The No. 1 overall pick of the 1984 NFL Draft, Nebraska’s Irving Fryar talks about why he founded his own church, how he went about doing it and why he turned to God during his darkest time (run time is 8:38; transcript below the jump).
Lost Lettermen: This is Jim Weber of LostLettermen.com and I’m joined by Nebraska’s Irving Fryar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft. Thanks so much for joining us. My first question is a lot of people know that you became very spiritual and religious during your playing days.
Could you talk about how you started your new church, the New Jerusalem House of God?
Irving Fryar: (laughs) I started it … couldn’t have done it without the help of God and without the instruction and the command to do so. Never would’ve thought in my commitment to Christ I’d be directed by God to start a church but when I got the call, when I got the word and God spoke to my heart about starting a church, I knew nothing about being a pastor or directing people or all of the intricacies that comes with a ministry that needs to be in place in order for that ministry to function properly.
But when God calls you to do (something), He will bring you what you need to get it done, or He’ll bring people into your life that have the skills and the tools to help you accomplish it.
It’s been a very interesting journey; it’s been a gratifying and satisfying journey. A journey that is no where near complete but one that we continue to learn in and grow in. And we continue to see the fruits of our labor just from being obedient to God.
LL: How does one go abut starting their own church? Do you have to call around and figure out where to put it? What’s involved with that?
IF: Well what’s involved is, first of all it better be God inspired. It better be something that God has instructed you to do. Otherwise it will fail. God will not be in it because you’re not starting the Church for the right reasons. If God is not in it and he hasn’t told you to start it, there’s a hidden agenda and you’re starting it for the wrong reasons.
So God gives you the instruction. Obviously one of the first things I began to do was try to find a place. … God tells you what to do, there’re people that come in contact with you. People that are already in place that you’re able to put in place to do certain things.
Obviously there’s music involved, there’s instruction involved, there’s teaching involved, there’s a whole lot of other things involved but it grows as you go along. There’s nothing but … I’ve heard of some churches starting where there’s nothing but the preacher and his wife and kids the first day in his home.
So sometimes it’ll start like that and it’ll grow from there. For me it started in my home with 13 men. I was instructed to get 13 because Jesus had 12 disciples but one was a Judas. So I got 13 just in case one was a Judas (laughs), I might as well.
But it started with a bible study in my home with 13 men and it just continued to grow from there. And we wound up going to a school and when we opened our doors officially to the public and we wound up leaving the school after about 12 months, having services in a catering hall and then God blessed us with our own building about eighteen months after we went into the catering hall.
So about two and a half years into our ministry, which is very unusual, two and a half years we wind up in our own building and we’ve been there ever since and we’re six years old now.
LL: I know that you’ve been asked this before but I gotta ask it again. How does the mental and physical exertion of a Sunday game day compare to giving a sermon.
IF: I’ll tell you what, playing football was easy. Pastoring is much, much, much harder and difficult and more of a strain. Not necessarily a physical abuse that you get on the football field but the mental capacity and the level that you have to remain at mentally, with the studying and staying on top of things and the ministry itself and the leading and guiding of people.
And then just dealing with people and always taking on their burdens and trying to help lead them in the right directions. This country is a mess right now so our people are filled with a lot of issues. So playing football was real easy. It really was compared to what we’re doing right now.
LL: I want to ask you about your transformation to a very religious person. A lot of people know you had a lot of trouble with the law in the 80′s. … I know it turned around for you when you went to jail one night after protecting your teammate one night, Hart Lee Dykes. And no one came to pick you up.
What about that moment was different from the other moments you had gotten in trouble where you said, “This is it”?
IF: Well for many people like myself, many people who are Christians who have turned their lives over to Christ, in many cases that has happened through adversity because when it happens that you wind up in a place where the only thing or the only person or the only entity that we can trust is God. The only one we can depend on is God. And He’s always been there and He’s always been maintaining us and preserving us and protecting us and keeping us, we just didn’t know it. We were always depending on looking towards other things and other people.
But oftentimes if you were to ask the same questions to many Christians they will tell you, “I got saved through adversity.” And people sometimes frown on that but that’s what God has to allow us to get ourselves to. To a point where then only place we can turn to is him. Because at that point He got us to where we need to be because we hear Him at that point because everything else is null and void.
My wife wasn’t available. She wasn’t returning my calls because she was mad at me. My attorney wasn’t available. No one else was available. But when I called God and I prayed to Him, He answered my prayer. Not that he got me out of anything. But He spoke to me and let me know what it was I was supposed to be doing.
That yes, there was some consequences that I would have to go through as a result of my choices. But that’s with anybody. That’s a fixed principle that God has established. There are fixed principles in life and one of them is you reap what you sow. And so I was going to have to go through the consequences of my choices. But God would be there with me to sustain me and to get me through it without me having to drown in what it was I was going through. I would be able to overcome and be victorious and be better because of it.
LL: What’s it like for you when people come to you now that have had serious problems in their life? And how much do you use your past experience to say, “If anyone can come back, if I can come back from all the stuff that was going on in my life, then you definitely can to”?
IF: Well who better to tell someone or to share with someone or to help lift someone who is down? Who better to do that then someone who has been in that position before?
I mean if someone’s telling me about how good God is and what God can do and all you gotta do is trust God and they’ve never been through anything, then that’s not as believable than it is for someone who has been a drug addict or who has been locked up in prison or who has been through a divorce or who has been in some type of trouble or some type of catastrophe. Who has been delivered from that because of the power of God and I can look at them and I can see them that life has gotten better for them.
No problems don’t go away, we all still have problems but we’re able to, rather than sink in our storm we’re able to sail through our storm. We make it and when come out of it we haven’t lost anything as a result of going in it or going through it but we come out on the other side better and stronger and even more determined than when we went in.
And our faith grows and we mature in our spirituality and even when we become Christian, that’s how God grows us, he grows us through adversity.
Got a question or comment? E-mail him here
Liked this story? Click here for Lost Lettermen’s RSS feed and receive all our great content
Click here to start contributing to our wiki database of over 150,000 former college athletes and help us answer the question, “Where Are They Now?”