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Former Oakland Raider Napoleon Kaufman, senior pastor, delivers a sermon at The Well Christian Community Church in Livermore, Calif., on Sunday, June 23, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

LIVERMORE -- Busy behind a desk in a bustling office he calls "the brains" of his church, the Rev. Napoleon Kaufman is clearly a man on a mission.

The Scriptures open and marked in front of him, Kaufman views video from the previous Sunday. Unlike his former life with the Oakland Raiders, it's not game film he's reviewing but clips from the first service in his church's new 83,000-square-foot home in Livermore.

Fresh off a move from Dublin two years in the making, The Well Christian Community Church packed in about 1,000 faithful on June 16, the exuberant congregation moving and singing together as one.

"It was crazy." Kaufman said, smiling. "To see it come to fruition is a lot of joy. To do it on Father's Day was just amazing."

An eight-piece band provides musical inspiration at the Sunday service at The Well Christian Community Church in Livermore, Calif., on Sunday, June 23,
An eight-piece band provides musical inspiration at the Sunday service at The Well Christian Community Church in Livermore, Calif., on Sunday, June 23, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

Although he serves as the Raiders chaplain, Kaufman, 40, has come a long way from his football playing days. A first-round pick from the University of Washington in 1995, he became the Raiders' starting running back and one of the league's top rushers by his third season. But feeling unfulfilled by worldly success, Kaufman was inspired by a core group of devout Christian players -- especially Raiders fullback Jerone Davison -- to forge a path as an ordained minister.

Former Raiders offensive lineman Robert Jenkins, Kaufman's teammate for two seasons, said he watched Kaufman evolve from an excitable rookie to a serious man of faith, exchanging rap music for meditation and Bible study.

"The world suddenly meant nothing to him," Jenkins recalled. "It was a deep spiritual transformation. We were truly blessed to be there to see it."

Kaufman joined Evangel Christian Fellowship (now Gateway City Church) in San Jose, seeking out the Rev. David Cannistraci, who wrote a book Kaufman enjoyed. Kaufman's responsibilities in the church grew, and after the 2000 season, he abruptly retired from football, walking away from millions of dollars in potential earnings.

"Napoleon had it in his heart to lead a congregation," Cannistraci said. "I told him how much work it was ... but he understood that. He has embraced the challenge beautifully."

In 2003, under Cannistraci's purview, Kaufman started The Well in a tiny building in San Ramon with 15 families in the congregation. In the decade since, the church has outgrown two Tri-Valley sites and expanded to oversee nine churches: five in Lima, Peru, and others in Concord, Hayward, Reno and Hiroshima, Japan.

"At a time when a lot of churches are shrinking and laying off pastors, for him to have the success he's having shows leadership," Cannistraci said. "I expect he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in the East Bay."

The Well's spacious Livermore headquarters is impressive -- the former Comcast building houses a small cafe, a bookstore, rooms for special-needs children and Bible study classes, and a computer lab. Kaufman's wife, Nicole, also a pastor, manages the children's church for toddlers up to sixth grade. There's also a youth ministry for older students.

"It's that sense of being at home," said Jennifer Case, one of The Well's first members and an assistant to Nicole Kaufman. "You feel like you've been on a journey and have finally reached your destination."

Kaufman certainly isn't the only Bay Area athlete or coach to seek a higher calling beyond sports. Current Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson is also an ordained minister, former Oakland A's prospect Grant Desme left professional baseball to become a monk at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, and Kaufman's former Raiders teammate and mentor, Davison, is a senior pastor at a Fairfield church.

Though he's reticent to talk about football, Kaufman remains connected as the Raiders' team chaplain, a role he has had for the past year. Kaufman organizes Bible studies, holds chapel services at the team's practice facility in Alameda, and leads game-day prayers.

Several ex-teammates, who Kaufman called upon to be part of The Well's inception, remain members, including Jenkins, a senior deacon who admires his pastor for his accessibility and authenticity.

"He's just being himself," Jenkins said. "There's nothing theatrical about it."

The church has an active community outreach program, through grocery giveaways, a prison ministry and work with the Bay Area Rescue Mission homeless shelter in Richmond. Its multi-ethnic congregation comes from all over the Bay Area, and besides Kaufman's name recognition, The Well has gained notoriety through his daily radio show, "Times of Refreshing," heard on San Francisco's KFAX-AM.

The church is finishing up a state-of-the-art production room that will soon stream the pastor's sermons live online; Kaufman also heads an international ministry, preaching in Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Africa and Japan.

"We've always had a global mindset when it comes to getting the gospel out," Kaufman said. "This is our home of operations, but we have a heart for the nations."

Kaufman holds Sunday services at 10:30 a.m., sharing the stage with an equally energetic band, "The Sound of Heaven" worship team. For a man used to performing for large crowds, preaching from the pulpit is a humbling experience.

"I just sense the gravity of the responsibility," Kaufman said. "There's a trust aspect to it, I want to do the best I can."

Kaufman lives in Pleasanton with his wife and their children: Napoleon Jr., a football player for Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland; Nathanael; Nehemiah; and Natalia.

In Livermore, he says, The Well has laid a perfect foundation for the future. It took longer than expected, but it was worth it, he said.

"When we found this spot, we just felt led by the Lord that this was the place to be," Kaufman said. "It was a rough ride but we got it done."

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.

Learn more
For details on The Well Christian Community Church, go to http://thewellchurch.net.