A visit to Greg Ball's Church

The Times-Union/August 16, 1998
By Margie Mason

Austin, Texas -- Enter the Doubletree Guest Suites hotel on a Sunday morning and the MorningStar Christian Church isn't hard to find.

''Just follow the music'' a group of hotel employees say as the swell of five voices boom from two open doors down the hall.

Inside, an electric keyboard, bass and guitars make the conference room look more like a concert than a church. But it takes only a few notes and a projector magnifying lyrics on the wall to get the whole congregation clapping, swaying and throwing their hands upward in God's name.

It's a charismatic church, and there's one just like it being planned next year for Jacksonville.

Such prominent Jacksonville Jaguars as quarterback Mark Brunell, tackle Tony Boselli and linebacker Bryan Schwartz say they can't wait for the doors to open and give them a permanent place to worship and lead others to the Lord.

The Austin church featured Houston-based dance group, His Company, before speaker Greg Ball began the message.

Ball, president of Austin-based Champions for Christ, has been showing people to Jesus for 18 years.

In Jacksonville, Brunell, Schwartz, Boselli and several other Jaguars meet with him or another pastor for weekly Bible studies during football season. The players' spouses and friends also attend the meetings.

But religion isn't just for wealthy high-profile athletes.

At the Austin service, Ball preached that in biblical times Jesus didn't appeal widely to the rich. Instead, it was the poor who became believers.

''Until you're on the road and rejected, you're not really going to have a lot of compassion,'' he said after telling the biblical story of the Good Samaritan who stopped along the road to help a man others had passed.

Ball says Champions began as a campus ministry in 1985 and has since reached many professional athletes, including group vice president A.C. Green of the Dallas Mavericks and board member Darrell Green of the Washington Redskins. It is a group designated for college and professional athletes who want to walk with God and help bring others to the Lord.

''We want to see athletes come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, who we believe is the way, the truth and the life,'' said Champions spokesman and former Houston Rocket Dave Jamerson. ''We cannot only reach the athletic world with the gospel, but we can use the platform athletes have to affect the world.''

Champions is an arm of the Bible-based church, MorningStar Ministries International. The two share a similar vision in working with campus ministries and world evangelism, Jamerson said.

He said many of the beliefs are similar to mainstream churches, such as the death and resurrection of Christ, which allow sinners to become born-again Christians and ultimately acquire salvation.

But Jamerson said MorningStar churches also believe in the gifts of the power of healing, miracles, casting out of demons and speaking in tongues.

''There's a lot of diversity in the body of Christ,'' Jamerson said. ''We believe in the power of the spirit and the gifts of the spirit.''

For example, last year Brunell injured his knee and Ball flew to Jacksonville to pray for it.

''His knee was supernaturally healed,'' said Champions staff member Kevin Irion . ''The doctor said, 'You received your miracle. Your ACL is healed.' ''

Ball says Champions is orthodox in doctrine, evangelical in practice and charismatic in worship.

Ball, 39, graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in marketing and is pursuing his master's degree at the Reformed Theological Seminary.

Champions' ministers are not required to have a religious educational background, but they are encouraged to attend classes at the Victory Leadership Institute, which has branches worldwide. There they can study everything from church history to theology of salvation to small group ministry.

Ball said he invites anyone to look into Champions, because they have nothing to hide.

''We're gladly willing to talk,'' he said. ''We're able to tell the truth and let people know who we are.''

The ministry also preaches the importance of tithing or the giving of 10 percent of all annual earnings to the church or religious group of choice.

Ball said he's pleased highprofile players like Brunell and Boselli are tithing to Champions, but he said they're doing so without any persuasion.

And tithing wasn't even mentioned in the message Ball delivered in Austin.

Instead, he paced around a hotel podium with a microphone. His animated body language and usage of modern-day slang had the congregation laughing throughout the sermon with such references to the Rolling Stones and the Jerry Springer Show.

But by the end of the service, tears were streaming down people's cheeks as they came forward and knelt with Ball, his wife, and other ministers in the front of the room.

''We're excited to reach athletes and others,'' he said.''We never wanted promotion through athletes, but we speak through them. Their lives are our testimony.''

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