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10/15/97 Boys’ RA programs undergird missions education, evangelism

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Jim McGee directs one of the largest RA (Royal Ambassador) programs in the United States, with an emphasis on developing Christian leaders among boys in his church. The Pensacola, Fla., congregation has about 2,500 in attendance each Sunday, and more than 150 RAs in grades one through six.
In a small town in Texas, meanwhile, Robert Adams leads another of Southern Baptists’ most successful RA programs with about 45 boys. The church has fewer than 200 in Sunday school every week, and only about a fourth of the RA members are Baptists. The emphasis is on reaching the entire community.
As Southern Baptist churches nationwide prepare to observe Royal Ambassador Week, Nov. 2-8, the two churches demonstrate the dynamic flexibility possible through Royal Ambassadors. After 89 years, there are now more than 170,000 RAs nationwide in more than 12,000 churches. The ministry remains Southern Baptists’ most effective tool for teaching boys about the importance of reaching a lost world for Christ — and giving them the leadership training, confidence through individual achievement and practical skills to carry out that mission.
In addition to the primary goal of missions education, RAs also receive merit awards in a variety of spiritual and practical disciplines. Bible memory, camping, recreation, uniforms, teaching on the plan of salvation, missions involvement — all contribute to a balanced program encompassing boys’ spiritual, social, mental and physical development.
“When the basic principles of Royal Ambassadors were formed, the characteristics of boys served as guidelines,” according to the RA leadership guide published by the North American Mission Board. “Royal Ambassadors capitalizes on what boys enjoy doing.”
This year’s RA Week theme is “Following Jesus’ Footsteps.”
The Royal Ambassadors program was started by Woman’s Missionary Union in 1908 and led by that organization until it became the responsibility of the Brotherhood Commission in 1957. As of this summer, the comprehensive range of RA materials are being developed and produced by the new North American Mission Board, although strong leadership networks in many states and local associations also support local churches in planning and coordinating activities.
For McGee, RA director at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola since 1975, the ministry has been a lifelong commitment inspired by a dedicated RA leader when he was a child. Jack Sprayberry became a mentor and friend who later helped him find a job with the company he has worked with since college.
“I would not be where I am today without that man in place,” McGee said, noting in recruiting leaders he always suggests men consider those who made a big impact on their own lives.
In some ways, Olive Baptist’s RA program is typical of other programs, organized into “chapters” of 12 boys or less, usually by age group, with a goal of having two leaders for each full-size chapter. There are two main groupings of RAs: Lads (“Learn And Do in Jesus’ Name”) for grades one through three and Crusaders for grades four through six.
While leadership materials are comprehensive and detailed, they are also designed with flexibility in mind. In addition to the “classic” approach to structure and organization, there is now a simplified club-style version called EZRA (Easy RA), and both can be adapted to fit local needs.
Although many RA chapters are taught effectively by women — and the EZRA method even provides for coed groups — McGee said one of the most significant aspects of the ministry to him is the opportunity of getting Christian men involved with boys on a regular basis.
“If you have Christian men who are sincerely interested in boys and are out there working with them on a week-to-week basis, those men can have an impact on the boys’ lives,” McGee said, noting the broad-based involvement contributes to the total Christian development of the boys. For many of the boys, there is no other male Christian influence.
RA leaders often are “planting a seed” that may result in the occasional missionary or minister, or more often the committed Christian layman, husband and father so important to the ministry of the church, McGee said.
In the small north Texas town of Gruver, Adams has a similar objective, but with the twist of targeting the entire community. Hispanic Catholics make up about one-third of the EZRA Boys Club, and Baptists are a minority.
An RA leader in Baptist churches since 1977, he said he began to lead First Baptist Church of Gruver in using the program as an outreach tool about four or five years ago. Other faith groups were open to something with the strong moral and spiritual emphasis as RAs, and the program caught on quickly throughout the entire community.
“When EZRA came in, that was probably the thing that made it a lot easier, because EZRA is more of a club … and also it is a lot easier to do,” he said. Also, he said, the church made a point of making the club a part of the community, complete with information published in the local newspapers.
One of his primary goals is the strengthening of families. Special events are held at neutral sites, which allows parents to feel more comfortable about attending.
“By doing it at a school or community center … we’re in a situation where people that do not go to a church are not threatened. And our pastor gets an opportunity to talk with them,” he said.
In their case, Adams said, the Wednesday night schedule for weekly meetings is actually the best time of the week to gather a crowd. The weekends, including Sundays, often have too many competing demands for time even for church members. “What we’re finding is in the middle of the week people are a whole lot more available because their kids are in school,” he said.
The popularity of the club has even boosted participation at the church’s GA (Girls in Action) program. Buses that pick up the boys also pick up girls for GAs.
It can be a challenge working with such a diverse group, Adams said, but it helps to keep the perspective that God is at work even when it might not be immediately apparent. A boy may not be responding but his parents might, and the results may not be seen for years.
As part of leadership training, Adams said he requires the men to complete the “Experiencing God” discipleship study by Henry Blackaby and Claude King to help give them an enduring ministry perspective. “They have to see where God is at work or they burn out,” he said.
Whatever the emphasis and methodology chosen by local churches, North American Mission Board missions education leaders stress their commitment to continuing the tradition of excellence in supporting the wide range of materials available for use by RA groups.
In the future, new tools such as quarterly videotape programs also are planned, according to Tim Seanor, director of missions education for NAMB and former director of Royal Ambassadors at the Brotherhood Commission.
“The future is bright for Royal Ambassadors at the North American Mission Board,” Seanor said. “We are committed to producing the kind of missions education materials that until now we could only dream about.”

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  • James Dotson