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Athlete chooses God over golf

Pastor Bob Irwin of the Mill Creek Church in Modesto.
Pastor Bob Irwin of the Mill Creek Church in Modesto. Modesto Bee

Bob Irwin, senior pastor of Mill Creek Church in Modesto, struggled with dyslexia when he was a boy. It wasn't diagnosed until an English teacher in high school noticed his difficulty and sent him to get tested.

"They were able to give me some eye therapy and help, which really helped me get through college," he said.

Perhaps as a result of the dyslexia, Irwin had more

high school success playing basketball and baseball than he had in the classroom. But his biggest accomplishment was golf.

"We lived on a golf course and my mom was a very accomplished golfer, so she introduced me to golf," said Irwin, 48. "We didn't have a (high school) golf team, but I played golf a lot in the summers. I went to college on a golf scholarship."

After college, he said, "I wanted to turn professional. But God tugged on my heart and wanted me to become a pastor."

One of the biggest impacts in his life was "watching my dad recover from alcoholism. At times, it felt like all I had was God. He became very real to me. It wasn't until high school that my dad got really clean. It wasn't easy for him. I think that's why I've stayed on the straight and narrow -- a combination of seeing my dad and realizing God's life in me."

Here's more information:

Family: Wife: Mavis, 50; children: Robbie, 23; Amy, 20; and Jacob, 17. Irwin was born in Encino, but lived in many places, including Australia. His father was a salesman, his mom a homemaker. It was their second marriage, and Irwin had two

half brothers and a half sister; she was the closest sibling in age and was 12 years older. "I received Christ when I was in third grade. I've been pretty strong spiritually minded since then."

Education: Bachelor degree in biblical education, Multnomah School of the Bible, Portland, Ore.; master of divinity degree from Multnomah Biblical Seminary

Career: Junior high pastor at Big Valley Grace Community Church, Modesto, 1981-84; associate pastor at River Oak Grace Community Church, Oakdale, 1989-2001; founding pastor at Mill Creek in 2001

Future: "Besides a thriving, growing, healthy church that joins the other churches to make an impact in Modesto, my wife and I have a heart for family and marriage, and we'd like to do something to encourage marriages. We'd love to write a book someday. We'd like to speak at camps and at seminars."

Greatest challenge: "One is seeing people, once they receive Christ, to enjoy and live in God's principles and the life he wants to give each person. Second is developing godly leaders within the church."

Greatest passion: "To see people grow in their relationship with the Lord. I get up in the morning to see people thrive in their Christian walk."

Personality: "I like to have fun. I am energized by people. I'm very caring."

Spare time: "I'd like to play golf once a week. I love to spend time with my wife and my family on my day off."

"Leading the Way" runs twice a month and profiles faith leaders -- ordained and lay -- in our community. To suggest someone, send the name and contact information to Sue Nowicki, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256 or e-mail