“I can’t please everyone, but I can please God,” Larry Pursiful, associate pastor of Westport Road Baptist Church in Louisville, said at a recent men’s Bible study.
As a boy from the town of Four Mile in Bell County, he dreamed of playing basketball for the University of Kentucky while playing one-on-one with his older brother on the their porch, using a makeshift goal.
Larry was blessed to live his dream when he became a standout player for University of Kentucky and Adolph Rupp in the 1960s. But he made an unlikely career move by following a mid-life call to the ministry in order to please God. Since that decision, the Lord has used Larry’s successes and personal connections within the world of sports for over 30 years, as he has indeed lived out those words spoken at that breakfast.
God’s spirit began to stir in Pursiful’s heart when he was in his mid-40s — after teaching and coaching high school basketball for nine years, working in banking for three years, and owning and operating shoe stores in Elizabethtown and Lousiville. “We attended Severns Valley Baptist Church, which, at the time, had just built a family life center. I became so active in its operation that people would come up to me and ask if I’d ever thought about going into ministry (recreation). I just thought that family life center was the greatest thing,” he said. Little did he suspect the plans the Lord had for him.
“I had no earthly idea that I’d ever be a minister, and didn’t want to be. I was into coaching and sports of all kinds, and we had (owned) a shoe store, and I could come and go when I wanted to,” he said. “I did the books and Pris (Priscilla, his wife) ran the business, so I could go fishing or play golf whenever I wanted.” That is until he received his calling — at the age of 47.
In 1985, within two weeks of enrolling in his first classes at Southern Seminary, he was contacted and offered a recreational ministry position at Louisville’s Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church. “It was unbelievable how quickly things happened,” he said. Another similar opportunity came his way in 1994, this time from Westport Road Baptist Church, which also had just built its new family life center. He accepted that call and has served the church ever since, only now as an associate pastor.
Through the years, Larry has remained connected to the sports community, integrating his many contacts and knowledge into his ministry. He freely mentions many of notable friends, teammates, coaches and many others who he has engaged to help with many events, camps, etc. that he has organized and led. He also has a few distinct thoughts on the roles of sports and aspiring athletes who are Christians.
Q and A with Larry Pursiful:
Q: How can you best explain the meshing of athletics/sports and Christian ministry?
A: “If you listen to the pro athletes, like Tim Tebow and others who are Christians, they will tell you that it (the sport or the performance) is not that important, but that it gives them a platform. People everywhere seem to love sports — in Kentucky, many people love and follow UK basketball — and I have been able to use that as a platform to share the good news.”
Q: What advice can you share with young Christian athletes who are pursuing their dreams in sports?
A: First of all, I would tell them to not back off, but to play with all you’ve got, wherever you are. A lot of times people think that a Christian kid doesn’t always give 100%, but I would say to play as hard as you can to win, and don’t worry about whether or not people think you should or shouldn’t win. You should always play to win. It helps your platform.”
“I led a team to Kenya years ago, through Sports Reach (Ky. Crusaders) to play the Kenyan National Team. The missionaries who met us told us that they were going to pray for us, to pray for us to win!”
“They went on to say that ‘if you don’t win, they won’t listen to anything you say after that.’”
So they literally prayed for us to win, and we did. And, yes, after the game we had earned their respect enough for them to listen to what we said. (WR)