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Uncommon Evangelism

Uncommon Evangelism - Tony and Lauren Dungy pose for a photo in front of a fountain
Marissa Moss Photography
How Lauren and Tony Dungy use every opportunity to share the Gospel

When Lauren and Tony Dungy serve breakfast on any given morning, their kids may find a new child joining them. No longer a surprise to find a new face at the table, the Dungy kids learned a long time ago that serving others is what the Dungy family is all about. In their home, that includes caring for foster children who need a safe place to stay—even if they arrive in the middle of the night. This was their uncommon evangelism.

Sure, the sons of this former NFL player and coach love to practice football drills with their dad, but they know the game isn’t his first priority. They see how Tony serves his wife and children, how he patiently talks with fans and how he’s happy to share information about adoption and foster care with interested couples.

Their mother also models service to others. The kids see what Lauren does for children in need. They watch her run races wearing Scripture-emblazoned T-shirts, looking for opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

“As soon as we say we accept Christ, He could take us to heaven,” Tony says. “But I think He leaves us here to point other people to Him—to show people what it really means to live for Christ. And we have opportunities to do that every day that we don’t even think about.”

Recognizing those opportunities to serve others in the name of Jesus is the point of Tony and Lauren’s latest book, Uncommon Influence: Saying yes to a purposeful life

“We can influence others on a daily basis,” Lauren adds. “We can influence people inside our home; we can influence people in the schools and the neighborhood and the community. It doesn’t have to be a big idea or a large platform. It can be just a small thing that influences others for the kingdom.”

Most people don’t think they can have a significant impact on others, Tony says, but they’re wrong. “You do have influence, so let’s use that influence in the right way.”

A large platform  

Tony and Lauren’s platform is significant. Tony led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory in 2007, the first such win for a black head coach. He was also the first NFL head coach to lead his teams to the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons. And his platform didn’t end when he retired from the NFL in 2009; he currently appears as an analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America.” 

As a couple, the Dungys are committed to using Tony’s fame and national platform to support faith-based causes. Whether Tony is speaking at the March for Life rally or defending Florida state legislation that helps nonprofits serving fathers, Tony makes it clear that he is serving the Lord.

Together, the couple have adopted eight kids and have cared for several children in foster care, as well as having had three biological children. They continue being there for kids, even though Tony and Lauren are now in their 60s. Lauren also serves as the vice president of the Dungy Family Foundation and is a sought-after speaker.

Yet the same fame that led to a large platform also has its downsides. In an article for the nonprofit All Pro Dad, Tony wrote that when his oldest daughter was in middle school, she didn’t want to be in public with him because of people’s interruptions. Even now, moving through an airport can be an exercise in patience.

“It’s not always convenient when someone wants to talk football, especially when you’re in a hurry to go somewhere,” Lauren says. “At times, you don’t want all eyes on you. But God has placed us in this arena where Tony is recognized just about everywhere we go. So we have to use that opportunity to point others to Christ.”

A small platform

Tony and Lauren emphasize that you don’t need a large platform to influence others for God as a couple. What you need, Lauren points out, is to be obedient when God places opportunities before you.

“God gives everyone a platform,” Lauren says. “God gives everyone gifts. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t share them with others? Not everyone can sing; not everyone is artistic or is able to work with children. But we all have gifts, so we should use those gifts to build the body of Christ. I love it when people recognize and understand the gifts they have and then start using them.”

Tony and Lauren’s uncommon evangelism in God’s kingdom isn’t confined to the national level or to when they’re together. For example, Lauren likes to go running with a group of other women in her community. “We decided that we’re a Christian running group,” she says, “and we want to bless everyone we come in contact with.”

When the group is out on the trail, Lauren says, they pray for the people around them. “When people walk by and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ we invite them to join us, or we ask for prayer requests. We’ve never had anyone turn us down.”

An opportunity to share Christ might be as small as a short conversation in a barber’s chair. Tony remembers five-minute discussions with people who encouraged him and Lauren at just the right time, as well as regular chats with his childhood barber that helped him grow.

“He asked me how I was doing in church and what I learned in Sunday school. He taught me just as he was doing his job cutting my hair,” Tony recalls. 

Tony points to two passages as motivation for serving. Matthew 25:35-40 encourages us to serve others and provide care for the downtrodden. In doing so, we are serving Christ. He also draws inspiration from James 2:14-17, and the warning of sending people away with only a wish to be warm and well fed. 

 “God gives us opportunities if we’re on the lookout for them,” Tony says. “There are very, very small things we can do.”

Uncommon influencers

Tony and Lauren recall many others who positively influenced their lives and taught them about serving the Lord. Lauren’s parents and grandparents all cared for children in the foster system. “They were employed outside the home, but they realized they had gifts that could extend to others,” Lauren says. 

Her parents also adopted two children during their retirement years. Before Lauren’s mom passed away at 95, she was still volunteering at church, cooking meals and writing encouraging letters to others. 

“It was something she enjoyed doing, and it was a calling God gave her,” Lauren says. “I think kingdom building goes on until the day you die.”

For Tony and Lauren, the call to adopt and foster children showed up early in their 40-year marriage, after a woman spoke at their church about children needing loving homes. 

“We were just so moved by her presentation,” Lauren recalls. “We prayed about it and decided to get involved. That was God saying, ‘This is your calling. This is what I want you to do.’ Tony and I have always worked with children and young adults, influencing and mentoring them. This was another step in that same direction.”

Early on, Tony and Lauren were also influenced by the pastor of their Pittsburgh church. Tony explains: “The pastor there got the message across to everybody that being a Christian wasn’t just coming to church, hearing a message and singing songs. It was going out and serving for Christ. So what are you doing? How are you living? What are you doing to demonstrate Christ to your community?”

One couple in that church, Mike and Barb Cephas, were a big influence on Tony and Lauren, though they didn’t realize it at the time. “They were mentors to us without even trying,” Tony says. “Mike and Barb had a tremendous influence on us, and we’re still friends 40 years later. They had an impact just by raising godly children.”

Saying yes to service

Caring for children is a natural calling for Tony and Lauren. Fixing cars? Not so much. “If someone says, ‘Hey, my car broke down. Can you come and fix it?’ Well, that’s going to be hard for me,” Tony says. 

But even when we’re able to help someone, Tony says, it can be easy to say no. Amid the busyness of life, we tend to avoid inconvenient demands on our time. So how do you move past that initial “no”? As a couple, Tony and Lauren seek to pray first then discern God’s voice. Once they’re clear about that, they act.

The couple have experienced many blessings stemming from their love for each other and service to children. “We’re blessed because we’re learning to love God’s children, regardless of their background or their situation,” Lauren says. “God is teaching us a lot—how to be patient, how to be giving. . . .”

Another reward is seeing their own children catch the bug to serve. They were proud to spread their uncommon evangelism to their kids. When babies enter their home, Lauren says the older children want to help. And when the family hangs out in a park, Dungy kids hand out water bottles to the homeless. 

“Don’t think you don’t have influence,” Tony tells parents. “You do. You’re influencing someone, and you have opportunities to influence people, even though you may think [those opportunities] aren’t that significant. They are. If you influence one person, you can change the world.”

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