but something he believes is important is an element of reciprocity in relationships. People who are leaders should not only be striving to lead, but also to serve those around them.  

When this happens, all parties can lead and learn, while also constantly improving and becoming a better version of themselves.  

Another aspect of serving that Darrin believes is essential is finding ways to prioritize others and be there for them.  

Darrin says that if he’s constantly trying to evangelize as a ministry leader people might not always listen.  However, if he can find ways to serve people in everyday ways, he is more likely to reach them like this.  

People might not remember what he says. What they are likely to remember is the way he treated them, the way he served them, and how he made them feel.  

This can serve people as a path to a relationship with God, as Darrin demonstrates Godly values and God’s love to them.  

What Does Sports Ministry Mean to Darrin? 

“As we pass along the best of sports, how do we take that from coach to player, and then from player to community”- Darrin Gray 

Darrin says that the end goal of sports ministry is to have a follower of Jesus on every team in every sport in every nation. He acknowledges that this will never be accomplished but says that it keeps them moving towards what Christ has put us all on Earth for.  

In Darrin’s mind, sports are an amazing way for people to come together, have a purpose, and strive for something.  

This can also form new relationships between people or strengthen preexisting ones. These relationships can be used as a tool to encourage more and more people in sports to seek a relationship with God. In addition, the relationships that can be formed through sports are crucial to moving ministry forward.  

Darrin says that people oftentimes need to slow down and prioritize relationships because ministry can only move at the speed that relationships do. 

This coming together of people can make it possible for a message to be shared with many different people, even if it originates from the same original message, due to it being transferred to others.  

This leads to something Darrin calls the jersey effect, which he explains on the podcast. Due to the jersey effect, Darrin talks about how not only athletes can be affected by sports ministry, but also fans, parents, and almost anyone in the community.  

Who Are Some of The Most Influential Leaders Darrin Has Worked With? 

“Frank Reich is the quintessential leader and backup... leadership from the second chair”- Darrin Gray 

During his career Darrin says that he has connected with hundreds of current and former NFL players and coaches. One that stands out in his mind, partially due to his time working closely with him, is Tony Dungy.  

On the podcast Darrin talks about how he thinks each person has their own special superpower and what he feels Dungy’s is. Darrin says that he thinks Dungy’s superpower is particularly special and is one of the reasons that he has been able to connect with so many people.  

Tony Dungy started his organization All Pro Dad, which aims to inspire dads to embrace who they are, in 1997. During the past 23 years Tony has held countless events and impacted the lives of an immeasurable amount of people.  

Another person that comes to Darrin’s mind is former NFL quarterback and current Indianapolis Colts’ head coach Frank Reich.  

Darrin says that in his mind Reich has developed into the quintessential leader. Darrin discusses how Reich has developed a theology of sports based on the biblical book of Genesis and how he spends time making sure that he uses his platform to show up in the world as a man of God.  

One area that Darrin says he is able to relate to Reich is from the aspect of Reich’s leadership from the second chair.  

During his career, Reich spent the majority of his time as a backup. However, this didn’t stop him from finding ways to be a leader.  

Darrin talks about how God puts us into different positions and gives all of us different platforms. However, it is our job to find ways to be leaders and affect the lives of others with whatever platform we were given. This is something that Reich did.  

In the episode Darrin also discusses and explains the 7 C’s of leadership that Reich has developed over his lifetime and his career. These 7 C’s are something that Darrin thinks are important for everyone, as they help you build credibility with your platform and make a difference in the Kingdom.  

What is God Teaching You? 

Darrin brings up an important point when discussing the relationships that sports can form and how this can be beneficial to advancing God’s purpose for us.  

Sports can bring together like minded people who may not have met before that will then spark up an immediate connection. However, they can also bring together people who have seemingly nothing in common and form a relationship between them that never would have been there otherwise. 

Relationships are necessary in advancing the word and the love of God. We can’t truly show people the love of God if there is no relationship there to display this love and teach others.  

As Darrin talks about in the episode, sports, and particularly professional sports, can also advance the Kingdom of God to people outside of this direct sports world.  

If we affect the life of a single person, there is no telling how many lives could truly be impacted by this. The person whose life we affect and show God’s love could take this love and show it to those around them who we don’t personally know. A professional athlete’s audience could see the love that the athlete is demonstrating and seek this out for their own too.  

All of this is why it is important to be leaders. If we sit in the background, we are missing opportunities to change lives and spread God’s love.  

But as Darrin points out, we can’t just lead. We need to serve too.  

Serving is not only an important way to legitimize our leadership, but also to show people that we truly care.  

In addition, by serving we allow other people an opportunity to lead. By them leading and us serving, we provide opportunities for both of ourselves and them to grow and reach our full potential.  

It is good to be a leader in our sport and set an example for others. However, we need to provide space for them to step forward and lead too.  

Leading may allow them to display their knowledge and skills and make a positive impact on others, while also allowing us to learn something from them that we would have otherwise missed. Everyone benefits from this.  

As we saw with Frank Reich, we don’t have to be the star on our team or the most prominent person at our job to be a leader.  

God provided us all with our own unique platforms and superpowers and we can all find space within these platforms to be a leader. It is all about spending the time and effort to take advantage of this.  

God wants us to use our gifts and our platforms to be leaders to those around us, while also serving, so that we can spread his love and advance His Kingdom.  

Are you using your platform to be a leader to those around you? Are you allowing others the space to be a leader too? 

Are you taking time to serve and prioritize others?  

Reading Suggestions 

  • 2 Timothy 1:7 

  • Proverbs 11:14 

  • Matthew 20:26-28 

  • John 13:13-17 

  • Romans 12:3-8 

  • https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/tim-brister/3-truths-about-platforms-from-john-the-baptist.html 

To hear the discussion that Noah and Bjorn had with Darrin about the importance of serving, what sports ministry means to him, some of the most influential leaders he’s worked with, what God has been teaching him this past year, as well as much more, check out “The Sweat Room: Sports and Faith” episode 36.