Month: August 2007

New Texas law codifies public school students’ religious expression rights

AUSTIN?Texas parents whose children are enrolled in public schools have a new tool protecting their children’s right to express religious viewpoints in school. It is the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law Aug. 14. Its provisions went into effect Sept. 1.

The RVAA mandates that Texas school districts exercise neutrality towards public school students’ voluntary expressions of religious viewpoints. School districts must treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner the district treats a voluntary expression of an otherwise permissible secular or non-religious viewpoint.

State Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land introduced the RVAA as H.B. 3678, hoping that it would clear up what he saw as a misunderstanding among too many Texas school administrators. He was frustrated by the uneven application of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections of voluntary religious expression by public schoolchildren. In recent years, school districts have impermissibly sanctioned schoolchildren for invoking the name of Jesus Christ in prayers before football games, wearing crosses in school, sending Christmas cards to troops overseas, or even making Easter cards in class.

“We have a situation where administrators either don’t understand the law or choose not to follow it. I hope it is just the first one,” Howard said in an interview with the TEXAN. “This act contains no new law. It simply says, ‘Here is what the First Amendment says.'”

Under the RVAA, school districts must adopt a policy that opens up limited public forums for student speakers at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak. That includes pep rallies, graduations and football games. The forums should be organized so they do not discriminate against a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint.

The focus of the forum provision is on public activities like graduations. The forums are limited because districts must develop a method based on neutral criteria for selecting student speakers at these school events. To make sure student speeches do not get out of control, the act specifically does not protect student speakers from punishment or censorship for obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent expressions.

The RVAA also protects religious expression in class assignments. Codifying existing Supreme Court precedents, students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written or oral assignments, without discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.

Kelly Shackelford, president of the Plano-based Free Market Foundation and general counsel of its legal division, said this might be the most overlooked but important protection of the act. He said many teachers feel compelled to halt classroom discussions among students if the students are expressing religious viewpoints.

“The law protects the teachers because it allows the discussion to ensue regardless of religious viewpoints,” Shackelford told the TEXAN.

But he was quick to point out that teachers and administrators can still exercise control over student expressions in classrooms or public forums for speech that is unprotected by the First Amendment.

“The act specifically recognizes that lewd, obscene or uncivil expressions have always been unprotected,” Shackelford said. “But if a student is speaking on topic, districts can’t discriminate against the content of the speech simply because the student comes at it from a religious viewpoint.”

Finally, the RVAA allows students to organize prayer groups, religious clubs, see-you-at-the-pole gatherings, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities and groups. Once again, Howard said this provision simply codifies Supreme Court cases that instruct school districts to treat voluntary student organizations equally and not discriminate against them simply because they are religious.

To encourage districts to enact religious expression policies that comply with the RVAA, lawmakers included in it a model policy. The five-part model policy covers every aspect of the RVAA’s protection of student expression of religious viewpoints generally at school and specifically in class assignments, opening of limited public forums, selection of student speakers at graduation or non-graduation events, and freedom to organize religious groups and activities.

“Here is a policy that, if districts adopt it, will provide a safe harbor protecting them from lawsuits,” Howard said.

Shackelford said some critics have objected to the RVAA’s model policy by claiming it would not reduce litigation nor save dollars. They fear that people who hear the religious expressions of students in limited public forums and are offended by the religious content will sue. Shackelford said this “dollars” objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of the protection the model policy gives to school districts.

“If a district adopts the model policy provided in a state law, and then if that policy is challenged in court, the state attorney general will defend the state law,” Shackelford said. “But if the school district puts together its own policy that doesn’t follow state law, then guess who defends that policy if it is challenged in court? It won’t be the state attorney general because he will have no obligation to defend it; it will be the school district and its taxpayers.”

Shackelford believes Texas’ RVAA is the first of its kind enacted in the United States. Howard is optimistic that other states will enact similar protections for their citizens.

“I encourage Texas parents who have children in public schools to contact their school boards and urge them to adopt the model policy in this bill,” Howard said.

Howard continued: “This act is a win for school children because it gives them a forum for religious expression in public schools. It is a win for administrators because it provides a policy they can enact that follows the law. It is a win for taxpayers because it helps protect them from having to pay for lawsuits against school districts they are funding with their tax dollars.”

The complete text and legislative history of H.B. 3678 can be viewed and downloaded at

Criswell College begins endowed scholarship program

DALLAS?Criswell College has received a $3 million gift to establish an endowed scholarship program for outstanding collegians who sense a ministry calling.

The $3 million donation is the lead gift for The Timothy Project, a scholarship program initiated by donors Curtis and Shirley Baker of Lindale. The Timothy Project will fund full scholarships and an annual mission trip for five exceptional students, which this fall includes a National Merit Scholar who chose Criswell over other schools.

The goal, Criswell College President Jerry Johnson said, is to see the endowment grow to $5 million in five years or less through additional gifts by Christians who capture the vision of The Timothy Project. The scholarships, which are funded from the endowment’s interest, will cover tuition plus the cost to the school to educate the student, which is approximately twice that of tuition, Johnson said.

“We are overwhelmingly grateful to Curtis and Shirley Baker for their vision and for their very generous lead gift that establishes this scholarship program,” Johnson commented. “The Timothy Project allows us to say to some of the best and brightest incoming collegians who sense a calling to Christian ministry, ‘We have something for you at Criswell College.'”

The project’s name is based on 1 Timothy 4:5, from which the Apostle Paul exhorts young Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelist.”

“This is really about doing the work of an evangelist, about missions and evangelism before they go out from Criswell College” based on monthly “iron-sharpens-iron mentoring” with Criswell faculty and required weekly involvement in ministry activities, Johnson explained.

Students applying for the scholarship must be actively involved in activities such as church planting, missions, the Dallas Life Foundation, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ministries, or other approved projects.

Also, Timothy Scholars must maintain a B+ academic average, exhibit “genuine leadership potential and ability,” participate in ministry at the Dallas Life Foundation, an inner-city mission, and provide periodic written and oral progress reports to donor-sponsors.

“It is a new scholarship model for us. A similar program for Ph.D. students at Wheaton College is the only other such scholarship program that I have heard of,” Johnson said.

The W.A. Criswell Foundation is managing The Timothy Project Endowment under a 5 percent annual return policy. Johnson said additional donors may contribute at any level by contacting Criswell College (214-818-1334) or the W.A. Criswell Foundation (214-818-1371).

Cell phone challenge yields souls

FORT WORTH  Among the anecdotes from the annual Student Evangelism Conference, one stands above the rest, said Brad Bunting, SBTC youth evangelism associate.

During the final session of the conference, where 66 students made professions of faith and 133 signified a ministry calling, Greg Stier of dare2share Ministry offered a challenge.

“If you have a cell phone with you, hold it up.”

Hands went up all around the auditorium at Harvest Baptist Church. The students had already been prepped on how to share the gospel story with others. Then came the challenge.

Call a friend who is not a Christian and share the gospel with them, Stier said. After praying the students began dialing. Stier took some pressure off by telling the kids they could say a speaker at the conference had asked them to do it.

“You had kids all over the foyer and auditorium talking on their phones,” Bunting said. “I know of three people coming to Christ because of that and several contacts to follow up on.”

“One teenage girl called her grandfather and he prayed to receive Christ right there. The students responded phenomenally to that.”

A silly, dangerous idea?

When the news media want to ask someone about a homemaking course at a Southern Baptist seminary, where do they go? Well, naturally, they turn to an unmarried pastor and a formerly Southern Baptist liberal whose work is largely dedicated to berating the SBC and its leaders. Maybe they are the only ones who don’t get it.

Response within the SBC mainstream has been pretty sedate to the undergraduate homemaking degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We’ve seen firsthand the results of “with it” models of family and narcissistic approaches to parenting. They don’t work. Families in marital crisis or with rebellious kids just seem paralyzed and are as likely to eat fiberglass as take effective action?they hardly seem to know the difference.

I spent five years of a former life (that means I only have eight left) as dean of students at a seminary. The most productive and most useless thing I did in those years was try to help students who had financial and marital problems. Some of them ate out too much, lived on student loans, got really large, developed health problems, went broke, fought with their wives, and acted genuinely confused about why these things “happened” to them. It was hard to explain. Those who dug out of their holes were heroes and an encouragement to all of us. Those who embraced the confusion didn’t make it to the ministry. Any effort to help families like this as they take responsibility for themselves looks to me like God’s work.

During that same period I taught theology and church history to a large group of the seminary wives. They were the most hungry and motivated students I taught. As a part of that wives program (which all six seminaries have had for 10 years), some of our experienced faculty and administrators’ wives taught a sort of “Common Sense 101” class that dealt with child rearing, helping husbands in ministry, and even a little cooking. The help was gratefully received and apparently useful. Many of these women, with their families, are all over the world in ministry. I like to think we helped in some small way.

So, in what way is Southwestern’s plan to offer an undergraduate major that includes the core of the other B.A. programs alongside nutrition, homemaking, the value of the child, and yes, sewing, dangerous, silly, or superfluous?

To the liberal I’d suggest that this is a dangerous idea because it challenges his egalitarian worldview. A laugh-out-loud cover story on a national newsmagazine a couple of years back pointed out the discovery that men and women are not the same. Maybe that’s by design. Maybe that diversity is useful. Maybe la difference doesn’t ever make liberals as happy as it makes me every day.

Those who consider it silly are uninformed, lack compassion. I’m very grateful for a wife who took Greek alongside me, beat me by two points in theology class, learned to cook, and taught my children to read. If Southwestern had started this program back in the late 1970s (use your imagination), she’d have taken some of those classes, I mean the “silly” ones, gratefully. It wouldn’t have been a waste and it wouldn’t have made her stupid. It would have made the priorities we’d already set more simply attained, though.

It’s also a fact of our age that many young people leave home without knowing basic things about managing a household. Some basic skills that our mothers may have taken for granted decades ago will be essential. It seems ignorant to suggest that a young wife and mother who knows the how and why of managing her home is silly to gain this knowledge. Missionary families may also end up someplace where food doesn’t come in frozen zipper bags and where there is no microwave.

Superfluous? I guess I’m stumped at that one. Our universities in Texas certainly offer women’s studies programs that have greater throw weight (to the world) than classes such as “The Value of the Child.” I can imagine what a blessing any mother would receive from taking some of those classes. For example, take “Gender, Sexuality, and Migration” at the University of Texas at Austin. Those are three fine words that you don’t put together every day. No doubt there is a textbook for that and maybe something interesting to say. Is it useful? Well, I can only guess by the silence of our Texas taxpayer gadflies that someone sees some reason why this is a keeper.

OK, how about “A History of Witchcraft,” also at UT Austin? The course description indicates a focus on the persecution of witches through the years. No objections from the gallery? This one too must be an essential part of every professional woman’s arsenal.

Up at the University of North Texas, the program offers “Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Film and Video.” What education would be complete without that? Doubtless there is a wealth of material to examine, I have to wonder how the video record of a lifestyle defined simply by sexual behavior will lift young students to the heights of intellectual discovery. But maybe I’m wrong if the loyal opposition is more offended by a sewing course than by this offering of our state-funded university.

Of course I’ve skipped over the merely trivial and strange courses and majors offered by the large universities, but they too raise questions about the objectivity of Southwestern’s automatic detractors.
And I’m actually not worried about these courses or the other silly ones. I’d probably lose more sleep over the Marxist, Darwinist, Materialist drumbeat in most of the “serious” classes. But those titles don’t jump out at us for the purpose of this column. Instead, I support, financially and otherwise, efforts to offer something positive to young ministry families in training.

I think a discussion of state schools is pertinent, though. The critics best loved by the national media are likely bigger supporters of state universities (through taxes) than they are of Southwestern. It makes me wonder what their interest in SWBTS really is.

I also wonder what the better plan of the critics might be. Do they even see a problem with the stability of families in our culture? Maybe one day they’ll focus on that instead of just hoping in the tired status quo model of family where self-absorbed people happen to live in the same household.

Is there a sexist aspect to the extreme criticism of the homemaking courses at SWBTS? I think maybe so. If men and women are different in important ways, they will have different areas of competence. I’ll stick my neck into the slipstream of thousands of years of human experience and suggest that women are temperamentally better equipped than men to manage the home and nurture children. It is foolish to treasure work outside the home more than work in the home. In fact, the future of the world hinges on the latter. It is demeaning to suggest that unless women actually do all the same things men do, they have missed something crucial. I think it’s sexist.

Frankly, and briefly, there is an aspect of dishonest bias in the criticism of SWBTS by some people. It seems clear that some critics of the program would have favored it passionately ? if Paige Patterson hated it. If those who find this homemaking track questionable were honest brokers when discussing other issues, I might be more inclined to listen to their squawks. They haven’t and I’m not.

On a positive note?I wish Southwestern well with this degree program. Whether it is a conspicuous success or a moderate one, I believe it will do some good. The notion that it is dangerous, silly, or superfluous is ridiculous and probably dishonest.

SBTC Bible Conference begins in Fort Worth and ends in Arlington

If you show up in Arlington on Nov. 11 expecting to find the SBTC Bible Conference, you’ll need a ride to Fort Worth to find the crowd.

Formerly known as the SBTC Pastors’ Conference, the SBTC Bible Conference will hold its opening session Sunday (Nov. 11) at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth before moving the next day to the Arlington Convention Center, site of the SBTC annual meeting, which follows the conference.

“The logistics this year are such that First Baptist Church of Fort Worth graciously offered its worship center for the Sunday night session of the Bible Conference. However, the next day (Monday, Nov. 12), we’ll look forward to continuing the Bible Conference at the Arlington Convention Center leading right up to the annual meeting,” said Troy Brooks, SBTC director of minister-church relations.

The theme for the 2007 SBTC Bible Conference is “Give Me This Mountain,” taken from Joshua 14:12.

Among the scheduled speakers are Fred Lowery, pastor of First Baptist Church of Bossier City, La.; Greg Matte, pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston; and Earnest Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

For a complete schedule, visit

Texas church renovates heart and home of New Orleans resident

NEW ORLEANS?The day finally came, and members of Center Point Church in North Richland Hills were in New Orleans to celebrate it with Temple Richardson, a New Orleans homeowner whose home was adopted by the church.

Committed to seeing the rebuilding of his flood-damaged home completed, the church took seven volunteer trips involving 137 volunteers, 30,668 man-hours and $15,000 in donated furniture and material.

“We committed to seven trips and thought we were looking at a two- or three-year period,” Jay Bruner, senior pastor at Center Point said. “But after the first trip, I couldn’t stop them (the team). We finished the job in one year.”

Wearing T-shirts reading “NOAH 7: The Final Episode,” the team applied the finishing touches and filled the house with furniture. To celebrate the homecoming for Richardson, the team invited neighbors to worship with them the following day on Richardson’s front lawn.

“This is a house that Jesus built,” Dawn Johnson, Richardson’s care-provider and long-time friend, said. Adding that Center Point’s service knew no socio-economic, racial or geographical boundaries,
“This house is a symbol to this neighborhood.”

David Maxwell, NOAH project coordinator, said, “When I think of this church, the word ‘commitment’ comes to mind. They are to be commended for their steadfastness and faith in God. If Christian people had not reached out to Temple, he wouldn’t be moving back into his house right now.”

Richardson, who had often sat quietly and watched as team members worked, said, “I thank the good Lord for them. They did a great job and did more than I ever expected.”

Throughout the year, Richardson often commented to neighbors that “God’s people are rebuilding my home.” When team members inquired about his health, Richardson would answer, “I’m better now that you all are here.”

Richardson said that he had given his life to the Lord years ago and was eager to return home, live out his life, “trusting God and doing what I am supposed to do.”

Marc Byers, the team’s coordinator and a participant on each trip, said that team members were eager to return.

“It was amazing how many people wanted to come back,” Byers said. “As soon as we would get home, people would ask when we were going again.”

“A sense of urgency” to get Richardson back into his home helped motivate the team, Bobby Taliaferro said. He and his wife, Annmarie, have served on five Operation NOAH rebuild trips and flew in to be a part of the celebration.

Speaking from Ecclesiastes 3, Bruner told the group that while the time had come to rejoice, the house that had been rebuilt was only temporary and would someday be gone.

Bruner challenged the group that was gathered to consider that God had brought them together at that moment for the opportunity of choosing him and knowing “real meaning in life.”

“We can rebuild a house but only God can rebuild a life,” Bruner said. “Katrina washed away what man had built; God can rebuild what man has destroyed spiritually.”

After a prayer of blessing on Richardson and his home, the group celebrated with live music, food and magic and puppet shows.

Bruner said the NOAH trips have effected his congregation “in ways that can’t be quantified.”

“I think our kids see that you don’t have to be a Billy Graham, a supermodel or a superstar to change somebody’s life,” Bruner said. “Our kids are walking away from this saying, ‘If I just say yes to God, I can make a difference.'”

Twelve-year old McKenna Mason, who began attending Center Point at a friend’s invitation, came to faith in Christ on NOAH 5. The trips also encouraged her to read the Bible daily and not just on Sunday, Mason said.

“Stories like this demonstrate how our mighty God is working through his people,” John L. Yeats, Louisiana Baptist Convention communications director and SBC recording secretary, said. “The needs are great and our God is calling out churches to use our SBC network to touch the lives of people in Jesus’ name.”

Byers, who came to faith in Christ the year before Katrina, said the best part was seeing what it has done for his church.

“It’s more exciting than anything to see your kids want to come back,” Byers said.

Firefighter Mike Overton said his daughter has told him that his faith and commitment to the task in New Orleans has been an encouragement to her as she serves in an active?duty combat zone. “It has helped her to stay strong in her faith,” Overton said.

As a new member, Gayla Altman had not found her niche at church before the NOAH project but had been praying for a mission project she could embrace. A third-time team member, Altman said the trips have reassured her that God answers the prayers of his people.

“The prayers of a nation have brought us here,” Altman said. “We are here because people prayed for New Orleans.”

“The Southern Baptist witness in this town is so much greater since the storm,” Maxwell said. “Our volunteers are demonstrating that God takes the bad things in life, the ‘Katrinas’ in our lives, and makes good out of them.”

Operation NOAH Rebuild is a partnership between the LBC, sister state conventions and the North American Mission Board. To date some 15,000 volunteers have been mobilized to share the gospel and help rebuild homes of New Orleans residents.

All skill levels are welcome and needed, said Don Snipes, the SBTC’s NOAH zone coordinator in New Orleans. The SBTC now has an assigned zone where dozens of home projects need willing teams to bring a physical and spiritual gospel presence, Snipes said.

Snipes said Texas churches wishing to help in New Orleans may call him at 504-282-1428 or 984-817-0050, or e-mail him at

Texans in Thailand distribute Bibles to Chinese

ROCKPORT?Nine church members from Coastal Oaks Baptist Church in Rockport traveled in July to Thailand where they handed out Bibles to Chinese tourists as part of a Southern Baptist mission effort called the Southern Cross Project.

Kevin Kennedy and his wife, Michelle, led the team, one of several Texas churches?Fielder Road in Arlington and First Baptist Church of Farmersville were the others?to participate this summer in the Thailand mission.

“Handing out a Bible sounds like a simple thing, but Chinese people have less than a 1 percent chance of ever owning a Bible,” Kennedy said. “God touches you knowing that you are giving them the word of God.”

Kennedy said the team prepared for the trip by listening to language CDs with 15 different Mandarin phrases.

“It’s funny how you prepare to answer in Mandarin, and then you hear ‘Thank you,’ and you’re thrown off.”

Most of the tourists were very humble and very gracious, Kennedy said.

The team told the tourists they would receive a free gift when they returned from their dinner and that Jesus loved them.

“It amazed me how you could tell which of the tourists were already Christians,” Kennedy said. “They smiled with joy and wanted more Bibles to take home to their friends. You could tell from their glad and joyful continence that they were believers.”

Kennedy said whether or not the Chinese tourists would take the Bibles largely depended on whether their tour guides would tell them to take them or not.

Therefore, the team greatly prayed for favor with the tour guides. While many tour guides encouraged them to take the free Bibles, some did not because in China, bringing certain anti-communist materials such as Bibles into the country can put a person in jail for three years.

Kennedy also said the Holy Spirit was at work through their prayers as they passed out the Bibles.

“We saw that there was a large building where in the middle path people were passing out materials warning the tourists not to pick up other materials while they were there,” he said. “We prayed that they would not take the steps to the middle, easier path but that the tourists would instead walk the ramp, avoiding the middle. All but 30 or so tourists walked down the ramp. God really put up a wall in front of the stairs.”

The team also visited the slums not far from where they passed out the Bibles.

Kennedy said the Thai people who lived in the slums were genuinely happy to see them.

“One of the ladies on the trip brought 100 friendship bracelets she and her friends had made to give to the children in the slums,” he said. “I was surprised when even the adults wanted them as well.”

Twenty to 30 of the people in the slums made professions of faith while the team was there. They were encouraged and excited to be discipled by the pastor and other members of the church near the slums.

“The new believers were all excited to get trained in discipleship and to grow in Christ.”

Kennedy said the girls in the slums have little chance of ever living a life different than that of a bar girl when they grow up. Many, he said, are sold into sexual slavery as early as the age of 3.

“We were concerned that we did not see a girl who we had grown attached to when we were there the year before. We then learned she was living not far from where the church of the pastor we were working with was.”

Kennedy said they found out she was learning to dance and was getting the chance to hear about Jesus. He said for a girl living in the slums, it was one of the best places to be.

“We had the interpreter tell her that Michelle prays for her everyday.”

Though Kennedy and his team went across the world to change the lives of others, he said they found that it changed their own lives instead.

“One of the ladies on the trip changed her college major during the week she was there,” Kennedy said. “She had been planning for years to major in music, but God planned to change her major to English (so she could teach others) and called her to missions that week.”

He said the greatest message he received from the trip was the need for more prayer.

“I came away with the determination to keep my prayer life going, to really pray without ceasing.”
Kennedy, who is completing the International Mission Board’s application process, said he had thought about just packing up and going to Thailand independently or through another sending agency.

“God showed me that if I had not led this trip, the whole team would not have been blessed as they were,” he said. “It really shows that God can use you in every season of life.”

For information on the Southern Cross Project or other short-term mission trips, contact Tiffany Smith, SBTC missions mobilization associate, at 877-953-7282 or e-mail

Reach Texas sets record, aims at $1.1 million

Two years ago hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused the statewide missions offering known as Reach Texas to fall from its previous level. It bounced back in a big way this year, with receipts exceeding a record $956,000 through mid-August?just shy of the $1 million goal through its final giving month.

The offering’s nearness to its goal is the impetus of an even more ambitious goal for 2007-08: $1.1 million. The offering runs annually September through August.

SBTC Missions Director Robby Partain said the Reach Texas Offering provides the extra push beyond the Cooperative Program budget to fund church planting, missions and evangelism.

“The efficiency of the Reach Texas Offering is evident in that 100 percent of funds?every dollar?is directly used for missions work because the Cooperative Program (Southern Baptists’ missions funding mechanism) provides the basis and infrastructure so that administration is already covered,” Partain said.

Of the Reach Texas receipts, roughly 50 percent go directly into church planting.

“Without the Reach Texas Offering,” Partain said, “we would have to cut back our church planting efforts by 25 percent each year.”

This year the SBTC will help fund about 40 new congregations, Partain said.

In addition to church planting, 25 percent of offering receipts supports evangelism and 25 percent funds missions training and mobilization, Partain explained.

Reach Texas helps fund events such as the Student Evangelism Conference and provides evangelism resource materials.

The offering also aids Disaster Relief ministry and mobilization for mission partnerships in such places as Thailand, Mexico, West Africa, China, and throughout Canada and the United States, as church groups enlist short-term teams to do gospel work.

Partain said the SBTC office mailed about 70,000 Reach Texas Offering promotional packets requested by churches last year. Also, the website has downloadable art and resources for churches.
The designated Week of Prayer and emphasis on promoting the Reach Texas Offering is planned Sept. 23-30, though some churches will promote it at a different time, Partain said.

Increasingly, churches are promoting one annual missions offering to fund Reach Texas, the SBC’s Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, Partain said. In doing so, Partain asked that churches remember the task of reaching an increasingly diverse population in Texas by designating funds for the Reach Texas Offering.

For more information on the Reach Texas Offering, to find e-resources or to order promotional materials, visit

Men’s Fraternity now used at 6,000 sites

What high profile events like Promise Keepers and wild-game dinners instigate?namely, a push to mature Christian men?Men’s Fraternity facilitates.

The growing local church ministry program has mapped out a process through which men, whether saved or lost, can discover what biblical manhood is all about and how to put it into practice.

In 1990, Robert Lewis, then the teaching pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Ark., responded to the pleas of the men in his Bible study for a deeper Christian, fraternity-like camaraderie. When Lewis first announced to his church that the Bible study topic would be “discovering manhood,” the group instantly grew from 30-40 men to 300.

“I knew then I had stuck my finger into one of these raging spiritual streams Henry Blackaby [author of “Experiencing God”] talks about. God wanted to do something,” Lewis said in a 2004 interview with Baptist Press.

The three-year program “Men’s Fraternity” was the result.

Lewis, also the best-selling author of “Raising a Modern-Day Knight,” grew up in a home without a healthy model of manhood and fatherhood. In the first Men’s Fraternity session, “What Men Need and How the Church Can Help,” Lewis shares transparently that he left home at age 18, “clueless about manhood and seething with anger.”

He said, “When you haven’t been schooled to be adequate in manhood responsibilities, then you constantly make stupid mistakes, which only fuels the anger and shame that you feel as an incompetent male.”

In his quest to help men discover the principles of authentic biblical manhood, Lewis said he found several elements are needed for a transformational men’s ministry:
?a safe place where men know they are understood and not alone,
?a compelling vision of biblical masculinity,
?time to process their masculinity,
?practical how-to’s that yield success,
?encouragement from other men,
?a celebration of their crossing into responsible manhood,
?and the church.

LifeWay Christian Resources noted the success of Men’s Fraternity in 2004. Needing a quality men’s discipleship resource, they partnered that year with Men’s Fraternity to make the material readily available.

At the time of the partnership, James Draper, then the LifeWay President, stated: “It’s been proven over and over?in the churches where this ministry is used, men’s ministry has gained new momentum; men have stepped up to be leaders in their home and in their community.”

Men’s Fraternity director Rick Caldwell conservatively estimates that the material is now being used in over 6,000 settings. Not only is it being used in churches, but also corporate and other work settings, and even prisons as well.

“It is an avenue for believers to bring non-believers to help them understand biblical manhood and to lead them to Christ,” Caldwell told the TEXAN.

In a December 2006 article in New Man magazine (Robert’s Rules), Caldwell reported that Fellowship Bible Church has recorded at least 80 salvation decisions annually in recent years stemming from Men’s Fraternity meetings.

The Fellowship Bible group now includes about 1,200 men. They gather at 6 a.m. each Wednesday from fall through spring months to be served a “plate-sized” 45-minute presentation and then break up into small groups to “digest” it, Caldwell explained.

The method of Men’s Fraternity is to provide an atmosphere that doesn’t look or feel “churchy.”

“We try to not make it feel like a worship service. Why do that if you can’t get them to attend worship on Sunday?” Caldwell posed.

The most successful meeting time has proven to be on a weekday from 6-7:30 a.m. “Safe” music, or sports videos, or other “guy” things going on in the meeting room help men understand that they are at a function designed for them.

Over the three-year course, men study:

“The Quest for Authentic Manhood,” which defines manhood and challenges men to let the boy in them die.

“Authentic Manhood: Winning at Work and Home,” which addresses fulfillment at work and relating successfully to a woman.

“The Great Adventure,” which helps men rediscover the adventure in life and encourages them to maximize their manhood.

Each weekly meeting begins with a “host,” one of the two key leaders. He welcomes the group, communicates the vision and any instructions needed to set the course, and prepares the way for the “presenter,” the other key leader.

Following the welcome, men hear a 45-50 minute talk given by the presenter, who can either be Robert Lewis via DVD, or a live presenter who has mastered the material and can deliver it with excellence, Caldwell said, “The material isn’t 24 talks. It’s one talk given in 24 servings. They get a plateful at a time to digest.”

The host returns to summarize the talk, then sends the men to their small discussion groups, which Caldwell said “is crucial for Men’s Fraternity.”

“Then they create their own manhood plan?a mission statement for their manhood, like how to relate to their wife, a son, a daughter, or co-workers. Then the guy can see how he is doing,” Caldwell said.
Though many churches using Men’s Fraternity have seen noteworthy growth in their men’s groups, Caldwell said the material works just as well with only a few.

“I’ve actually done the whole 24 weeks with just me and another man,” he said.

And the material has proven effective across ethnicities, as groups have formed overseas in Iraq, China, Guatemala, and Australia, and several other countries.

Caldwell acknowledges that the idea of a college fraternity might not resonate with all locations. He recommends that churches “take advantage of the branding [Men’s Fraternity], but if it helps to fly it under an established name, we encourage them to use both.”

Caldwell reported: “What’s happening is that men who have journeyed through this material are excited about taking it to their communities and other settings?they feel like they’re almost commissioned. They are moving up the ladder of manhood and taking responsibility. And that’s our mission.”

Caldwell assists pastors and leaders around the world in integrating the Men’s Fraternity curriculum into their ministry to men. For more information about Men’s Fraternity, visit the website at, or for materials visit

Churches utilize RAs to teach missions and raise boys to live godly lives

They never just walk into the classroom and often they trip other boys on the way. Using a quiet voice is something they forget. They’d much rather head to the playground than listen to a teacher read out of a magazine.

And yet, many SBTC churches like Austin’s Bannockburn Baptist are committed to turning young boys into godly men who are on mission with God.

“We have a vibrant Royal Ambassador program at Bannockburn and greatly value its place in our overall ministry,” Pastor Ryan Rush explained. “Our principle mission as a church is connecting church and home, so this fits what we’re trying to do,” he told the TEXAN.

“It takes godly Christian men who are willing to share their hearts and their time with these young boys to make such a program work,” explained Carla Dillard, children’s minister at Bannockburn Baptist. “We are blessed to have those men at BBC.”

For 2.16 million boys, RAs has provided an opportunity to discover they are commissioned as Christ’s ambassadors to go into the world and tell the story of Jesus Christ. It’s one of the oldest Southern Baptist organizations, first formed in 1883 when a group of boys in Kentucky met with their pastor to study missions and collect money to support a young girl in famed missionary Lottie Moon’s school in Tengchow, China.

RA groups took off, growing to 4,500 chapters by 1935. In the past 10 years alone, a quarter million young boys have learned to live out the RA pledge: “We are ambassadors for Christ,” based on 2 Corinthians 5:20.

Royal Ambassadors saw its highest enrollment in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but many churches abandoned RA missions education for children in favor of co-educational missions education that requires fewer male leaders or for other types of curricula.

At Bannockburn, Dillard is convinced it’s worth the effort to recruit adult men to lead a separate group for boys.

“We are huge fans of Royal Ambassadors. Year after year we see young boys and their dads, the RA leaders, spend quality time together learning about missionaries, participating in mission action activities, building cars for the RA racer derby, camping out, learning woodworking, and attending local boys camp together.”

Dillard said today’s boys are desperately looking for positive, godly, Christian male role models from whom they can learn.

“Unfortunately, our society has dropped the ball in this area.”

And yet she’s encouraged that young men at Bannockburn thrive on this time together with the men leading Royal Ambassadors.

“They learn not only about missionaries and other skills, they get to emulate the qualities of their RA leaders. In other words, they have role models?the kind they really crave and need. That’s why we love and are determined to keep RAs at Bannockburn.”

Andy Dodson is one of the church’s layman to whom Dillard turns for leadership in the RA program. “I fell into it accidentally,” the Austin civil engineer told the TEXAN.

Having grown up a Methodist then joining a Southern Baptist church, Dodson attended an information class to learn more about the church’s approach to teaching missions since his own kids were enjoying the children’s activities. Soon he was recruited to help out and three years later he’s sold on the value of Royal Ambassadors in which his own 7- and 9-year-old sons participate.

“The biggest things kids face today are choices. It doesn’t matter if it’s what to eat or what not to do. The magazines that go with the RA curriculum deal a lot with kids who grew up as RAs and then became missionaries. Now they’re faced with choices,” Dodson recalled.

“From a ministry standpoint we’re teaching kids to make the right choices and why they should do that. RAs learn about right and wrong choices,” supplementing the biblical teaching the kids gain from Sunday School and other programs of the church, he said.

Direction of the Royal Ambassador program for Southern Baptists is assigned to the North American Mission Board. Curriculum and training to teach missions to boys is available online at Local Baptist associations typically have leaders who can help a church develop or reignite an RA program.

NAMB has also developed a one-on-one, father-son approach to teaching young boys about missions known as “Sons of Virtue.” The strategy is based on the Royal Ambassador pledge and delivers Christ-centered virtue studies and activities that develop personal relationships, commitments and an on-mission lifestyle. It can be used in a home small-group setting with several fathers and sons or as a program directed by men of the church.

Challengers is the mission organization for teenage boys. Information is available from NAMB at

After nearly a century, Royal Ambassadors is now an international organization with groups in 14 countries reaching the world with the gospel.