When I was thirty-one, I entered Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. to begin my seminary education in preparation for preparing myself for being a pastor. The SEBTS campus is one of the most beautiful places in the world to me. Ancient oaks and tall longleaf pines are in abundance as well as a plethora of ornamental bushes. It is a peaceful campus where one can get alone and study or just simply read the Bible. I loved studying theology and doctrine in addition to church history and Old and New Testament. But, I did not spend all of my time in the books. There was another activity which I truly loved and enjoyed. Golf.
I had never played a game of golf in my life until I went to seminary. The school owned a beautiful little nine-hole golf course that was nestled among the hills of North Carolina. It was only short distance to the course so, being invited by a friend, I decided to try my hand at a game that simply was not part of my growing up although I always enjoyed watching the game on t.v. and reading about it in magazines. My friend was another student named Robert Roberts. He was from Florida and had played golf for several years. My uncle gave me an old set of golf clubs and an ancient golf bag so I was set to play with my buddy. The seminary would let students play for fifty cents and that made it affordable to a couple of their students.
A couple of afternoons a week we would go and play, and to my surprise, I was naturally pretty good at the game. My friend didn't want to believe that I was a raw beginner because things just sort of fell into place for me. In only a few weeks I was competitive with him on that beautiful little course and completely addicted to the game of golf. I often thought of what might have been if I could have started playing when a young person. Oh, well....something that could have was probable something that wouldn't have. Anyway, God had given me my life's work and golf was getting in the way even though I could not see it at the time.
Several years later while I was the Pastor of Metter Baptist Church in Metter, GA, I was hitting practice balls in the back yard of the church pastorium trying to land balls in a sand box that had been constructed for our girls. I was using a chipping wedge to lift them high and land then as near as possible to the sand box. Doing pretty good! As I was making my way across the yard to retrieve the practice balls, the Lord spoke to me and hit me right between the eyes with this question: "Bill, did I call you to preach or play golf." It was one of those moments when you realized who was talking and why He was asking that question. I stopped dead still in the yard (I can take you to the spot) and said: "You called me to preach" to which He replied, "Then I expect you had better get after it." I was shaken by the experience as I was when He called me to preach. So, what did I do? I picked up the practice balls, put them in the pocket on the side of my case, took the clubs into the house, pulled down the steps to the attic, climbed the steps and deposited the clubs in our attic. I never played another game and never picked up those clubs again to play a game. Years later, I visited a driving range at the invitation of a church member and, in the process of hitting too many balls, injured my shoulder. I think that was God reaffirming how serious he was about His call on my life. That shoulder injury was painful to say the least. I won't do that again. He knows human nature and He knew that there was a big possibility that I would get deeply involved with golf again. There was too much He wanted me to do in the ministry and there was no time for that diversion.
I think any person who is called by the Lord into the ministry to serve Him must be totally dedicated to that call. Too many in today's world don't feel that level of call and commitment. But, if one is going to be dedicated to the ministry, there is no room for diversions that take them away from that service. I am not saying that some hobby or diversion like golf is wrong. I am simply saying that one should not let it take over their lives to the point that ministry suffers because of it. My diversion was and is dove hunting and bass fishing. I always loved both sports and they were good for me because they are seasonal and there was no way I could let them totally dominate me the way golf was doing.
When I tell some of my friends about the experience in the back yard and how I immediately put my golf gear in the attic and never played again, they look at me and say...."I don't know how you did that." The only thing that caused me to do as I did was that unmistakable warning from the Lord that afternoon in the back yard of our home. When He speaks, that's the end of the issue. It should be that was with all the issues of life and the world would be a better place. I have no regrets about my decision, but I do really enjoy watching a good golf game on t.v. especially the Masters.
William F. Harrell