A love of golf and of Christ are behind an evangelistic ministry's move to welcome amateur golfers and establish regional directors.
Links International, a ministry that supports Christian golfers, has confined its attention to tour pros until now, said Russell Murray of Augusta, newly named Southeast regional director. "I work with golfers, businessmen and young people using golf as a way to share Christ and to (help them) grow spiritually."
Links made its debut about 10 years ago with the publication of a newsletter sent out to about 250 golfers. The letter, founded by Jim Hiskey, published testimonies of Christian pros such as Larry Mize and Tom Lehman. Links fellowship groups later evolved at country clubs and courses, said Dewey Crim of Atlanta, president and CEO of Links.
About 70 fellowships meet weekly in the United States and in other countries. About 40 percent of the groups are in the Southeast.
Links sends out about 60,000 copies of its newsletter to patrons all over the world. About 500 people have asked the organization about starting fellowships. "There's a lot of interest, but they have not had the staff to follow up," said Mr. Murray.
Developing small groups with that personal touch is the best way to influence people's lives. "Golf cuts across social lines, and it's a neat way to make contact with people," he said.
Links plans to offer conferences and organize golf tournaments to support Christians and to help them evangelize others, said Mr. Murray, who says he does not see conflict between competition and Christian spirituality.
Christians are called to excellence, said Mr. Murray, who coaches golf at Westminster Schools. He is a self-taught player who shoots in the low to mid-80s. "I never thought God would give me a mission field in golf. I will have to work on my game."
"Going head-to-head with somebody brings out the best and sometimes the trash, like pride or ego. God lets that happen so that we can deal with it in more of a healthy way," he said.
It's not just the score players post on the course, it's also the attitude and the honor they show in playing, he said. "I want to develop whole people."
Luke 2:52 says that Christ grew in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and man, that means intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially, he said.
A graduate of the University of Montevallo, Alabama, Mr. Murray holds a degree in management and marketing. He started a college campus ministry in Poland.
He was administrative director for Campus Outreach based at First Presbyterian Church of Augusta from fall 1989 until December, when he joined Links. Campus Outreach is a national ministry to college students.
"Links has been used by the Lord in a really significant way, helping churches reach out to their neighborhoods, to equip saints to share the gospel," said Mr. Murray.