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From 1993–1998, I played in the NFL during one of its greatest eras against some of its greatest players, like Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions. I’ll never forget how, as a member of the Indianapolis Colts defense, we shut the great Barry Sanders down. He only gained 215 yards!

I’ll never forget playing against one of my childhood heroes, Dan Marino. On October 8, 1995, as a safety for the Colts, I actually hit him so hard on a blitz that he missed a month of action. I wonder what the 14-year-old Derwin would have thought about the 24-year-old Derwin after he jacked up his hero.

I’ll never forget playing against Hall of Famers Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, just to name a few. But I’ll never forget playing against the greatest of all, Jerry Rice.

Jerry Rice has NFL records that will never be broken: 1,549 receptions, 197 touchdowns, and 22,895 receiving yards. Plus he is a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, 11-time 1st All-Pro selection, and a 3-time Super Bowl winner. In my humble opinion, he’s the best to ever lace up a pair of cleats. What made Jerry so great? And what can we preachers learn from Him?


Lesson One: The Passion

Former Denver Bronco and current Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan unlocked the secret to Rice’s greatness when he wrote, “Most people, for whatever reason, think natural ability is the most important power a person possesses. It’s not. People who achieve the highest level of success have an unbelievable work ethic, the desire to sacrifice. Everybody thinks Jerry Rice is the best receiver out there. He certainly is talented, but I guarantee you he’s not even close to being the most talented. He’s not the strongest or the fastest. But he is the most determined. Jerry’s mind was set that nobody was going to work harder, prepare better, or sacrifice more. He convinced himself that he was going to outwork every receiver who came into the league relative to conditioning, lifting, studying—everything.”

Why did Rice have a fanatical commitment to football that compelled him to work harder than anyone else—in everything? Because football was the supreme love of his life.

Preacher, do you love the sacred vocation of preaching? Because the One you preach about cares for you with a love that is constant, unending, unfailing, life-giving, and soul-satisfying! Or has preaching become a job? Have you gone from being overwhelmed by God’s love to being overwhelmed by the ministry?

We must preach out of the incomprehensible love of Jesus that God our Papa has lavished on us in the Spirit’s power. In this moment, receive the words of our Papa through Paul: I pray “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Preacher, as you stand between heaven and earth, boldly proclaiming the Gospel by the Spirit’s power, may your congregation see a person fantastically overwhelmed and rooted in God’s love.

Lesson Two: The "You"

Ten times between 1989 and 1996, Rice faced Deion Sanders, arguably the greatest cornerback in NFL history. In those games, Rice caught 60 passes for 1,051 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns. How was he able to be so effective against an elite cover specialist like Sanders? He was effective because Rice knew himself. He knew he was not the fastest, so he did not try to outrun Sanders on long routes. Instead, Rice played to his own strengths and ran intermediate precision routes. Rice did not try to be someone he was not. He did not suffer from an identity crisis; he played to his strengths.

Preacher, do you compare yourself to other communicators? The Spirit of God did not make you Dr. Tony Evans, Andy Stanley, or Matt Chandler. A while back, I was at a conference where Matt Chandler was preaching. After he was done, I was blessed. I also said to myself, “After hearing him preach, I can’t preach.” And God, who is forever in the business of giving grace, whispered in my soul, “Derwin, if I wanted you to be Matt, I would not have created you. Son, be you.”

God has given the world a gift, and that gift is YOU! Unwrap the gift and bless people! Preach out of who God has shaped you to be through your life experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly—be that person.

Preacher, as you stand between heaven and earth, boldly proclaiming the Gospel by the Spirit’s power, may your congregation see you secure in who the Spirit of God has forged you to be. May your listeners clearly hear from the depths of your soul that the Gospel you preach is the Gospel that sustains and transforms you. Be the best “you” that Jesus and the Gospel have shaped you to be. No one can be a better you than you.

Lesson Three: The Hero

Jerry expected to be the hero of every game! When the game was on the line, he wanted the ball. Against all odds, he knew that if he had the ball, his team would win, because he was going to make the big play!

In Super Bowl XXIII, Rice came to the rescue when the 49ers needed him most. In a Super Bowl for the ages, Rice caught 11 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, catapulting the 49ers to a narrow 20–16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. His heroic 11 catches and 215 receiving yards were both Super Bowl records, and his epic performance earned him Super Bowl MVP honors.

Preacher, do we preach that Jesus is the Hero of our story? The people we shepherd hunger to not just hear about how God rescued the children of Israel at the Red Sea. They want to know if that Hero still exists and could make a big play in their lives. They want to know if God can transform them so they can live a heroic life of sacrificial love for our broken world.

Do we preach in such a way that our congregations long for and love Jesus? Do our congregations hunger to live a life of adventure and risk, just so that Jesus can show up and be the hero? After we preach, are congregations thrilled by Jesus’ greatness so much that they rejoice to share in His sufferings in order to reach a lost world?

Our culture is longing for a hero. So let’s passionately point them to the true Hero: Jesus. Preacher, as you stand between heaven and earth, boldly proclaiming the Gospel by the Spirit’s power, may your congregation desire to live adventurous, risk-filled, Kingdom-sacrificing lives to the glory and mission of God, our Papa.

Derwin L. Gray is the Lead Pastor of Transformation Church (, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mission-shaped community that loves God completely (Upward), ourselves correctly (Inward), and our neighbors compassionately (Outward) in Indian Land, South Carolina, near Charlotte, North Carolina. He and his wife Vicki have been married for 18 years and have two children, Presley and Jeremiah.  He is the author of Hero: Unleashing God’s Power in a Man’s Heart (Summerside 2009).

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Dr. Gordon Myrah

commented on Jun 28, 2010

Derwin really hits the nail on the head. The three powerful points about comparing Jerry Rice's commitment as a player with a Pastor's commitment to their call really hit home.

Cyndi Norman

commented on Jun 28, 2010

Wow!! Thank you for sharing such an annointed insight. As a woman in ministry and a fairly new pastor, I have really struggled with my "uniqueness." I didn't understand until now why the Lord would call someone who thinks and acts so out of the box. But your statement that "God has given the world a gift, and that gift is YOU!" really struck a nerve! I suddenly GOT IT!! So PTL for such intentional love that God will do whatever it takes to win a soul to Christ. Including making characters like me to preach the Gospel.

Norb Levesque

commented on Jun 28, 2010

Thank you brother. At a time when the work of ministry is at an all time high you bless us with the essence of the call.

Aaron Householder

commented on Jun 30, 2010

Thanks, D-Gray. Loved the analogies & felt the challenge.

Paul Mazzio

commented on Jul 8, 2010

Hello precious brother and preacher in Christ! Thank you for your encouragement. May the Father of all continue to use you richly as well as powerfully as you continue serving Him so faithfully!

W Williams

commented on Jul 10, 2010

Thanks, brother! Very powerful. My God bless you and all of us as we seek to let him use us as He chooses!

Lonnie Anderson

commented on Jul 24, 2010

Thank-you, Derwin, what a blessing and encouragement. I appreciate the call to be passionate based upon God's overwhelming love for us! God bless you!

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