“Professional soccer was my God. My sense of well-being depended entirely on my on-field performance.”Gavin Peacock reveals
Exactly ten years ago, Gavin Peacock was preparing to go to Berlin and broadcast the World Cup. The World Cup final is the most-watched sporting event on the planet—in 2014, the final game drew 1 billion viewers.
He was in Germany as an ex-professional soccer player pursuing a career as a broadcaster/analyst. He never could have imagined that two years later, he would give it all up and move to the Canadian Rockies with his wife and children.
After the move, his phone rang off the hook with media outlets wanting to know how anyone could trade a dream career with the BBC for anonymity in Alberta. The answer happens to be a story of God’s grace and a tale of two turning points.
Two turning points
One skill Gavin’s dad taught him as a child was the art of turning with a soccer ball. He was never going to be tall, so his father would take him into their backyard in Southeast London and teach him how to quickly switch directions with the ball at his feet. “The big guys won’t be able to catch you!” he said.
For hours Gavin Peacock would practice turning to the left and right, dribbling in and out of cones, spinning this way and that. His father was right: the art of turning served him well. Many of the goals he scored in the years to come were a result of that lesson.
Gavin was raised around the smell of the dressing room, the sweat of the training ground, and the stadium on a Saturday. His father played soccer as a professional for Charlton Athletic (1962–78). Being the son of a local soccer star, he had inspiration all around him as well as an awesome teacher and role model. Naturally his childhood was filled with dreams of following in his father’s footsteps.
Gavin Peacock was not brought up in a Christian home and he never heard the gospel preached. Sunday school gave way to Sunday soccer. The most biblical form of instruction he received was in assemblies at the Church of England school that he attended.
He was a kid who earnestly wanted to achieve in the classroom and on the field. His father taught him the necessary self-control, discipline, and skills to succeed in education and in the professional sports arena.
Becoming a professional
At age 16, Gavin Peacock left school and signed a professional contract with Premier League Queens Park Rangers (QPR). He had achieved the goal—and he wasn’t really happy.
He was playing for the England Youth National Team, and it wasn’t long before he broke into the starting eleven at QPR. But he was an insecure young man in the cutthroat world of professional sport. Soccer was his god.
If he played well on a Saturday he was high, if he played poorly, he was low. His sense of well-being depended entirely on his performance. He soon realized that achieving the goal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Then, when Gavin was 18, God intervened in his life, the first of two dramatic turning points. He was still struggling to find purpose, so he decided to attend a local Methodist church one Sunday evening. He didn’t remember what the minister preached on, but afterward the preacher invited Gavin to his house, where he and his wife hosted a weekly youth Bible study.
Gavin walked into a room full of young people as the one with money, career, and fame. He even rolled up in the car he had bought, a 1980s icon, the Ford Escort XR3i. He was the in crowd, and they were not. Yet when they spoke about Jesus, they displayed a life and joy that Gavin did not have. They talked about sin as if it had consequence and about God as if they knew him. He on the other hand was a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist before the term was coined. He thought God existed to make him happy and that if he was a good person he’d go to heaven.
Hearing the word
He decided to return to the Bible study the following week and the next, and he began to hear the gospel for the first time. He realized that his biggest problem wasn’t whether he met the disapproval of a 20,000-strong crowd on Saturday. He soon saw his biggest problem as his sin and the disapproval of almighty God.
He realized that the biggest obstacle to happiness was that soccer was king instead of Jesus, who provided a perfect righteousness for him.
Our hearts are restless
Gavin realized what Augustine had expressed many years before in his Confessions:
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Over time, his eyes were opened through that Sunday meeting, and he turned, repented, and believed the gospel. His heart still burned for soccer, but it burned for Christ more.
He was open with his teammates and immediately told them he had become a Christian. Their reaction was a mixture of mockery and intrigue. Then they watched to see if his life matched his profession of faith. People often ask if it’s difficult being a Christian and a star athlete. Gavin would answer, “It’s difficult being a Christian in any walk of life.” The battle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil is difficult for everyone.
Growing into maturity
Christian maturity is a slow process, but in the world of professional sport, your slow sanctification is on show.
Perhaps the difference in professional sport is that the highs and lows of life are extreme, very close together, and very public. The scrutiny is intense.
One can sign a lucrative contract in a day, and such a person’s career could be finished by one tackle the next day. Those were thrilling and testing days, filled with massive highs and lows, cup finals and promotions, defeat and relegation. Gavin experienced the full gamut as a believer.
Uncertainty plagues the professional soccer player. On one level the uncertainty and drama spur men on to play their best; on another level they cause deep insecurity. Now as a Christian Gavin feared the Lord more than the crowd. Soccer wasn’t his idol anymore.
The biggest test of that truth came when it was time to end his career. Gavin was 35 with a chronic knee injury and knew the day had come to retire. Giving up a good thing or having it taken away reveals how much you love the Lord.
However, through the pain of our losses he shows us that he is always with us and asks us if he is enough. And so it was when Gavin ended his 18-year career in July 2002. It was a privilege to play for QPR, Chelsea, and Newcastle United, but the schoolboy dream was over.
A new dream
An opportunity came for a broadcasting career with the BBC, and it wasn’t long before Gavin was covering weekly shows, like Match of the Day, for several million UK viewers. It was a job that found its peak at the 2006 World Cup. Yet, shortly afterward the second turning point came to him: the call to pastoral ministry.
A greater calling
Until then he had always had opportunities for Christian witness as a soccer player and broadcaster, but never had the urge to preach. Then, while reading though the pastoral Epistles, he began to feel a strong desire to pursue pastoral ministry. His church affirmed the call, and after a period of testing, Gavin knew he was going to give up a second dream career for ministry.
His public profile in the UK was high, so a season of study in Canada, where they had regularly visited, seemed to be a good decision. In 2008, he left the shores of England. Within weeks he went from speaking on TV about David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to writing papers on John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.
Remarkably, he is still there as a pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Calgary and international director for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. One of the great needs of the day is biblical manhood, and one of Gavin’s passions as he said: “is to build men for Christ and help the church see the beauty of complementarity.”
Turned to Christ
All those years ago, his earthly father taught him the art of turning, but it was his heavenly Father who turned him first to Christ and then to preach his gospel. Turning from sin and trusting in Christ for salvation isn’t just a one-time initial event; it is the substance of the Christian life.
As Luther said in the first of his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This is a message the church needs to recover. And so as Gavin said: “I continue to turn and teach others to turn.”
Source: Gavin Peacock, Missions pastor at Calvary Grace Church, Alberta