Gary Cramer (ThM 89, DMin 95)

Alumni Spotlight

Editor’s Note: The Alabama Crimson Tide won the NCAA College Football National Championship in January, 2016. DTS Alum Gary Cramer (ThM 89, DMin 95) works with the team through Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

DTS Alumni: What is your present ministry or employment?

GC: My full-time ministry is with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). I am the Director of FCA at the University of Alabama where I have been since December of 2005.  I served in two pastorates after leaving DTS. I was the Associate Pastor at The Willowdale Chapel in Kennett Square, PA from 1989-1996 and the Senior Pastor of Shades Mountain Bible Church from 1996-2003 when I came on staff with FCA full-time. I love the local church and have also served since 2010 as the primary Teaching Elder at Steel City Community Church in Birmingham.

In addition, about 6 years ago I was asked to serve on the faculty at the University of Alabama in the Department of Human Environmental Science. I teach a “Life Transitions” 3 credit hour course that freshman athletes are required to take. 120 student-athletes take my course each year. It was my doctorate from DTS that opened this door.

DTS Alumni: How do you teach truth and love well?

GC: Most of my days ministering to the athletes, coaches, and staff at the U of Alabama is about “washing feet.” By becoming the lead servant God has afforded incredible opportunities for ministry. Each week, I have at least 50 student-athletes and coaches engaged in small group or one-to-one discipleship studies. At the U of Alabama, our coaches and athletes have the opportunity to be equipped in the Inductive Bible Study Method and know that the number one rule of Bible Study is context, context, context!

DTS Alumni: What are some fond memories from your DTS days?

GC: I have so many memories! I love DTS and the investment that it has made in my life! As a result I have sent a number of young men that way to further their theological education. There is not a day that goes by that DTS is not referenced in something I say or do. From Prof. Hendricks telling us “it would take about 5 years before God could use us because that’s how long it would take for us to get over our education,” to sitting in the front of every class “Dr. P” taught with dreams of becoming a man who could let his Bible fly open and begin teaching it in its context, to Dr. Hannah telling us there would be “three things that will blow us away when we get to Heaven: 1) Who’s there, 2) Who’s NOT there, and most of all, 3) that We Are there!” Every day, the things I caught at DTS are found in the fiber of my ministry.

DTS Alumni: What is the greatest contribution DTS has made to help prepare you to teach truth and love well?

GC: DTS taught me to strive for excellence in all things. Who doesn’t remember Prof. Hendricks telling us that, “it ought to be criminal to make the Bible boring!” From Reg Grant and the media department teaching us how to make “kodalith slides,” to the way the seminary kept the grounds, excellence became a core fiber of my being in ministry. That has served me well in working with a head coach who demands excellence from everyone, including me, everyday.

At the same time, I caught a lot of what passion looks like from the life of Prof. Ron Blue, and what a shepherd’s heart looks like from my doctoral advisor, John Reed.

DTS Alumni: What was it like to minister to the team after the loss to Ole Miss and through the games that followed? How did you encourage the players personally and spiritually?

GC: One of the threads that we drill into those players who are followers of Jesus Christ is that “the Crystal Trophy isn’t big enough!” (I realize they have changed the trophy for the National Championship, but it still works for us!) When we lost to Ole Miss I told the guys that nothing changed for us. Our job remained to get to those meetings early, strap on the pads, and get back to work so that we might receive applause at the end of the day from an “Audience of One.” 

DTS Alumni: What are some unique challenges to ministering to a National Championship team? What is the primary focus of your ministry to them?

GC: I think the number one issue we face in the flock I shepherd is the same as my teammates in ministry who are shepherding the little country church in upstate New York or the mega-church in Southern California. My flock just wears crimson and white. Our primary calling is to help folks find their identity and worth in Christ, and His performance at Calvary, rather than in our own performance or failures. Misplaced identity is likely proportionate to success, but apart from Christ, that identity is fleeting. I remind our athletes to remember that, “everyone puts the pads away, hangs the cleats up, and puts their high tops away at some point.” I am always asking them, “Who will they be then?”

At the same time I remind our coaches that placing their identity in the performance of a group of individuals between the ages of 18-22 is pretty risky and a recipe for shipwreck if that is where they are finding their value and significance.

DTS Alumni: What does a typical week look like for you with the team?

GC: Most of my one-to-one discipleship meetings happen in the mornings. I also teach class in the mornings on Tuesday/Thursday. Lunch is always Chick-Fil-A and the Word at my office which overlooks the practice fields and facility. (Chick-Fil-A provides food for all my events.) Afternoons are spent at practice. Evenings are spent hosting investigative studies for athletes who may not even believe God exists or in weekly fellowships with the athletes.  I have to make myself step away every now and then, as football is seven days a week from August-January and, as soon as I return from our bowl game, we pour our focus into baseball and, before you know it, spring football.

DTS Alumni: Lastly, what can our alumni learn from your experience about how they can minister to college students in their area?

GC: Be all in to whatever God has called you to do! Value everyone that God puts under your charge.  I spend as much time pursuing our walk-on athletes in their walk with Christ as I do our five-star quarterbacks.  I think our ministry has been highly impactful with some of the so-called ‘stars’ of the team because they see me love the walk-ons and managers in the same way.  Servant leadership brings great credibility.  Don’t just spend your time with the power people. I know the names and serve the men and women who change our trash liners at Bama. Order your life and ministry around “glorifying God by loving people authentically, serving people relentlessly, engaging people relevantly, so you can impact people eternally.”