Elk River resident Tom Ness was recently named the Minnesota state director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes
by Eric Oslund
A native of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Tom Ness moved to Elk River in 1999 to become the executive pastor of a church in Otsego but that never seemed to be the final destination for him.
He was strong in his faith, but equally passionate about sports and always wanted to work with both. He even wrote down the dream of some day working full-time in sports ministry while attending school at Concordia College in Moorhead. So when the opportunity to do that presented itself, he took a leap of faith and went for it.
“I was just wrestling. I loved being at church, I’d been involved with churches and youth ministries for 24 years on staff and just felt God was calling me in a different direction, moving me in a different direction,” Ness said. “I also realized that, just in my own coaching, that I had a lot of impact on some teams and families and thought, ‘You know, I always wanted to do it, let’s just take a step of faith, leap out and go and do it.’”
The FCA has had as big of an impact on Ness’ life as almost anything else he could think of. It all started during his senior year of high school when a huddle – a ministry that is meeting on a school campus – started up in his school. He attended a couple of the meetings they put on, and really enjoyed his time there. Then he went off to college and wanted to surround himself with people who would have a positive impact on his life. He doesn’t remember whether he saw a flier hanging on the wall or just heard people talking about a huddle on campus, but he found out there was one and wanted to get involved.
“I knew I wanted to find a place I could grow my faith, and I loved sports, so it was natural to say, ‘Hey, there’s FCA, I’m going to show up there,’” Ness explained.
“As I stayed involved with it, I got involved with small groups and a bunch of guys who were a bunch of athletes at Concordia – we started doing a Bible study together. Probably the first time I really – not the first – but one time I really began to grow in my faith and challenge and figure out what it is I believe.”
Ness was eventually named president of the huddle on his college campus during his final year – they had huddle presidents back then – and he feels as though that experience caused him to grow more than any of his classes did. It provided him a chance to work with different people, lead people and wrestle with his group’s vision of what they wanted to see happen on campus.
He parted ways from the FCA for a number of years after college but kept his love for sports and coaching. That’s a big reason why he decided to reach back out to the FCA when he was at the church in Otsego to try to start up a sports camp in Elk River.
The Elk River FCA Sports Camp started five or six years ago, and it not only provides a chance for middle school students to interact with high school coaches and learn more about their sport, but it also gives high school students a chance to gain leadership experience.
“We started the camp for middle aged kids and high school coaches ran it,” Ness began. “The high school kids would then help run those core practices. Then we took some time in the middle of the day and we would do different small groups. Focusing on helping them grow in their faith – the high school kids would lead that part of it. So that’s why we started it, is to help high school kids have a leadership opportunity, equip them as leaders, and certainly wanted to help the middle school kids become better athletes and really wanted to introduce them to Jesus and help them grow in their faith as well. So that’s why we started it and why we’re still doing it.”
About three years ago, Ness really started to feel God pull him in a different direction, away from his church. So he reached out to Glenn Martin, FCA’s former state director, about opportunities working with them. Martin informed him that there could be an opening presenting itself in the near future, and when that ended up happening, Ness jumped all over it.
Martin then announced his retirement and Ness put his name into the group of candidates interviewing to replace him. He was chosen on Aug. 30 as the one to supersede Martin and named the state director for Minnesota.
It has been a long journey for Ness since he first was introduced to the FCA as a high school senior in Fergus Falls, but it has also been an impactful one. The FCA has had a big impact on his life, especially when he was younger, and now he wants to help kids across the state have that same kind of positive experience and support that he had.