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When CMR Meets the NFL Pt. I

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Chris Grace: Well, welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. It's really good to have you here with us. We have Tim, a special guest today.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh a good friend, an old friend of ours. He's been on before and it's our pleasure to introduce you to Dave Wilson. Dave is one of the co-founders and teaching pastors at Kensington Community Church, a national multi-campus church that hosts more than 14,000 attendees every weekend.

Chris Grace: That's a lot of people.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's a lot of people and he's in a really cool place. He's from my hometown Detroit, Michigan, yay. I'm so glad the Red Wings finally won a game. How tragic is that to say? They have been featured speakers at family life weekend [inaudible] conferences, they also host their own conferences all across the country. They have three grown sons. They're one of our favorite marriage experts. They have a brand new book called Vertical Marriage: The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage. So Dave, one fun fact before we get on to Kensington Church, a wonderful church in the heart of Detroit, is it you ... if I get this correctly, you are the longest or second longest running chaplain in the national football league with the Detroit Lions?

Dave Wilson: The only thing that matters about that is I know this stat is true, I am the losingest chaplain in the history of the NFL. I am not kidding you. I've had people email, tweet me, they looked it up. I didn't even look it up, they looked it up and said you have lost 318 games in 33 seasons.

Tim Muehlhoff: No way.

Dave Wilson: So then that I know is verified. So yes, it's me, my prayers don't work. I don't know why they kept me. I pray for a victory every single weekend and obviously I don't have a direct connection.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right, and they especially don't work in Green Bay.

Dave Wilson: They worked last year. Hey, we beat them last year.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's right. What a way to go out. You were chaplain ... how many years were you chaplain?

Dave Wilson: 33 seasons.

Tim Muehlhoff: Man, that's great Dave. That's awesome.

Dave Wilson: That is 12 coaches.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, you're kidding.

Dave Wilson: Three general managers, four presidents.

Chris Grace: Besides your prayer life, what other things did you learn during that time?

Dave Wilson: I learned how to deal with difficulties and trials. I developed perseverance. No, actually it was a phenomenal career with them and winning football games was really ... In the scope of what my wife and I, Anne and I did for the team, it was probably ninth or 10th on the list. Obviously, I'm a competitor, we all want to win, and I wanted to win as bad as anybody but we were there to win more important things. Men and women to Christ, help their marriages, build them to be disciples of Jesus. Now, if you want to talk about that, there were incredible victories in that area over 33 seasons.

Chris Grace: Dave give us an example because I think listeners would love to hear just an insight. I think professional football and any professional sport has a lot of interest for people and you have, kind of, that front row seat so why don't you indulge us with a short story?

Dave Wilson: Yeah, here's a quick one. 2006 I think, or 2007 we had three quarterbacks come into our locker room. Two of them, John Kitna was our starter, and Josh McCown was his backup. Both of them came from other teams and they came in as on-fire believers. In fact, the first day of training camp John put his arm around me. We had talked several times before that day, but he put his arm around me, we were looking at the locker room, and he literally looks down at me because he's like 6'3" and I'm like 5'10" ... I used to be 5'10", now I'm 5'8". But he looks down at me and he says, "Tell me about our mission field." Literally those were his words, and I'm like oh my gosh, this guy gets it, and he did boy. He knew I'm not here just to be a quarterback, I'm here almost like the apostle Paul. I'm on a missionary journey, I'm supposed to lead people to Christ.

His partner Josh McCown, the backup, man he was on fire and John was like this intense evangelist and Josh was just this joy bringer and together those two had such an impact they lead their third string quarterback Dan Orlovsky to Christ. He's now on ESPN Radio broadcasted all around the country, college games. I did Dan and Tiffany's wedding. That season, 2007, we baptized 27 players and their wives in one season. I really think it was because John and Josh and Dan really said, "This isn't Dave's ministry, this isn't the chaplain's ministry, this is our ministry. We're here to win men and women to Christ," and they did. God used them like ... unbelievable. It was like a revival broke out that year.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well Dave, let me ask ... Let's stay on this topic for a second. What gave them credibility with the other players that a life altering decision that they were willing to make? What kind of credibility did they have and how did they foster and cultivate that credibility?

Dave Wilson: I would say one word, integrity. They lived it. I remember our bible study that year just grew and grew. We had it in the basement of John's house on Monday nights. Typical bible study, you know I've been there a long time, would be, I don't know eight, 10, 12, maybe players plus wives. In that season it grew from maybe eight or 10 to 50, 60. People were driving two cars to get there to get seats for a bible study. I was like what is going on? Several times I can remember looking at a player who walked in the basement and I'd be sort of surprised that he's there, he hadn't shown much spiritual interest. I remember asking one guy, a defensive back, I said, "Hey man, glad you're here. What brought you here tonight?"

He points at John and he goes, "That dude lives it. That dude lives it and I want to know what he's got because I want it." He just pointed at him. I remember one time I was talking to Calvin Johnson who ... I was talking to him after practice one day and he said, "Dude, you should have been here at practice." He goes, "Kitna blew up."

I go, "What?"

"He lost it man. A linebacker grabbed me and was throwing me down. We're not allowed to hit and this guy hit me and John came running at him and started screaming at him and telling him you're not allowed to hit Cal, blah, blah, blah."

And I go, "Wow, what happened?"

He goes, "Here's the thing that was amazing." He goes, "I ran over to John afterwards and I went, dude, you lost your mind and you never cursed. I never heard you curse. I've never seen a guy do that in my life, that's amazing." He walked away.

Again, it's just one of those moments where it just reminded me how powerful our life is. It's more powerful than our words. It's just like, do we live what we're saying? And those guys did and people were drawn to it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Dave, was John married?

Dave Wilson: Yeah, John was married to Jenny. They're still married, they've got kids. You want to hear another great story. The day he got here, he called me up and said, "Can you find me a babysitter? Every Monday night is a date night for me and Jenny and I want the same sitter every week." It's one of the best marriages I've ever seen in the NFL. I've seen a lot of them and John was just one of them, it was just awesome. Part of it was he was committed to not just playing football but being a man of God and a husband and a dad.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's great. So you would say that their marriage was scrutinized almost as much as he was scrutinized?

Dave Wilson: Oh, definitely. I don't know if you guys know this, the divorce rate in the NFL is 85%.

Tim Muehlhoff: You're kidding.

Dave Wilson: It's astounding. Often it's after the career because so often the guy gets his identity from what he does and then when he's not doing it he sort of falls apart and wives, after that, leave. So to have a great marriage in that business is really rare and people follow it. They want to know why. How do you make this work? Obviously, Anne and I taught a lot on marriage in our Detroit Lions small group bible study.

Tim Muehlhoff: Man, that's great. Hey, being a lifelong Detroit Lions fan, seriously it is great to know the imprint that you had on not only the football players but you've had a huge imprint on Detroit itself. Tell us a little bit about Kensington Church, the genesis of it and then kind of the impact of it. I think listeners would be fascinated to see what started off pretty small just really took on huge proportions and influence within the city.

Dave Wilson: Yeah, we started like you said, pretty small, in 1990 with about 43 people in our little core group. When I say 43 we counted dogs, cats, you name it because we had nobody. We sort of had a dream, Steve Andrews and myself, and Mark Nelson, three of us and our wives had a dream to start a church that would reach people that don't go to church. It was just sort of our goal. 28 years later it's still sort of the thing we're trying to do is reach un-churched men that might not ... We love other churches. We didn't want to draw people away from other churches, we wanted to reach people that didn't come. That's pretty amazing, God blessed, from day one. Our first service had over 1,000 people, just out of nowhere. Again, as I look back on it, our first service was in a middle school on a Sunday but on Friday, the Friday before that, there was a article that we thought would be a little, tiny article in the religion section of the newspaper because a religion person came out and interviewed us. We pick up our paper on Friday morning, the Detroit Free Press, I think 6 million subscribers at that time, it's on the front page. Front page, I'll never forget. It's got an article about the four greatest athletes in Detroit, Barry Sanders, Steve Yzerman, Joe Dumars and ... who am I missing? Baseball? Yeah, Allen Trammell.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, Allen Trammell.

Dave Wilson: And then, right below that article, new church starts in Oakland County, Kensington and there's a big picture and this ... To them it was a novel idea. Wait, you're going to start a church for people that don't go to church? What's that mean? What's that look like? So people came curious and it never stopped growing. It was just ... we weren't ready for it, we weren't prepared for it. When we started we were scrambling from day one. We moved out of that school in probably three or four months to a bigger school and a bigger school, we just kept moving. Our motto back then was if you can find us, you can join us. We would move all over the city to find a facility big enough to hold the crowds and it just kept growing. It's been, in many ways, a dream come true.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh Dave, that's great. And, of course, you've been married to Anne for how long?

Dave Wilson: 38 years.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's great. Speaking for Family Life, how long?

Dave Wilson: I think 29. 28 or 29 years. We're almost coming on three decades.

Tim Muehlhoff: Can you explain just a little bit to our listeners, Family Life marriage conferences and the effect that it's had on your marriage traveling across the country speaking on marriage?

Dave Wilson: Anne and I actually went to a Family Life Weekend to Remember two weeks before our wedding. We were in college at the time. I was 22, she was 19. She'd just finished her freshman year, I'd just graduated from college. We were told by the people that were pouring into us spiritually, "You cannot get married until you go to this conference because you need God's game plan for marriage," so we just said, "Okay." We went to a ballroom at a hotel in Chicago and sat through the weekend and honestly, we say this now that we speak at the same conference, we say we sat there all weekend and didn't take a note. We didn't. We were that couple that thought it can't be that hard, why are there people writing notes and laughing and struggling. We honestly sat there, thought well, we love each other, we love Jesus, we're both sort of perfect, it'll be great. At least I thought I was perfect. Then we got married.

Everybody has that experience. You get married and it's like oh my gosh this is one of the hardest things I've ever done. We did, we pulled that manual out like the second month and started going back through it because we really didn't listen that well, and we started reading through it and next thing you know we were teaching it at the University of Nebraska, our first job where I was the chaplain of the Nebraska Cornhuskers athletic teams. We had married athletes that were juniors and seniors in a small group bible study and we taught them the Family Life Weekend to Remember conference. That's where we learned it, after we had to teach it.

Then a few years later Family Life called and asked if we would speak for it, so now we speak around the country doing really the same content from when we went to it. It's been updated a little bit. As you guys know, when you teach it, you learn it much better than anybody that's listening to it. It's been a joy. It's been a real joy. It's great stuff.

Tim Muehlhoff: Unpack a little bit for our listeners, when you said you went from basically sitting there, you're in love, you're engaged, you're about to get married, to then marriage happened and then it was a struggle, kind of list for us, what were some of the things that were a struggle those first couple of years?

Dave Wilson: The biggest ... I mean, we had a lot of struggles. I know a lot of couples do. We could not resolve conflict. I didn't know it at the time but I avoid conflict and my wife sort of likes conflict so she would like chase me around the house trying to get me to engage and I would just ... I'm not kidding, I would go to another room, I'd get in my car, drive away, we would have fights, I just ... I didn't know it then but I look back now and I really had a sort of belief that conflict is bad, you avoid it at all costs.

If you were looking at my life you'd be like I know where he got that. I was so naïve. I have no idea why I thought that but I was ... I grew in a home with two alcoholic parents and a dad who had affairs, took me on trips when I was four and five years old with his girlfriends while he was still married to my mom. The alcohol and adultery broke up their marriage when I was seven years old. The only time I ever saw my mom and dad together they were fighting and it was loud and abusive and bad and it ended in divorce, so there you go. I get married and I just avoid all conflict.

It got so bad in our first year of marriage ... and by the way, like I said, we're in ministry, so every day I'm trying to lead people to Christ and lead bible studies and yet I'd go home and we could not get along. I'm not kidding, one night I got out of bed, two or three in the morning, we weren't sleeping, we were fighting. I had enough, I'm leaving the room, I go downstairs by myself. I open up the bible, help me God type deal, and I end up in Philippians 1:20-21. I know you guys are bible scholars so you know what that says, right?

Tim Muehlhoff: I know the Latin. I know it more in Latin than I do ...

Dave Wilson: Yeah, I'm sure you do. Even though it's in Greek, I know you know the Latin.

Tim Muehlhoff: Okay, let's cut that part.

Dave Wilson: No, you'll recognize this. This is the verse where Paul says, "To live is Christ, to die is gain. I'm not kidding, I'm sitting there on the floor reading this and I look up at Heaven and I literally say, "God, I'd rather die than be married to her. Please take me home, this is horrible." Here's the worst part, Anne comes walking in like a minute after that and we had this little agreement that we would share anything and everything we've ever said or thought.

Tim Muehlhoff: Where did that come from? Bad advice.

Chris Grace: That is a really bad idea.

Dave Wilson: We didn't know it was a bad idea until that night because she said, "Hey, what are you doing?" And I said to her, I said, "Well, I just prayed and asked God to take my life rather than be married to you."

Chris Grace: And how'd that go over?

Dave Wilson: That went over really well. We tell that now at conferences and people laugh and I'm like yeah, go ahead and laugh at one of the worst moments of my life. It sounds funny now but in that moment it was real. It was so bad I was thinking I'd rather be out of here than work this thing out and so we had a long way to go. That's chapter one of our book. That's where the book starts is like man, we were done in year one, 38 years later we have discovered a secret that I think a lot of people are never told and try to apply that every day in our marriage but that's where we started. Honestly, the Weekend to Remember content, the content of what God has designed marriage to be, has literally life changing and legacy shifting.

Chris Grace: Dave, for some of our listeners that are newly married, some have been married for a while, some are, frankly, are single, but what have you learned and what would you share if you had one minute from that time and what you now know? If you just had a couple sitting in front of you thinking about marriage, now in that same position that you found yourself in, what advice would you give them now? They can't make it to a marriage conference let's say, so they just want to hear hope. What is it? What would you share?

Dave Wilson: Well, I would start here. I think the biggest misconception in marriage and actually in any relationship is that we tend to think that the person we marry will make us happy. It's the Jerry Maguire syndrome. It's like you complete me and everybody thinks that. You watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette ... I never watch those shows, I've just heard people talk about them. But no really, if you watch those or any ... People are trying to find the one and then they find the one and then they get married and just like Anne and I, you're disappointed at some point. You're like, "Wow, I'm not as happy as I thought I would be and I married this person because I thought they'd make me happy." So often we hear people say, "I think I married the wrong person," and we would answer, "No, you're looking in the wrong place."

The secret is you're never going to find life from a person or amount of money or some pleasure horizontally on this earth. There is a need in your life that is only satisfied vertically through your creator and so when you turn your eyes off your spouse and look vertical and find out, oh my gosh, God meets that need in an intimate, spiritual, sort of deep way. I now come back to my marriage totally different. I'm not there to get from my spouse, I'm there to give because I have something to give. I'm overflowing with something that the creator gives me, can fill me up with, and that sort of secret changes everything.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well let me ask this though Dave. As a person in Christian ministry heading into marriage, wouldn't you have said that you already theoretically knew that, that nothing could fill you except God and he's the ultimate source of satisfaction? What was it about marriage that just completely showed you that that was all theoretical and now you're face to face with wanting God to take your life?

Dave Wilson: Yeah, no. I would have said exactly that Tim. I would have said, "Yeah, I say this, I preach this." I think when I got in ... and I think we all experience this. When you get in the middle of a relationship that you're almost demanding intimacy from that person and you expect it for many reasons ... We all expect that when we get married, it's just going to be oh my gosh, this woman, this man is going to give me the cravings of my heart. I think we almost ... it's like we unplug, in a sense, from Jesus, from God, even though we say we're getting our life from him, and we take that plug and we plug it into our spouse like come on, fill me up, give me what I deserve. Love me, respect me, have sex with me, all the things that I want, I'm not getting those from God, I'm going to get them from you.

I think honestly most people really don't even realize they've done that and so when their spouse doesn't do that they think okay, this doesn't work, she doesn't work, I'm going to find another one because I married the wrong person. They don't go back and say, wait, what would it look like to actually live out what I've said, that I'm going to find life in Christ? What is that? How is that? How does he fill me in such a way that ... I mean I still want a great marriage and I still want her in my life but I don't need and I'm not going to demand that she is the source of my happiness, he is, she isn't.

Tim Muehlhoff: C.S. Lewis wrote about that Dave. He said the fool's way is believing I think marriage really can fill me up, it's just I'm married to the wrong person. Swap out that person, I still think this marriage relationship can fill me up completely, I just happened to marry the wrong person, it's time for me to move on. I think Satan loves to feed that kind of narrative because then you're bouncing from partner to partner to partner looking for that elusive, all encompassing relationship.

Dave Wilson: Right. Again, it's a horizontal search and no person, horizontally, is ever going to do it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Which, of course leads us to the great title of your book, Vertical Marriage: The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage. We're going to do this, we're going to kind of wrap things up a little bit here but what we want to do in the next podcast is focus on your book. What's interesting about your book is that you start with this kind of interesting story about a surprise that happened to you and Anne one time during a wedding anniversary. We'd like to kind of hear that story. We want to turn our listeners to, you have a great website, It's awesome, you can check everything about you as a couple, upcoming events, there's your book, Vertical Marriage, they can check it out. Dave we'd like to have you back and talk about the book and talk about your experiences and this one particular experience that really left an imprint on your marriage.