Texas church revamps for family integration

PORT ARTHUR  “Gone are the days when Christians understood that the home–and not the Christian church or school–is principally and primarily responsible for the education, evangelism, and discipleship of children and that our ecclesiology should reflect that reality.”

These words, taken from the foreword of a new book, “Turning the Ship,” pinpoint the problem that troubled Dustin Guidry, pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

Written by Guidry, the book chronicles how he and staff came to grips with, and solved their unwillingness to place their children in age-segregated, church discipleship programs–be they Sunday school, children’s church, youth department and camps, even the nursery, all of which were the traditional methodology at Ridgewood.

Following a long season of soul-searching and scriptural study, Guidry and staff have returned to what they say is a biblical model of discipleship and to those long- gone days lauded in the foreword of Guidry’s book by Voddie Baucham, pastor of Houston-area Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring.

Baucham wrote that Guidry has “done what many thought was impossible. He has taken a neo-traditional church and moved it toward family integration. In ‘Turning the Ship,’ he offers an honest, hard-hitting, no-holds-barred look at the origins, the path, obstacles, and the tremendous rewards of his church’s journey. This is not a panacea. Nor is it a program-oriented marketing scheme designed to get every church on the same path in forty days. This is one man’s story of triumph, tragedy, heartache, and joy as he pursued biblical ecclesiology with tenacity that at times resembled Jacob wrestling with the angel.”

Taking the cue from Titus 2, Guidry and staff fashioned a mid-week discipleship approach for the entire church where the older men teach the younger men, and the older women teach the younger women.

“The whole premise of the book is basically rejecting the secularization of the church, and relying on the sufficiency of Scripture for all matters of faith and practice,” Guidry told the TEXAN.

This includes promoting biblical manhood and womanhood, he said.

“This is a genuine move of God that’s happening,” Guidry said. “And it’s defying the norms of the culture of rebellious teens and the disconnect between children and parents.”

Guidry cited Malachi 4.6 to make his point, which states: “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

Guidry paraphrased the essence of what church leaders told him about what’s happened at Ridgewood: “This is the purest our church has ever been. I actually feel like I’m at a real biblical church.”

Among other things, Guidry attributes such perceptions to male church members assuming their biblical role of spiritual headship in the home. Ridgewood’s families also memorize Scripture, study the great hymns of the faith, and systematically learn biblical doctrine.

“Psalm 11.3 asks that when the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? We can have good intentions all day long, but the heart of the matter is if the foundation is wrong, then it doesn’t matter what we do,” Guidry noted. “So, we’ve gone back to reclaim our foundation.”

Guidry notes that the change holds an evangelistic appeal: “The people who are lost and hurting see the realness, the genuiness here. There’s something in them that says, ‘That’s right.’

“We don’t claim perfection, but we try to follow the one who is,” he explained. “It’s such unity that gives us a platform for the gospel. We have untold witnessing opportunities with neighbors and co-workers. People see a difference, and they want what they see.”

Baucham–whose church practices family-integrated discipleship–notes in the foreword that Turning the Ship isn’t “for the faint of heart.”

Ridgewood deacon James Roberts, who is also a senior petro-chemist, agrees with Baucham. Roberts read the book and sent the following e-mail to Guidry:
“It was not easy reading some parts because it was true. It was not easy staying in the boat while it was turning. It was not easy having my mask removed. It’s always going to hurt when you must face correction. Praise the Father, Sone, and the Holy Spirit for the heart and the strength to get through it. ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ I have a lot of regret for wasted years, but now I have seen the truth.

“I’m learning and growing more than ever. I’m excited about finally being on the right path and going in the right direction. I can only pray that others will face the correction and allow God to complete His work. ‘For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.’ I thank God for how He is using you. continue to stand for Him!”

Guidry is as humbled by that e-mail as he is about the progress and future of Ridgewood: “We haven’t arrived yet, and we have a long way to go.”
The current issue of Texas Baptist Crossroads, a publication of the SBTC, addresses various initiatives that integrate student ministry with the overall local church ministry. You’ll find the magazine online at sbtexas.com/news.

To get a copy of “Turning the Ship,” visit turningtheship.net.

TEXAN Correspondent
Norm Miller
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