For Victor Gordon, the ministry trumped career in baseball, law, politics
When Victor Gordon left Fort Dodge for Stanford University in 1969, months after leading the Dodgers to their first and only state baseball championship, his intention was to study law with an eye toward politics and to continue his baseball career at the college level – and maybe beyond.
But life, to quote John Lennon, “is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
For Gordon, life today does not involve the law, politics or baseball. All fell by the wayside when in the fall of his junior year at Stanford, he attended a Young Life training conference. The mission of Young Life is to introduce young people to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. Gordon had helped start a chapter in Fort Dodge.
“I had never considered being a pastor, but before the weekend was over, there was nothing else I could do with my life,” he said. “God made it crystal clear – there was only one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be a pastor. I think the Lord called me. I never doubted since that day, that it would be my calling in life.
“Rev. Earl Palmer, then pastor of First Presbyterian of Berkeley, was a speaker at that weekend, which seems so long ago and yet, to me, as if it was yesterday. Palmer’s style and model of ministry attracted me, and the Lord used him to call me into the pastorate. Shortly after that milestone weekend, I made an appointment with Palmer in his office at Berkeley. I am sure he has long since forgotten our meeting, but what he said marked me forever. After I shared my story, he affirmed God’s work in my life and offered this piece of counsel: ‘A pastor has to love two things. He has to love to study and he has to love people.'”
After graduation from Stanford in 1973 and marriage to Sue Sjurson, Gordon enrolled that fall at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and was ordained a minister in the American Baptist Association after earning his Master of Divinity in 1975. His ordination took place at First Baptist Church in Fort Dodge with Pastor Vernon Pearson leading the services. Four years later, he earned his doctor of philosophy at Fuller. Gordon’s 45-year pastoral career includes work as campus pastor and professor of biblical studies and theology at the University of Sioux Falls and at Wheaton College in Illinois, and pastorships at First Baptist Church in Wichita, Beachpoint Church of Huntington Beach, California, and Kenwood Baptist Church in Cincinnati.
In 2013, Gordon returned to Wichita where he is founder, president and lead theologian for the non-profit Gospel Depth. He is an elder pastor of City Life Church, which merged four years ago with the First Baptist Church he had headed from 1988 to 2000.
“Gospel Depth was started several years ago to facilitate a capstone chapter in my ministry,” he said, “an attempt to devote all my time, energy and effort to being a theologian to and for the church. My focus now is on addressing the problem identified by both John Stott and J.I. Packer: ‘The American church is a mile wide and an inch deep’. The Lord has richly blessed the early years of this ministry. I’m certainly working ‘full-time’ with more to do than I can accomplish. My time is filled with preaching and teaching, working with churches, pastors, leadership teams and congregational leaders, researching and writing on important theological topics for the contemporary church, and serving as a theologian to the church in Haiti.”
Gordon takes particular pride in its work in Haiti, which he calls “one of the neediest places on earth. One of the most important roles Gospel Depth plays in Haiti is to work with the Christian University of Northern Haiti (the leading Christian College in Haiti) and the seminary it houses. We are hard at work encouraging, developing, mentoring and teaching the gifted young leaders at the university and the churches so the Lord can use them to build up the church and impact Haiti powerfully with the Gospel and the Kingdom.”
Gordon said he has made one to five trips to Haiti over each of the past 30 years; he returned from his most recent trip in February.
Sports were a big part of the growing-up years in Fort Dodge of Gordon and his younger brother, Wayne, who were the sons of Lyle and Deleina Gordon. Their house on Avenue E in west Fort Dodge was across the street from Lutheran Hospital (now Trinity Regional Medical Center) and just up the hill from the Chicago Northwestern railroad yards where their father worked as a yard clerk. Their mother was the first Welcome Wagon hostess for Fort Dodge and later worked fulltime for Ridgewood Lanes until she was 85. Vic graduated from FDSH in 1969 and Wayne in 1971.
Rev. Wayne Gordon is also a pastor — founding the Lawndale Community Church on Chicago’s Westside after graduating from Wheaton College — where he played football all four years — and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. He received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has played a key role over four decades in community development of an area once among the 15th poorest neighborhoods in the nation when he arrived there in 1975.
Victor said, “He has a much more spectacular ministry than mine. We are pretty close.”
Wayne said, “Vic is a wonderful person and I am so blessed to have him as a brother.”
The leadership that Gordon has displayed in his years in the ministry were on display in his early years in Fort Dodge. On the gridiron, he was the Dodgers’ quarterback under Coach Roger Higgins his sophomore and junior seasons before missing most of his senior season because of an injury. On the baseball diamond, he was one of the first freshman to play varsity for the legendary Dodger baseball coach Ed McNeil – playing first base his freshman year and then catcher for his next three seasons. He was among three senior starters — with Bruce Edmundson and Dave Markley — on the 1969 Dodger team that won the state championship and was named first-team All-State.
Tom Walters pitched the championship game in Ames, striking out 11 in an 8-4 victory over Cedar Rapids Kennedy. Gordon led the Dodgers in their three state tournament games, batting .500 with two home runs and four RBI. “Vic basically willed us. He was a senior, a captain and our catcher,” said Steve Arnold, then a sophomore. “He was the guy, and everyone knew it.”
Another senior-class teammate, Andy Wiles, said: “He was a true leader all through his junior high and high school years in all he did. You could tell he would be successful in no matter which career path he took. The ministry work was his calling.” (Other seniors on that team were Jim Porter, Brian Spore, Dave Tuttle and Sam Boutchee.)
McNeil, who died in 1991, played a major role in his life, Gordon said.
“Ed — he was an amazing coach,” he said. “I learned so much from him. Way beyond baseball. His big care, he wanted to coach guys to become people of character — never quit, work hard, do your best, always play by the rules, no show(boating), always concentrate and buckle down. Strict disciplinarian. He was a very strong Christian and got involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and became FCA Man of the Year in Iowa. He was a hard disciplinarian. He told me later, ‘I have never been harder on a player than I was on you.’ He yelled at me a lot. I sometimes tried to get by with what I could. Everything he said to me, I needed.”
Earlier in the season, when the Dodgers lost badly on the road at Waterloo East, Gordon recalled, “He was not happy. He chewed the whole team out. He thought we had potential, he just reamed us out. The seniors in the back of the bus said, ‘We’re committed, we want to win the state championship’ and said to him, ‘When we get back to Fort Dodge after we win state, can we shag the drag?’ ‘Are you crazy?’ Ed responded. ‘If you win the state championship, you can shag the drag.’ That very night we came home from Ames with the victory, we shagged the drag in the team bus with Ed in the front seat.”
Gordon was the first member of his family to attend college when he earned an academic scholarship to Stanford.
“I thought it offered the best academic/baseball combination I could find. I played baseball there for a year, but after that I determined I wasn’t going to make the major leagues and playing baseball took too much time and energy during the season — and in the summer where you were expected to play semi-pro.”
So after baseball had played a major role in most of his young life, Gordon walked away from the sport with the intent to become an attorney and a politician, until that night at a Young Life conference in Santa Cruz when he decided he would become a minister. He was active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Fort Dodge and helped establish the Fort Dodge Young Life program in the summer between his sophomore and junior years.
When he came back home for Christmas in 1971 and attended a Young Life meeting, he met the woman who would become his wife — Sue Sjurson, who was two years behind him in high school. He had coached both of her brothers in the summer baseball program. She was attending Iowa State University when Gordon graduated from Stanford and they were married July 28, 1973. The day after they were married, they rented a U-Haul to head to Pasadena where Gordon started classes at Fuller Seminary. (Sue later completed her teaching degree at the University of Sioux Falls; she taught elementary school in Wichita and California.)
Today, they are parents of four children: Joshua Gordon, a fireman and sound engineer in Wichita, married to Linette; Nathan Gordon, an entrepreneur who co-founded SANS Meal Bar in the Los Angeles area; Jonathan Gordon, associate pastor in the City Life church in Wichita, married to Becca, and Joy Gordon Wilde, a public-school principal in the Greater Boston area, married to Dan. Victor and Sue have seven grandchildren ranging in age from 1 to 9. Both of Victor’s parents are deceased, as is Sue’s father, Paul Sjurson. Her mother Marian is 92 and lives in a retirement facility in Wichita.
Gordon learned to play handball at the Fort Dodge YMCA and still plays today.
Seven years ago, just after starting his Gospel Depth ministry, he suffered a major heart attack while in Wichita.
“I had what they call a widow maker — 100 percent blockage. There were no warning signs, it just hit me. It felt like a really strong hand trying to squeeze the life out of my heart, while someone else was stabbing it with a butcher knife trying to take my heart out. I have friends who tell me that if this guy — cardiologist Dr. Assem Farhat — had not been on call that night, I wouldn’t have lived. We’re friends now.”
Gordon, who turns 70 in about three months, plans to continue to grow Gospel Depth.
“It’s in my wheelhouse. All through my career, I’ve felt the best thing I could do is to bring depth to theology. The truth of the Christian church is what helps transform people.”