From Hoops to God

Former Pioneer aims to guide a different flock
Anne Stein ’84

As leader and two-time captain of the Grinnell men’s basketball team, Jack Taylor Jr. ’15 focused on winning games. These days, he’s focused on building his own church in order to win souls.

For most of his life, Taylor was devoted to hoops; the Wisconsin native achieved national acclaim in November 2012 when he scored 138 points — the most points scored in a single NCAA game — in a 179-104 Grinnell victory over Faith Baptist Bible. It was a triumph of the frenetic, high-scoring Grinnell System — the brainchild of then-head coach David Arseneault Sr

Taylor was interviewed by ESPN, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, threw out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game, and was praised by NBA stars. 

“I prayed a lot for humility after scoring 138 points,” admits Taylor, who discovered his faith in God when he was 19, after he blew out three ligaments and couldn’t play basketball for a year. “I realized (after the injury) I was living for a game instead of the God who made me.” He carried that faith to Grinnell, where sharing the gospel “was very unique, as you could imagine. We Grinnellians are smart, critical thinkers, and skeptical. Especially when it comes to religion or morality.”

His goal after graduating with a bachelor’s in biochemistry was to play pro ball overseas, so Taylor, who married high school sweetheart Christina Teeples in 2014, hired an agent, and went to a Las Vegas tournament to showcase his talents. But restrictive rules and the frustrating process of dealing with agents worked against him. And few coaches were willing to sign a 5-foot-10-inch guard. In late 2015, his hoops journey ended. 

“I was disappointed, but I wasn’t devastated,” says Taylor. “My identity and purpose is defined by God, not by my success on a basketball court.” 

That’s when he turned to ministry fulltime. In March 2016, he and Christina moved to Waterloo, Iowa, so Taylor could serve as ministry resident with Prairie Lakes Church. Every Tuesday evening, he and other leaders went to the University of Northern Iowa with sound equipment, banners, and a portable stage and lights to conduct church services for college students.

Though he loved campus ministry, the birth of the couple’s first child, Abigail, in August 2016 changed their plans. “We wanted to be closer to home, where Abigail could flourish near family and friends.” The three moved back home to Black River Falls, Wis., in October 2016.   

“I learned what I could from the residency, and now we’re on the slow march toward starting a church,” Taylor says. “I’m figuring out social media, marketing, and how to build trust and respect in the community. It’s similar to starting a small business.”  

As for basketball, Taylor concedes that he misses being part of a program. “I can’t watch too much basketball on TV so I purposely distance myself, for fear that I’ll get too consumed again. I make up for that by feeding my desires for ministry, for seeing people meet Jesus.”

In the end, says the enthusiastic Taylor, “I had an incredible amount of success and national media attention, yet it didn’t fulfill me. Basketball isn’t a god to be worshipped but a game to play and use as a tool to learn about yourself, to grow in character, and to enjoy.” 

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