Skip navigation

The Ideal Calling ‘Fore’ Him

A step of faith to give up his golf dreams led Matt Roop on a journey to an unexpected vocational ministry
  • Jeff Smith
  • May 8, 2024

Moody Bible Institute graduate Matt Roop


Ever since finding his first set of golf clubs lying under the family Christmas tree at age 5—“It was the most excited I’ve ever been over a Christmas present”—Matt Roop ’05 has held a deep and abiding love for the sport.

Starting in kindergarten, Matt began joining his father and first golf instructor, Dennis, on the golf course. In middle school, he competed in leagues and tournaments in and around his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, winning his first junior championship as a 12-year-old. He soon began taking private lessons from golf professionals and joined his high school golf team. Matt played 36 holes of golf and practiced on the driving range and putting green nearly every summer day, aspiring to be like the game’s greatest players in the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) tour, particularly Tiger Woods.

By the time Matt qualified to compete in his first high school state golf tournament in 1999, he was already planning to continue his golf career in college and hopefully beyond.

“In high school,” Matt says, “if someone were to come up to me and say, ‘What would you like to do with your life?’ I couldn’t imagine doing anything outside of golf.”

But during his senior year of high school, Matt did something he previously considered unimaginable. Sensing that God was leading him in a different direction, he stepped out in faith and relinquished his golf dreams to pursue God’s calling on his life. His decision to attend Moody Bible Institute sent him on a decade-long journey, eventually taking him to an unexpected opportunity with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) that Matt learned “God had been preparing me for all along.”

Surprising yes to youth ministry

Matt was raised in a devoted Christian household. But his walk with God intensified when he started attending the youth group at First Evangelical Free Church of Rockford. His faith especially flourished under the mentorship of the church’s youth pastor as well as Bob MacRae, a professor of Youth Ministry at Moody. As he cultivated a closer relationship with Christ, Matt developed a growing passion for youth ministry.

“I remember going out for coffee with Matt during his senior year and talking about his interest in attending Moody and studying youth ministry,” Bob says. “Towards the end of the conversation, Matt asked me if Moody had a good golf team. When I responded by telling him we didn’t have one, I could see the disappointment in his eyes. But as time went on, Matt was willing to give up his dream of getting his PGA card. I remember being rather impressed with his decision.”

Matt shares Scripture during devotional time with junior athletes at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes golf clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

Par for the Course. Matt shares Scripture during devotional time with junior athletes at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes golf clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

Matt admits his choice was gut-wrenching to make, but God had been preparing him for it for several months.

“The influence of my mentors in the youth group had such a profound impact on my life that I began to have these thoughts of teaching and sharing the love of Christ with others,” Matt says. “It was amazing how my desire to play golf collegiately slowly decreased, and my desire to pursue full-time ministry and serve the Lord in my career increased to the point where I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else in my future. The idea of doing youth ministry was exactly what seemed like God’s call for me.”

Longing for golf again

Matt began attending Moody’s undergraduate school in Chicago in August of 2001.

“That was the first time in 13 years not to have my golf clubs with me,” he says. “A year ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this. Now I was OK with this. I immersed myself in my friendships and classes and loved every minute of it.”

But when the warmer weather of spring arrived following a long, cold Windy City winter, Matt’s longing for golf returned. Missing the sport so deeply, he met with Bob MacRae to confess that he wondered if he was truly supposed to attend Moody after all.

“I remember he heard me out and then said, ‘Matt, are you familiar with Psalm 37:4? It says to delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ It was like a tall glass of water being served to me in the desert.

“He then said, ‘Matt, are you doing everything you can to delight yourself in the Lord here at Moody?’

I said, ‘Yes, I am.’

Bob said, ‘The Lord is the One who shapes the desires in your heart as you delight yourself in Him. You just have to keep trusting in Him and what He is calling you to, even if at the moment it doesn’t make sense. It’s OK to miss the game, but God has you in this season of life for a reason. Just immerse yourself in it and trust your future to Him.’”

‘A game changer in my life’

Matt took Bob’s advice to heart. He spent summers teaching golf at a country club in Rockford and pursued his Youth Ministry degree at Moody during the school year. He continued asking God if there was a path where he could combine his passion for youth ministry and golf.

“One afternoon as I sat on the bed in my dorm room during my junior year, I even wrote several bullet points in my journal listing what I felt the Lord was calling me to do in my life if I could bring ministry and golf together,” Matt says.

Matt with golfers at Pine Needles Golf Club, North Carolina, 2014.

Toby Mac Golf Camp. Matt with golfers at Pine Needles Golf Club, North Carolina, 2014.

Not long after that, Dr. Joseph Stowell, Moody’s president at the time, wrapped up a session of chapel by asking Matt to meet him after chapel concluded. Dr. Stowell relayed to Matt that a Moody alumnus who lived in Troon, Scotland, needed 10 students to volunteer at an evangelistic youth golf camp. The camp would take place in July 2004 near Royal Troon Golf Club, the host site of the British Open that year. Matt eagerly accepted the offer.

“That was an absolute game changer in my life,” Matt says.

“I got to see all my passions in my life in full display and knit together hand in glove and was able to be a part of it. Over two weeks that summer we ministered to 500 kids, shared the gospel with them, and taught them the game of golf. It was incredible.”


Golf and youth ministry in tandem

With Matt’s eyes opened to new ministry possibilities, he was allowed to audit classes in the Sports Ministry program his senior year at Moody while he met the final requirements of his Youth Ministry degree program. Matt graduated in 2005 with bachelor’s degrees in Youth Ministry and Bible, a budding knowledge of sports ministry, and a growing belief that God was equipping him for an exciting but still undetermined next step.

“He sensed God wanted him to pursue his PGA card and that somehow, although he didn’t know how, God would use his love for golf and youth ministry in tandem,” Bob MacRae says. “He couldn’t get that thought out of his mind. As I have told many students, if you sense God may be leading you to do something, even if you don’t understand how it can happen, continue to pursue the idea until God closes the door.”

After graduating, Matt dove headlong into working in the golf industry as he fervently prayed for God’s continued direction. He enrolled in the PGA professional certification program and worked at a country club in Rockford, then accepted an offer to work for six months as a golf pro for the winter at a club in Boynton Beach, Florida. While there, he landed a year-round golf pro position in 2007 at a country club in Naples, Florida, and earned his status as a Class A PGA professional. He also married his longtime girlfriend, Karen, whom he had met in high school at youth group in Rockford.

No ’chance’ meeting

For their one-year wedding anniversary, the Roops decided to take a weeklong road trip around Florida. One of the destinations they plotted was St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US. Matt had begun receiving a quarterly newsletter from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Golf Ministry. The FCA Golf office was in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, near St. Augustine, so Matt called to schedule a coffee meeting with its director, Jim Esary, to learn more about FCA Golf.

By the end of their two-hour conversation, Jim surprised him with news that Matt knows could only have been divinely orchestrated.

“Jim said to me, ‘Matt, I don’t claim to know your future, but I would be personally disappointed in myself if I didn’t tell you that we are looking to hire a director for FCA Golf camps,” Matt says. “He then gave me a verbal job description that sounded nearly identical to the journal entry I had written back at Moody. It was like one of those God moments where you know the Spirit is working.”

Jim still vividly remembers their conversation more than 15 years later. "I stressed to Matt that if the Lord wanted him to join the FCA golf staff, He would make His will perfectly clear. “And He did!” Jim says.


Taking another step of faith

FCA’s full-time ministry positions are faith-supported, a concept that was foreign to Matt and Karen, whose families hadn’t served in full-time ministry capacities. While the couple got used to the concept of a support-raising vocational ministry career, the next step for Matt was volunteering at FCA golf events to familiarize himself with the ministry. Matt thoroughly enjoyed his volunteer experience and recognized his fit with FCA, which enabled Matt and Karen to “arrive at a place where we didn’t want to live with any regrets,” Matt says. “God was calling us to this ministry.”

Moody Bible Institute graduate Matt Roop with wife and children

Enjoying a Miami Marlins affiliate game for FCA Faith and Family Night in Jacksonville, Florida, May 2023.

Matt resigned as a club golf pro and accepted the offer to serve as FCA Golf Director of Camps. The couple relocated to the Jacksonville, Florida, area, in July 2010. They also had two children, Audrey (2015) and Wilson (2019). The news of Matt’s decision was heartening to Dr. Stowell.

“I’m delighted that he is making a significant impact for the kingdom with FCA,” he says, “and that my small nudge to him about the opportunity in the UK played a part in his journey.”

In 2015, Matt’s role with FCA Golf Camps across the country transitioned to a regionally focused role with junior golfers, golf coaches, and golf professionals across Northeast Florida. The role included an opportunity to lead a men’s Bible study at the PGA Tour headquarters.

As his ministry passion expanded to leading every coach and athlete in Northeast Florida into a growing relationship with Christ, Matt’s role expanded in 2017 when he became Northeast Florida FCA’s multi-area director. Matt now leads and coordinates FCA’s 19 Northeast Florida staff as they seek to make disciples through camps, club and league sports teams, huddles (certified small group Bible studies at public schools for coaches and athletes), one-on-one discipleship, and other events and training opportunities across five counties of metro Jacksonville.

Winning strategy for (eternal) life

Matt marvels at how God is working through his team to win and train athletes and coaches for Christ. In 2023, Matt’s team evangelized or discipled 2,900 students and 524 campers from 57 middle schools, high schools, and colleges. They also are partnering with FCA’s ministry team in Bolivia to reach and grow athletes and coaches in that South American country.

“The beauty of the FCA is we get to remind and teach athletes and coaches that their identity is not in their performance but rather given to them by Jesus Christ who performed perfectly for them,” Matt says. “One of our greatest opportunities today is to meet athletes and coaches in the ups and downs of competition, introducing them to the One who can provide them with true fulfillment, and that is Jesus Christ.”

Matt is forever grateful that God patiently led him from the self-focused dream of his youth to a Christ-focused dream position at FCA.

“In the Lord’s timing He used all these people, events, and experiences in my life to prepare me for the ministry I get to do here. And Moody played one of the most essential parts in preparing me for this ministry.”

About the Author

  • Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is creative director of Marketing Communications with Moody Bible Institute. After earning a BA in Journalism from Eastern Illinois University, Jeff worked for 11 years in the newspaper industry as a news reporter, sportswriter, and sports editor before serving for eight years as editorial manager of Marketing and Corporate Communications with Awana Clubs International.