Scouts can be bonafide church ministry, So. Baptist says

IRVING—The Boy Scouts of America oath goes like this: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

All that’s missing at the conclusion is a hearty “Amen!” Though not officially a Christian organization, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), as demonstrated in its oath, holds young boys to a high code of conduct and character familiar to Christians as the words are based on biblical precepts. They would also recognize the stark contrast between what is required of a scout and the lack of character development in all too many males today.

Recognizing that void, churches are using scouting as a ministry and a means of interjecting Christ into the communities surrounding their churches. Boy Scout packs and troops often hold weekly meetings in churches of all denominations but are led by volunteers, some of whom come from outside those churches. Chip Turner, chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships, and former president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, said Southern Baptist churches should take that relationship a step further and move beyond sponsorship to ownership.

There is a sense of urgency in Turner’s plea for more Southern Baptist churches to take on scouting as a ministry in light of ongoing attacks on the Irving-based organization by homosexual activists and the declining influence of male leadership in the lives of boys.

On July 19, one day after the national organization’s board reaffirmed the organization’s policy of excluding homosexuals from membership and from leadership positions, an Ohio mom presented a petition to officials at the BSA national offices in Irving demanding the policy be dismissed. Jennifer Tyrrell, the mother of a 7-year-old boy, is a former den leader who was ousted, she said, for being a lesbian. She has since removed her son from the BSA Tiger Cub program.

The cultural battles have many fronts and Turner, a 56-year BSA veteran, said churches that only open their buildings for Boy Scout and Cub Scout meetings miss the opportunity to engage in those struggles in their immediate communities. Demonstratively sharing the gospel through leadership and an inculcation of the message during the weekly meetings can bring boys and their families into the church and a relationship with Christ.

The 102-year-old program is especially important for boys raised in homes without a father, he said. Turner quoted Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter who said recently, “Our kids can never be what they’ve never seen.”

It is the mission of Troop 272 leaders to be that example, said Olus Holder, executive pastor of Fallbrook Church, which facilitates the scout program. The church is situated in an unincorporated area of north Houston at the crossroads of three school districts in a predominantly African American and Hispanic neighborhood.

The troop draws half of its 20 members from the church and from the surrounding neighborhood. All are African American and about half come from single-parent homes. Holder said there is a void in the lives of the boys who do not regularly see men living by faith in God.

“The main thing we try to do is set a good example, model for them integrity, love,” Holder said.

They also set high standards. Each scout is encouraged to finish what he begins and attain the highest BSA rank of Eagle Scout. Holder called such an accomplishment a “game changer” and a means of empowering the boys.

The fledgling Troop 272 was launched in June 2011 and will add a Cub Scout pack to the ministry in August. Holder said the church hopes to add a Hispanic pastor to its staff in an effort to more effectively reach that segment of the neighboring population for the church and the scouts.

At High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin the scouting troops serve a neighborhood that is primarily Hispanic and Vietnamese. Associate Pastor Ben Wright said most of the church membership does not come from the immediate community but the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts do.

“We wanted to better penetrate our community with the gospel,” Wright said. Participation has grown fivefold since they started, bearing testimony to its success.

High Pointe also facilitates an AWANA Club and Vacation Bible School but the scouting program, Wright said, allows for the most regular and in-depth contact with the scouts’ parents. Establishing a relationship with unchurched families opens the door for many ministry opportunities.

Turner said churches that move beyond hosting a scout unit to actively operating one can uniquely design some of the content to include the gospel. Each troop must operate according to the specifications of the national organization but can augment the instructional time with biblically sound messages. He said campouts can and should include a time of worship. That may be all the church some of the boys ever get, Turner said.

The Religious Emblems Program is an important part of scout training that should be offered by churches. The work required to earn each medal allows the pastor or his appointee to speak specifically about God, the church, and a scout’s relationship with both.

In a letter to the SBTC, Turner wrote: “Scouts and their families involved in the Religious Emblems Program are often reached for Christ and it is not uncommon for youth participants to clarify their calling to vocational ministry.”

Presenting the gospel in a familiar, nonthreatening environment is a tremendous opportunity for Southern Baptist churches that charter scout units. Through operating a scouting ministry—Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops and Venture Crews—affords an unprecedented opportunity to reach scouts and their families. It is not unusual for units to be comprised of scouts and families where 50 to 60 percent of them have no prior church relationship.

Wright said providing a scouting opportunity through High Pointe allows them to be good neighbors. Holder concurred. He said the impetus for the ministry was to bless the community and the feedback indicates that has happened. “The parents are all excited. Parents want their kids to do well. They see hope in them.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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