Football and faith

By Rev. Ron McClung

Damian Williams saw the need to tell others about Jesus by connecting the marketplace with football.


Damian Williams (elementary school)

Middle school student, Damian Williams, eyed various Easter service advertisements. Part of a poor, inner city family living in New Castle, Pennsylvania, projects, he had been reading the New Testament and resonated with Jesus' teaching about living water flowing through his followers. Williams told his mother he wanted to attend church on Easter. She said they didn't have the proper clothes.

Based on his New Testament reading, Williams told her God could solve that problem and prayed God would rain money from heaven. Soon afterward, he found a $100 bill lying on the sidewalk. A Salvation Army thrift store visit resulted in proper clothes for Williams, his mother and his younger sister. A bus picked them up and took them to First Wesleyan Church, New Castle.

The pastor, Rev. Ken Figgs, and youth pastor, Rev. Robert Wuethrich, saw leadership potential in Williams and encouraged him to enter the ministry. While attending Indiana Wesleyan University, he accepted an internship at New Hope Wesleyan, Williston, North Dakota, where senior pastor, Rev. Mark Gorveatte, hired him as youth pastor.

Later, as Red Cedar Church pastor in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, Williams heard a prayer by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), encouraging pastors not just to build large churches but to focus on sending leaders into all “mountains” of society. Bright identified the seven “mountains” as church, family, entertainment, media, education, business and government, and said pastors should “take the gospel to the center of the marketplace.”

A vision emerged for Williams to advance the gospel through every “mountain” in every city of every nation.


Damian Williams (2018)

Williams returned to Pennsylvania in 2003 to plant a church in inner city Pittsburgh as a lay person partnering with a pastor. After identifying the pastor, the church was planted. Within six months, offerings were so low the church was in danger of closing. Williams began seeking a revenue source to help fund the pastor’s salary. Relationships with members of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL) prompted Williams to form a ministry in 2005, Leadership League, to provide leadership coaching to traveling Steelers fans.

A vision emerged for Williams to advance the gospel through every “mountain” in every city of every nation which is taking shape primarily through the NFL. Leadership League created the Pittsburgh Steelers Cruise, which lets fans get acquainted with Steelers players and management while vacationing on a cruise ship. Simultaneously, fans learn leadership principles based on the Steelers’ “Forged in Leadership” values.

Leadership League has expanded to include Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers ministry cruises and plans to bring other NFL teams on board. A recent NFL cruise resulted in 73 salvations, 12 baptisms and more than $200,000 raised for kingdom expansion.

Leadership League is connecting The Wesleyan Church with NFL players and other marketplace leaders to establish regional multiplication initiatives called “Kingdom Forces.” These regional initiatives are intended to connect “apostolic multipliers” across all seven mountains of influence.

Williams became involved in The Wesleyan Church (TWC) Marketplace Multipliers emphasis through Rev. Scott Rhyno, TWC chief development director. Williams and Rhyno met at Kingswood University while Williams served on the board of trustees and Rhyno worked there. Marketplace multipliers are entrepreneurial laypersons who make their living by engaging in the marketplace rather than in the church.

When asked how he would advise other entrepreneurs who would like to help a local church but don’t have the right connections, Williams said, “I would tell them, ‘Don’t be too pushy.’ It’s easy for a business person to come across as bossy because they’re used to being in charge.” He also advises entrepreneurs to be patient and consider, “What can your pastor teach you about love, compassion and being Christlike?”

Leadership League is connecting The Wesleyan Church with NFL players and other marketplace leaders to establish regional multiplication initiatives.

His advice to pastors is to recognize that although entrepreneurs look successful and confident, they may feel lonely and isolated. “Also remember,” Williams added, “to love them and not just their wallet. Recognize that God has given the marketplace leader a ministry outside the local church.” He recommends pastors think of entrepreneurs as chief spiritual officers in the mountains of influence where the Lord has planted them. He added, “Multiply yourself by equipping them to be disciple-makers through their work.”

When asked what he finds most fulfilling about his marketplace ministry, Williams said, “Reaching people through the marketplace who are not going to attend church initially.” He also loves being able, when people come to Christ through Leadership League or on a cruise, to help them get involved in the right church.

“Breakthrough happens through these apostolic partnerships—a local church partnering with a marketplace multiplier,” Williams said. When entrepreneurial leaders are exposed to great leadership principles, along with spiritual dynamics, great things happen.

“We want to blend the strategic with the supernatural.”