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Director Of Sports Ministry Brings Wealth Of Experience
March 21, 2018

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation

When Marcus Sedberry and the search committee started looking at candidates to fill Baylor's Director of Sports Ministry position, a lot of them had the required education, several of them had experience in the missions and ministry fields and others had special intangibles.

John Maurer, campus director for Athletes in Action at Rutgers University for the last 15 years, "had all of it."

"He's actually done this job," said Sedberry, Senior Associate AD for Student-Athlete Success. "He hasn't been a director of sports ministry for an athletic department, but he has been working with athletes -- collegiate and pro -- he's done mission work and everything this job would entail. He's coordinated ministry efforts from a number of different perspectives, which will be similar to our model here.

"So, we thought he was just a really good fit and could come in and contribute to our team right away."

The 53-year-old Maurer officially took the Baylor job effective March 1 and will spend the next few months visiting with student-athletes, coaches and other sports ministers to see where he needs to take the program.

"I'm really looking at March, April and May as kind of getting to know people and finding out what's going on and getting to know the other sports ministers," he said. "I'm beginning to observe and assess what's going on on the ground, as well as talking to the coaches about what their needs are on the team and what they'd like to see in the future."

A former student-athlete himself, playing four years of Division III football at the University of Dayton, John said he was part of the group at Dayton that started leading Bible studies and outreach programs through the Athletes in Action program, "and really having no idea what we were doing."

"It was those scary steps of faith that a guy who was mentoring and discipling me at the time was challenging me to take that I saw that God could use a broken pot like me," John said. "I've never gotten over that, and here I am 30-plus years later."

Growing up in Cleveland in a "church-going, sports-loving family," John said he learned what it meant to follow Christ "through some of my teammates on the football and wrestling teams in high school."

During his four years at Dayton, he "really saw God work significantly in my life and even through my life in little baby steps of faith that we were taking."

He started as an engineering major before switching to business management, with the idea of maybe going into business one day with his dad.

"If I had to do it all over again, I might have gone the education route," he said. "I've always felt like if I wasn't doing what I was doing, I would probably be teaching and coaching at the high school level. . . . I just love the idea of investing 25, 30, 40 years in a community. (Teachers and coaches are) just so influential in so many kids' lives, the parents' lives."

With no specific plan in place, Maurer said Roger Hershey with Campus Crusade planted the seed that he should consider working for Athletes in Action to mentor coaches and athletes. After receiving his undergrad degree at Dayton, he went to work for AIA in the summer of 1987 and became the campus director at Miami (Ohio) University in Oxford.

"Really, apart from my biological dad, Roger is probably the most influential man in my life," Maurer said. "He was the one who really helped me see what it meant to be a Godly man and welcomed me into his family and showed me what life could be like."

It was at Oxford that he met his wife, Missy, and they started a family that now includes Jackson (26), Derek (24) and Jenna (23). Jackson is working on a master's in sports tourism in Austria, Derek was a kicker at Bucknell who works for the Neilsen Corporation in Chicago and Jenna is working on a master's at The College of New Jersey and plans to stay and teach in-state.

A few years into the job at Miami, John realized that he needed some more biblical training if he was going to stay in this field long-term.

"I grew up going to church, and that was about it," he said. "I hadn't read the Bible that much, and here I was in ministry, trying to share it with others. Not that I felt like I needed a degree, but I needed some training and tools."

That led to the family moving to Chicago in 1992 for John to work on a master's of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

"My wife still kids me about it today," he said. "We were sitting on a park bench when we got engaged, dreaming about the future and she asks me, `Do you think we'll ever go to seminary?' And I said no, because I thought seminary was just for pastors, and I didn't see myself in that role. But there we were five years in, saying, `I think I want to go to seminary.'''

Through his Athletes in Action connections, John got a call from one of the national coordinators saying that new Chicago Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt was looking for a team chaplain. "He just basically opened the door and said, `Hey, just do what you guys do.'''

Developing a friendship with Mike McCartney, one of the Bears' scouts and the son of former Colorado head coach Bill McCartney, John and Missy started leading Bible study groups with Bears' players and wives and staff. "And we're still in touch today with some of those folks we met during those years," he said.

The last couple years in Chicago, working through the Athletes in Action international ministry, John took NFL players on mission tours in South Africa and Zimbabwe. "And it was through that avenue that we heard about other international opportunities," he said.

In 2000, the Maurers and another family from Chicago "who we had gotten close to and helped train in Athletes in Action," moved to Kazakhstan to develop and train national athletes in sports ministry.

"From Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, we traveled to all those countries and worked in the sport community and learned a ton," John said. "We started with the basketball world. But over there, martial arts, wrestling, all the fighting sports are huge. So, we kind of got rolled into those communities and tried to make connections and see who was interested spiritually."

When one year turned into three, the Maurers moved back to Chicago in 2003. But Greg Schiano, a former Bears assistant coach who became the Rutgers head coach in 2001, asked John to consider moving to New Jersey to start an Athletes in Action program there.

At first, John balked at the idea of uprooting his family again, much less moving them to New Jersey. But, Schiano, "a great friend to this day, could sell snow to an Eskimo," John said.

"My wife likes to tell the story that God took us overseas to get us ready to live in Jersey," he said. "And there's some truth to that. She's an Indiana farm girl, I'm a Midwest kid. Jersey certainly became home over the years, but it's a unique place and blend of incredibly diverse people. It's really a melting pot of so many people from all over the world. We're 20 miles outside of New York City."

In 15 years at Rutgers, John and Missy ministered to coaches, athletes, staff and their families while the school went through four athletic directors, three head football coaches "and many other coaches coming and going," John said.

"It really was a God's grace thing," he said. "Even if they weren't totally committed to the mission personally, I think they saw it as a positive influence in kids' and coaches' lives and what we added to the community. They appreciate and know how much the kids need something when their lives are falling apart or totally stressed out. We had a good run there at Rutgers."

It was the Athletes in Action connection that also opened the door at Baylor. Cindy White, a program director and adjunct professor at Truett Seminary, was an AIA staffer at the University of Indiana when Missy was a student there. And her husband, John White, is the Director of the Sports Chaplaincy/Ministry Program.

At an AIA national conference last summer in Colorado, Cindy asked John if he would consider and pray about an opening at Baylor.

"I walked away thinking, `I'm not going to pray about it,''' he said.

But when he received an email from Cindy with a job description and link, "my first thought was `Wow! I feel like the last 30 years have prepared me for this job.' Not that it was this lightning-bolt, `this thing is mine,' but I was certainly more willing to pray about it after seeing that."

In talking with Baylor men's basketball assistant coach John Jakus, a former volunteer with Athletes in Action, John Heard about how inviting the teams and coaches are at Baylor.

"We talked for about 10 to 15 minutes, and he said, `John, you know all that work that you have to do all the time to try to make sure that you can connect and not offend? You're going to get here and you're going to knock on the door, and we're going to invite you and welcome you right in and introduce you to the whole team and say, `Go for it' And I told him, What a breath of fresh air.'''

Baylor Vice President and Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades said the "department mission of Preparing Champions for Life is successful when Spiritual Growth for our student-athletes is integrated into everything we do."

"John is uniquely qualified to assist in our efforts to encourage and support our student-athletes in this essential pillar of development," Rhoades said. "We are elated to welcome John and Missy to the Baylor family!"

Dr. Burt Burleson, Baylor University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life, said "John's arrival marks a new chapter for us in sports ministry, a chapter that will be characterized by an in-depth team approach to our ministry in Athletics that will be nurtured by partnerships with Spiritual Life and others across the campus."

"John's experience, education, giftedness and calling are just right for this time," Burleson said. "I'm so excited to welcome him to Baylor."

Emphasizing the team concept, Maurer said he will work with FCA staff and local pastors who are already ministering with the various Baylor teams in a collaborative effort "instead of a bunch of people doing a bunch of things out there."

"How do we make Baylor the best she can be, ultimately to impact not just Baylor for today but the world for tomorrow?" John said.

Because of his "international and very expansive domestic experience," Sedberry said of Maurer, "he can talk the talk, regardless of who he's talking to."

"He will be able to help us continue to think about how we infuse spiritual growth into everything we do," Sedberry said. "As we explore leadership, as we talk about careers after college, and as we talk about personal identity, how do we infuse the spiritual component? That is something that will make us really special in what we're able to offer our student-athletes."

The Baylor Sports Ministry Team has annually participated in international service trips to serve and fellowship with local communities. This year, the team is going to Puerto Rico May 13-21 to help with the hurricane relief efforts, working with local church and individual families to assist in the restoration of homes and other areas within the community. Please consider making a donation to send our group, led by Tierra Barber, as they get their hands dirty and share their passion for sports and the Lord.

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